State Department Press Briefing – Jan. 11, 2022 [excerpt with Victoria Nuland]

State Department Building and U.S. Flag

(U.S. Department of State Press Briefing –  excerpt with Victoria Nuland – WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 11, 2022)

MR PRICE:  Good afternoon.  Very sorry for the delay, but as you can see, we have a special guest joining us today for the second time, at least in this current iteration.  She is no stranger to all of you.  Victoria Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, will offer some opening remarks, take some questions, and then we will proceed with our regularly scheduled programming.

So Under Secretary Nuland, over to you.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everybody.  Sorry to be a little late.  It’s great to be back in this room, and working for Ned.

This is, as you all know, a very important week.  We have three sets of diplomatic talks ongoing: the U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue yesterday; the NATO-Russia Council meeting tomorrow, both of which are led for us by Deputy Secretary Sherman; and the Permanent Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday – all of this in an effort to resolve through diplomacy the crisis that Russia has created for Ukraine, for European security, and for global stability.

So before I go into some of the diplomatic substance, let’s remember how we got here.

It is Russia that created this crisis out of whole cloth.

It is Russia that has amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders.

It is Russia that has prepared internal sabotage, destabilization, and false flag options for Ukraine.

And it is Russia that has spewed disinformation and lies about Ukraine, about the United States, and about NATO to justify its own actions.

At a time when COVID is running rampant again across Russia, as it is in other places, and where only half the population is vaccinated, the Kremlin has to justify to the Russian people why it is stoking a potentially very bloody and costly conflict for Russia, rather than focusing on its own citizens’ health and on Russia’s own significant challenges in building back better.  No one needs a conflict now, least of all Russia.

As the Secretary did last week, let me set the record straight on a couple of other points as well.

First, Ukraine is not the aggressor in this situation.  It is Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, that forcibly occupied Crimea, and that continues to wage war on Ukrainian territory.  Ukraine has made clear that it has no intention of threatening Russia in any way.  It only wants a peaceful, democratic, European future for its people.  And the United States remains unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

Second, NATO poses no threat to Russia either – unless, of course, Russia chose to pose a threat to NATO.  NATO is a defensive alliance whose sole purpose is to protect its members.  Decisions regarding NATO membership are up to each individual applicant country and the 30 NATO Allies.  No one else has a voice or a veto in those decisions.

Third, diplomacy is the best option to restore stability and security for Ukraine, for Europe, and for Russia itself.

And fourth, the United States will not make any decisions about Europe without Europe, about Ukraine without Ukraine, or about NATO without NATO.

In that context, we’re consulting intensively with our allies and partners.  The White House put out a fact sheet on some of these engagements today.  As you saw, President Biden has spoken to 16 European leaders.  Secretary Blinken has done more than two dozen calls and meetings with foreign leaders and ministers, Deputy Secretary Sherman has met with the North Atlantic Council and the EU – just today made dozens of calls, as have I, as has Assistant Secretary Donfried and other members of the international – of the interagency community.

Now on to the diplomacy.  In the Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia yesterday, as Deputy Secretary Sherman made clear in her own press engagement yesterday, we have demonstrated our commitment to diplomacy by putting preliminary ideas on the table, including with regard to military transparency, risk reduction measures, and exercises.  And as you know, the United States has long been interested in discussing arms control with the Russians, including both strategic and non-strategic nuclear weapons.  And we reiterated those interests in having deeper discussions on these topics when we met with Russia’s – Russia yesterday in Geneva.

We’ve also made clear that genuine progress can only take place in a climate of de-escalation, not escalation, and on the basis of true reciprocity.  That requires Russia to stay at the table and take concrete steps to reduce tensions.

So as the deputy secretary said yesterday in Geneva, Russia now has a stark choice to make: whether to take the path of diplomacy and dialogue or instead seek confrontation and the massive consequences that that will bring.

If the Russian Government further invades Ukraine, further destabilizes Ukraine, we are ready and aligned with our allies and our partners to impose severe costs.  We will respond with massive economic measures, including those that have not been used before, and will inflict very significant costs on Russia’s economy and its financial system.

But let me emphasize again our preference is diplomacy.

