Secretary Blinken’ Joint Press Availability With Moldovan President Maia Sandu

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Dear President Maia Sandu, dear Secretary of State of the United States of America Antony Blinken, we start off the briefing organized on the occasion – on the visit occasion of Mr. Antony Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America.  We offer the floor to Ms. President Maia Sandu.

PRESIDENT SANDU:  (Via interpreter)  Dear Secretary of State, welcome to Chisinau.  On the 18th of February, just two weeks ago, we marked the 30th anniversary from the establishment of diplomatic relationship between the Republic of Moldova and the United States of America.

Over three decades, the United States supported our efforts to consolidate the society and the economy, to build up a democratic state where every single citizen can think freely and exist freely.  We are grateful for the whole assistance offered by the government and by the citizens of the United States of America over this period of time, which amounts to over 1.7 billion U.S. dollars in assistance which helped us out to get consolidated as a statehood.  We do appreciate the firm support of the United States for the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova as well as for our European path.

I wish you visited our country in peaceful times in the context of the anniversary of our bilateral relationship.  We do have great plans for the transformation of Moldova: we initiated the reform of the justice system; we started eliminating the corruption from the public institutions; we started working in order to improve the business environment to attract investments into the economy of the country, to encourage the development of local communities, and to rethink the education system of our country in order to prepare Moldova to cope better with the challenges of the time.

We want to build a resilient, competitive, prosperous and innovative country – a country which does invest into its people and which is capable to channel energy and the creativity of its citizens in order to build a place where people really want to live.

The reality we woke up on the 24th of February, however, set our plans on hold.  We are now living a dark period of time – a dark period of time for the whole region where all efforts are being directed in order to strengthen the society around one single objective: peace in the region.  As far as you know, the war in Ukraine is unfolding exactly at the border with our country.  We firmly condemned the military aggression against Ukraine and we called to peace from the very first hour of the military actions.  We continue calling to dialogue as well as to the possibility to identify some peaceful solutions as the only way to seize cease those violent actions against Ukraine and its citizens.

As a neutral country – and this is a principle enshrined in our constitution – we decided to stretch a hand of help to the people which are directly affected by the plague of the war.  From the very first hours of the armed attack against Ukraine, Moldova received on its territory the citizens from the neighboring country which are trying to flee from the bombs.  Over 250,000 people crossed the border from Ukraine to the Republic of Moldova from the beginning of the war.  A big part of those people stay in our country so far.  The employees of the public services – border police, customs officers, (inaudible) medical doctors, social assistants, local authorities, diplomats, but also a lot of volunteers – mobilized their efforts in order to help out the refuges which are arriving from Ukraine.  Thousands of people from all the regions of the country joined this effort.

When entering the Republic of Moldova, the refugees immediately received some hot meal, transportation, and a shelter in a temporary placement center or even in the houses of our people.  Tens of thousands of families from the whole country housed people from Ukraine over those days.  It’s a significant effort for a country with a population which is below 3 million and with quite humble incomes.  But despite those high challenges which represent this increasing inflow of refugees from the neighboring country, we cannot turn our back to those people.  Majority of refugees are women, children, and elderly.  They cross our border being exhausted, desperate, after long hours of journey escaping from the war.  It is our moral duty to help them out, and we’ll continue fulfilling this mission to our best extent.

Dear Secretary of State, the Republic of Moldova does need assistance and immediate and significant contribution of the international community so that our people and our economy can cope with these challenges and the inflow of refugees.  We do need urgently assistance for the temporary accommodation of those people in order to offer them the most necessary items and also to be capable to redirect the inflow of refugees towards the European countries which have a high capacity to receive them.  Some states already expressed the availability to take up the refugees from Ukraine, also to accommodate them, in the upcoming period of time.  But only through joint efforts, consistent efforts, rapid efforts of all the partners we can help out Ukraine.

We do need rapid assistance and involvement of the international community first of all in order to cease the battles and to restore the peace.  I do hope that the tour that you are undertaking over those days in the countries of this region contributes, together with the visits of some other high-ranking officials, to the peace efforts of Ukraine.  This is what we all want.  This is what we all deserve, especially the Ukrainians.

Dear Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken, the Republic of Moldova and the United States have developed a very good relationship in those over 30 years of cooperation and friendship relationship.  I do appreciate the strategic partnership between our countries, and I do hope that we will see each other again in some better times when we will be able to discuss how to advance, how to move forwards on the subjects which are included on the bilateral agenda of our countries.  I do hope that your visit gives a new impetus to our partnership.  We want to continue the political dialogue, the security dialogue between our states; we want to develop projects which are directed towards the development of the energy resilience of our country; as well as to advance on the dialogue for justice and to collaborate in the field of the asset recovery.

The Moldo-American partnership will help us out to strengthen the resilience of the Republic of Moldova as well as to strengthen the capacity of our country to cope with the challenges of the time, while a stronger, more resilient Moldova can become a pole of stability and development in the region – a trustworthy partner as well as a stronghold of the free world.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ms. President.  Now we pass the floor to the Secretary of State, Mr. Antony Blinken.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  President Sandu, thank you so much for the very warm welcome to the Republic of Moldova.  It’s actually been almost seven years to the day since my last visit here, and it’s great to be back – although, as you said, I wish it was under somewhat different circumstances.  Thank you as well to the prime minister, to the foreign minister, all our colleagues who have received us so well today.  And I’m also particularly glad that our new Ambassador Kent Logsdon has arrived here in Chisinau I think just last month.  For us, having confirmed ambassadors in place is vital for our cooperation with countries around the world, and that’s especially important now.

In the 30 years since Moldova and the United States began diplomatic relations, we’ve never faced a moment as urgent and as challenging as the one that we face today.  Russia’s unprovoked, unwarranted war on Ukraine has kicked off a humanitarian crisis that is already having a vast effect across the region, including here in the Republic of Moldova.  As of today, as the president said, an estimated 240,000 people from Ukraine have crossed the border into Moldova, fleeing for their lives.  They’re mostly women and children.  Their number will grow.

As I told President Sandu, Moldova deserves the world’s gratitude for welcoming and protecting Ukrainians.  And as the prime minister, president, and foreign minister and I discussed today, the United States will do all that we can to help Moldova as it cares for people who have already been through so much.  Our administration has requested of Congress $2.75 billion in emergency assistance, humanitarian assistance, both to meet the needs of vulnerable people and communities inside Ukraine and also to help countries like Moldova supporting refugees and address the humanitarian crisis from outside Ukraine.  The international community also has a responsibility to help Moldova deal with the impacts of war.  We’ll drive that message in our engagement with international organizations and other countries around the world.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  One hundred and forty-one countries at the United Nations stood up for those principles and against Russia’s assault on them.  The United States wants to make clear our strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including the Republic of Moldova.

Countries have a right to choose their own futures.  Moldova has chosen the path of democracy, a more inclusive economy, a closer relationship with the countries and institutions of Europe.  The United States supports Moldova in those efforts, grounded in our respect for the neutrality that’s enshrined in Moldova’s constitution.  Our partnership addresses the key challenges of our time, the things that we should be working on and focused on, which is exactly another reason why this war of choice is such a terrible thing – it takes us away from things that we need to be working on together.

But we’ll continue to do that.  The United States delivered hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to Moldova and millions of dollars in pandemic-related assistance.  We will invest $18 million over the next years to help strengthen and diversify Moldova’s energy sector.  Greater energy security is vital for your sovereignty.  We support the OSCE-led 5+2 negotiations to find a comprehensive settlement to the Transnistrian conflict that upholds Moldova’s sovereignty and territorial integrity with a special status for Transnistria.  And we’ll seek every opportunity to deepen the ties between our countries – economic ties, educational ties, people-to-people ties, because we want our friendship with the people of Moldova to grow even stronger.

In the face of the global challenges that we face today, we’re all going to be much more successful when we work closely together as partners, especially among democratic partners.  We know that countries that respect human rights, uphold the rule of law, support inclusive and accountable governance for all their citizens, produce the best solutions to even the most difficult problems.  So we will support Moldova as you pursue your priorities: fighting corruption, driving democratic reform including increasing integrity and accountability in the public sector and the judiciary, and developing an independent media sector that can deliver reliable information and help fight disinformation.  As people around the world stand up to defend democratic values, Moldova is a powerful example of a democracy rising to the moment with vision and with determination.