As the Secretary has said on numerous occasions, we’ve done this before.  I’ve personally been engaged in this before.  Even in some of the times of greatest tension, the United States, our allies, and our partners have worked with Russia to reach understandings together.

We’ve negotiated multiple instruments that have formed the bedrock of peace and security, including the Helsinki Accords, the INF Treaty, and other arms control agreements.  We’re working together now to try to bring Iran back into compliance with the JCPOA.  And, of course, we created the OSCE together, where we will be meeting on Thursday.

Again, we did these things on the basis of reciprocity and through painstaking, careful diplomacy, in full consultation and coordination with our allies and with every country whose interests were affected.  This is the way forward.  This is what needs to happen now.

I’m happy to take your questions.

MR PRICE:  Matt.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Hi, Toria.  Welcome back to the briefing room.


QUESTION:  So I have a question about this, the mantra we’ve heard over and over again – massive consequences, severe costs, this kind of thing.  But I’m just wondering:  How solid, how confident are you in this – in the solidification, in the solidness —


QUESTION:  — in the solidity of the Western – of Western unity on this?  Particularly given the fact that you and Amos Hochstein were up on the Hill yesterday essentially begging Democratic senators not to go along with Nord Stream 2 sanctions because you think that it’ll – it will shelve or it’ll reduce the German – Germany’s desire to do anything.  So how solid is this alliance of – for massive consequences and severe costs?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Matt, we are very confident in the consultations that we’ve been having with our allies and partners.  We’ve been working at this for some two and a half months at every level, from the President on down.  We have, as I discussed in very broad strokes and will only discuss them in broad strokes, a common understanding of the kind of intensive financial measures we’ll need to take, and also now in the context of export restrictions that will have a painful impact on Russia.

Now, as we’ve done in the past, the U.S. may take one set of measures and Europe and other allies may take parallel steps that are not exactly the same but also painful to Russia because we have different economic exposure.  But we are very confident that we are coming together around a very painful package, but we don’t want to have to use it, as you know.

QUESTION:  So you’re okay with putting sanctions on NS2AG?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  What we have said is that the agreement that we did with Germany in July makes absolutely clear what will happen —

QUESTION:  Let me put it in a different way:  Are you concerned that Germany might not go along with whatever you’re hoping you’ll get in place should it become necessary if there are sanctions imposed on Nord Stream 2 – on AG?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  We are concerned now that what is being discussed on the Hill will have no impact on Nord Stream 2.  What we are doing now is working with the Germans, working with the EU to slow their consideration of implementation of the pipeline.  This German Government has taken significant steps to do that, and they’ve also reconfirmed the agreement we had with the previous government with regard to what happens to Nord Stream 2 – namely, it’s suspended if Russia aggresses against Ukraine.

MR PRICE:  Laura.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Hi, Toria.


QUESTION:  Regarding Nord Stream 2 but also other discussions that Secretary Blinken is having on the Hill today, can you read out a little bit of what the message to the lawmakers is today?  Is it the same as what you have reiterated for us here and now?

And then also I’m wondering a little bit about what the administration’s position is on NATO enlargement in practice.  You’ve made very clear that the United States continues to agree with the principle of other member – or other states joining NATO, but I’m wondering if you can be a little more specific about whether or not this administration supports other states in practice coming into the alliance.  Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Well, first to say the Secretary has a number of engagements on the Hill.  It’ll shock you to know that not all of them are about Russia-Ukraine.  Some of them are about other subjects that we’re working on with members.  But he’s also meeting with a group who is considering traveling to Ukraine in a bipartisan fashion.  So he will go through with them all aspects of the policy and make sure that they’re up to date, both on the diplomacy, but also on the costs and on our engagements with the Ukrainians, which have been extremely rich and full, as you know, and ask them to carry messages of preparedness and of unity, and as they go in this bipartisan manner, to underscore the American people’s commitment across the aisle to their sovereignty and territorial integrity.  So that’s number one.