This partnership between us is built on shared interests, it’s built on shared values.  We’re grateful to Moldova for 30 years of friendship.  We look forward to the next 30.  And on behalf of the American people, thank you again for your generosity toward the Ukrainian refugees at this urgent moment for democracy and for peace.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  (Inaudible) the colleagues.  Now we’re going to take questions from the representatives of the Moldovan press and the United States media.  So we start off with the Moldovan media.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter)  Radu Osipov, public TV Moldova.  I have a question for both Ms. Maia Sandu and Antony Blinken.  Figures prove that in the first 10 days of the war, Moldova received the biggest amount of refugees from Ukraine.  It’s again by comparison with the population of the Republic of Moldova.  It’s a huge effort for our country.  What can the international community do in order to directly help out those people and in order to cease the war in Ukraine?

PRESIDENT SANDU:  (Via interpreter)  We will continue helping out all the people that have to flee from the war.  This is indeed a challenge, and this is exactly the reason why we have requested the international assistance in the shape of financial assistance that’s all to compensate all the expenditures that we suffer in order to be able to help out those people.  But secondly, we need some clear mechanisms to refer – to re-channel those refugees that would like to continue their journey to reach another country.  So those are two concrete requests that we have put forward, and obviously we also expect the expertise of the specialists that had been involved in managing this sort of situations earlier.  I mean, people that know how to deal with the refugees – so far, the Republic of Moldova had never faced such situations.

So those are the most important elements of assistance which we are expecting from the international community as well as from our partners.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Let me agree with what the president said.  There is a major effort underway involving countries around the world to support refugees arriving from the Ukraine, but first and foremost, the burden has been on neighboring countries like the Republic of Moldova, like Poland and others that are the immediate responders.  And what we’re seeing now is the international community join in to support these countries and to support the refugees.  And so you have the major international organizations, including the United Nations in particular, that’s bringing its expertise and resources to bear.

As I mentioned a moment ago, President Biden asked our Congress for emergency support to include very significant humanitarian support to help Ukraine deal with the humanitarian consequences of this war of aggression against Ukraine, both within Ukraine itself but also in the surrounding countries that are receiving refugees.

So we’re bringing our own technical expertise to bear, including here in the Republic of Moldova.  We’ll also be bringing resources to bear to help alleviate some of the burden that Moldova and other countries are carrying.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Mihaela Ursu, TVR Moldova.

QUESTION:  A question to the Secretary of State.  Which way do you assess the submittal by the Republic of Moldova of the application to join European Union, and which way the United States of America can help us out in this process?  For example, could we expect maybe some support in order to strengthen our energy independence, which is vital, I think, in order to have independence – true independence in our country?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  I of course can’t speak for the European Union, but I can say that we very much support Moldova’s European aspirations and welcome the work that’s being done in that direction.  This is the will of the Moldovan people, and we welcome the pursuit of closer ties and greater integration.  But ultimately, of course, that process is up to Moldova and the European Union and its member countries.

When it comes to energy independence, I think that’s absolutely vital.  That independence and energy security is actually critical to maintaining one’s sovereignty and independence, and that’s exactly why we are working to support Moldova in its efforts to build greater energy security and energy diversification.  We’re doing that with financial support to develop alternatives.  We’re doing it with expert support.  As it happens, our new ambassador, Ambassador Logsdon, is an expert in these very issues, and so we’ll be working very, very closely with Moldova as we have been already to help produce greater diversification, greater energy security in the coming years.  I think this is something vital to pursue for all countries, and we know also what can happen when any country is – it’s the case for many – overly reliant on others that prove in one way or another not to be reliable suppliers.

So this is very much a focus of what we’re doing together, and it’s something we’ll be pursuing very actively right now and in the months and years ahead.

MODERATOR:  (In Moldovan.)

MR PRICE:  I’ll call on Lara – excuse me, Lara Jakes with The New York Times.

QUESTION:  Good morning.  Hello, Madam President.  Thank you for having us.

Secretary Blinken, given that the State Department has again urged Americans to leave Russia immediately, are you considering closing the U.S. Embassy in Moscow?  And regardless, what is the Biden administration doing about the detention of American basketball player Brittney Griner?  Was this a retaliatory move by the Russian Government and was the announcement of her arrest yesterday what prompted the new travel alert?

And then, finally:  How seriously is the U.S. considering selling additional F-16s to Poland so that Poland can give its MiGs to Ukraine?  And realistically, how quickly can this happen to help against the invasion?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Lara, thanks very much.  With regard to the individual you mentioned, there’s only so much I can say given the privacy considerations at this point.  Let me just say more generally, whenever an American is detained anywhere in the world, we of course stand ready to provide every possible assistance, and that includes in Russia, as you know, and we’ve talked about this for a long time when we talk about seeking the release of Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed for some time, both of whom are unjustly detained.  We have an embassy team that’s working on the cases of other Americans who are detained in Russia.  We’re doing everything we can to see to it that their rights are upheld and respected.

We’ve also advised Americans not to travel to Russia.  Similarly, we’re advising Americans in Russia to leave.  But from my perspective, in times like these it’s important that we maintain our diplomatic contacts, that we maintain the diplomatic support, particularly support that we can provide to Americans who may need it.  And so that’s what I’m focused on doing.

With regard to the planes, a couple of things.  First, just as a general proposition, over the past year we have provided more than a billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine, more than in any single (inaudible) year.  We’re in very active conversations with Ukrainian officials, with the government, President Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Kuleba[1] whom I saw yesterday, and others, to get an up-to-the-minute assessment of their needs.  And as we get that assessment, we’re working on seeing what we and allies and partners can deliver.

We are looking actively now at the question of airplanes that Poland may provide to Ukraine and looking at how we might be able to backfill should Poland decided to use those – to supply those planes.  I can’t speak to a timeline, but I can just tell you we’re looking at it very, very actively.

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you very much.  Madam President, what do you see as the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for Moldovan security?  And what concrete measures are you hoping to see from the U.S. in terms of support?  And additionally, if I may, have you seen any changes to the Russian troop levels in Transnistria?

And for Secretary Blinken, you’ve been very clear that the – about the U.S. commitment to NATO countries, but you’ve been equally clear that U.S. troops won’t fight to defend Ukraine.  In that context, what kind of assurances can the U.S. actually make to Moldova about its own security?

PRESIDENT SANDU:  (Via interpreter)  Of course we do follow and we monitor the situation in Transnistria.  We do not have so far information or intelligence regarding some significant changes there.  However, this is a subject of high vulnerability.  I would like to remind you that on the territory of our country, we have troops of the Russian Federation which are deployed here illegally and this exists for decades.  Of course it’s a vulnerability.  We do not have information so far which would confirm the intention for those troops to be involved in some military actions in Ukraine.

However, in this region, of course, there is no possibility for us now to feel really safe or secure, especially when we watch what is going on, when we saw all those attacks and the war in Ukraine.  Obviously here, we think the Republic of Moldova, the authorities of the Republic of Moldova try to do their best in order to ensure the safety of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova.  Beyond this security aspect, there are multiple implications for us.  There are implications related to the economic field since the Republic of Moldova used to have some very close links, very close relationship with Ukraine, and now all the economic operators, all the companies, all the economic agents which used to be part of this relationship are being affected significantly currently.  Obviously it is very difficult now to reach out or to get some positive outcomes in attracting foreign investors currently, although we promised our citizens to bring investments to our country.  But in the current situation, of course, it is very typical, and as I mentioned earlier, this crisis of refugees places a high pressure over our economy.

Judging by the figures that we have available today, the number of refugees we chose to stay in the Republic of Moldova count for 3 percent of the number of the stable population, settled population.  You see just in 10 days such a significant figure, and obviously those figures will go up.  I want to repeat, it’s our moral duty to help out everyone who needs assistance, and we will help everyone who needs assistance.  However, we do need support from our partners in order to be capable to help out other people which will definitely continue arriving to our country.  And we do hope that this war is ceased as far – as soon as possible.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Peter, we strongly support Moldova’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty, as well as its constitutionally guaranteed neutrality.  You’ve seen the response that we’ve helped to mobilize around the world to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  Whenever and wherever that aggression might appear, we will do the same thing.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter)  Dear Ms. President, dear Secretary of State, dear colleagues, thank you so much.  The briefing is over.