With regard to NATO’s “Open Door,” as you know, I’ve been involved in this for more than 30 years, including helping to support and usher into the Alliance some of the Allies that joined after 1997.  It is a bedrock principle of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its founding charter from 1949 that its door stays open to any European country who could meet NATO’s high standards.  So we have a number who have joined.  We have a number who want to join and are working hard with NATO to meet those standards.  Those include Georgia, Ukraine, et cetera.  So it is absolutely essential not only that we live up to that principle that we’ve had for almost 70 years, but – or longer than 70 years, but also that the countries that aspire to join NATO do the hard work that’s necessary to be ready.

QUESTION:  Just to drill down a little bit, I do understand that you agree and continue to support the right and the “Open Door” policy in principle, but I’m wondering, say of Finland said, “We would like to join,” would the United States support Finland joining?  Would the United States support Sweden joining?  Would the United States – I’m not trying to make this just about Ukraine and Georgia today.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  I think across the five administrations that I have served we have always said to Finland and Sweden:  Anytime you want to talk to us about membership, we are — ready to do that.  But again, Finland and Sweden would also have to be measured against NATO’s high standards.  Obviously, they are long time established, stable democracies.  So that conversation would be slightly different than it is with countries that are making the transition to democratic systems and dealing with intensive problems of corruption and economic reform and democratic stability, et cetera.

MR PRICE:  Andrea, then Daphne.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Toria.  In the context of what you said about the need to see Russia’s reactions and whether they were in a posture of de-escalation, how do you view the reported live fire exercises by several thousand troops very close to the Ukraine border today?  And I’d like to also ask you about another issue elsewhere in the world, if I may.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  So we’ve obviously seen those reports.  I don’t have them validated, but we’ve seen them.  That obviously goes in exactly the opposite direction.  When we talk about de-escalation, we talk about getting that mass number of troops off the Ukrainian border; we talk about serious engagement at the table; we talk about getting rid of destabilizing equipment as well around Ukraine’s borders, and ending the massive disinformation and the plans with regard to internal destabilization.

QUESTION:  And if I may, since you’re here, if I could impose upon you with your broad reach, and since the Secretary is on the Hill talking about a lot of different issues, the North Korean missile launch which, according to our South Korean allies and other experts, was at Mach 10, which makes it hypersonic, and which apparently, according to also the South Korean defense ministry, had a maneuverable re-entry vehicle, making it, according to experts who we’ve spoken to, hard to track, hard to defend against.


QUESTION:  What do you think – this is the second in just one week from Kim Jong-un.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Yeah.  I’m going to leave to Ned when he follows to share what we can —


UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  — from intelligence about what we believe happened and didn’t happen.  But obviously it takes us in the wrong direction.  As you know, the United States has been saying, since this administration came in, that we are open to dialogue with North Korea, that we are open to talking about COVID and humanitarian support, and instead they’re firing off missiles. So this is dangerous and it’s —

QUESTION:  Are there any direct talks that we don’t know about?


QUESTION:  Are there any direct talks that perhaps we don’t know about?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  I don’t have anything to share on that, Andrea.

QUESTION:  In addition to the live fire exercises today, Kremlin Spokesman Peskov said there was no real cause for optimism after the talks on Monday.  Does this change the U.S. view at all of how the talks went, and does this give indication to the U.S. that Russia has no intention of easing the military presence?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Well, that’s obviously disappointing to hear that from the Kremlin.  I hadn’t seen that report before coming down here.  As I said, we believe that the exchange of views that we had with the Russian side was constructive and worth doing, and we want to see those talks continue, and we’re prepared to do that.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Michel.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  There are voices in town that say that instead of waiting for Russia to invade Ukraine, why don’t you send weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.  And if you have any update on Vienna talks on Iran.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Michel, I know that you know from Ned that we have this year alone supplied Ukraine with some $450 million worth of defensive lethal support in all kinds of categories that they need for their preparedness now.  And as the President has said, we are continuing to provide that support as they need it.  But the problem is this Russian provocation, which is causing them to be increasingly insecure.

MR PRICE:  Kylie.

QUESTION:  Thank you for doing this.  Secretary Blinken was pretty clear over the weekend that you guys aren’t expecting major breakthroughs.  We’ve heard from Secretary – Deputy Secretary Sherman that this was useful but not necessarily exact forward progress here.  What would the U.S. deem success at the end of this week of diplomacy?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Well, we’ve said all along – and the Secretary said this and Deputy Secretary Sherman said it yesterday – that the kinds of issues that they have put on the table and the kinds of issues that we’ve put on the table – some of them I annunciated earlier, including military transparencies, et cetera, but particularly our concerns about their intermediate-range missiles, their concerns that they’ve put on the table in these two treaties about nuclear weaponry – can’t be negotiated overnight.  They take painstakingly hard diplomacy.  So this first round was an exchange of views, and we are open and welcoming of continuing to talk.  But if we want to make real progress, it’s going to take that kind of hard work, and it’s going to take some time.

QUESTION:  So is success getting another date on the calendar for follow-up discussions?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  I don’t think in diplomacy you measure success in inches; you measure it in outcome.  And again, it is almost impossible for a single round with issues this intense to settle everything, let alone sometimes anything.  So we had to exchange positions; we had to understand each other.  And then we have to get down to the hard work, and we are ready to do that.  The question is:  Is the Kremlin?

QUESTION:  And can I just ask one more question about Russia?


QUESTION:  I’m curious if the United States has a timeframe for how long you think Russia can financially back the placement of troops along the Russia-Ukrainian border, or if they have no timeline and they’re willing to put any amount of resources into maintaining that aggression.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Well, Kylie, I’m going to let the Russians speak for themselves, but you make a very, very important point, which the Russian people should be paying attention to.  These kind of deployments, hundred thousand troops out of barracks and on the Ukrainian border are extremely expensive, as is the deployment of this kind of weaponry in the cold winter, when the wealth of Russia, were I a Russian citizen, I would want to see applied to the healthcare system, to the education system, to the roads, the same kinds of conversations that we’re having here in the United States, rather than hemorrhaging money on a created crisis and putting their own military out there in the snow.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MR PRICE:  Time for a final question or two.  Yes, sir.  Please.

QUESTION:  Victoria, thank you.  My audience is in Ukraine, and the most important thing for them that previously the level of the expectation was very high.  So right now, after Geneva talks, on the eve of other negotiations, do you see even the slightest sight of the de-escalation?  You talked about this atmosphere of the de-escalation which we need so very much.  So do you see right now even the slightest sight?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Well, again, in light of the news we’ve heard today, we haven’t seen the kinds of steps that we need to see in terms of Russian de-escalation.  And as we’ve said, as these talks continue, they will not be successful unless we can do this in an atmosphere of de-escalation.  Ukraine should not have this sword of Damocles hanging over it.  What I would like to say to the Ukrainian people and to Ukrainian leadership is that national unity is absolutely essential at this moment and to make the case continually, as you’ve always made to us, that your independence, your sovereignty, is about your European aspirations.  And we understand that completely, but it’s important to be united now in the context of what’s going on.

MR PRICE:  Said.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good to see you behind the podium.  My question to you as – you said that you’ve worked with – back in 1997 and so on you’ve seen the entry of countries and so on into NATO, so you know quite well.  Why shouldn’t Russia feel threatened and affronted by Ukraine or any other bordering country joining NATO?  I mean, NATO is not exactly a country club.  It is a military alliance.  It has proudly Russia in its crosshair.  So why shouldn’t they fear the joining of Ukraine?

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Said, I’ll say it again:  Ukraine is – sorry.  Try this again.  I will say this again:  NATO is a defensive alliance.  It is about defending its members against any potential attack.  It is not in the attack business itself.  We also have these longstanding relationships between NATO and Russia which I was part of building back in the ‘90s and in the early aught years.  And the hope was that Russia and NATO would increasingly be doing a lot of European security together, rather than seeing each other as enemies.  But Russia chose not to go in that direction.

And again, NATO is about defending its members.  In fact, NATO never even had any forces on its eastern edge because we didn’t feel the need to have troops close to Russia until Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and led NATO members to be concerned that they might keep going into NATO territory.  So it is Russia that created this situation that brings us closer to their borders.  It’s not something that we wanted to do.

Thanks, everybody.

MR PRICE:  Thank you, Toria.

UNDER SECRETARY NULAND:  Great to see you all. …

* * *