Secretary Blinken’s joint press availability with EU High Representative Borrell

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I was just checking to make sure I can say good afternoon.  It is a good afternoon.  Good afternoon, everyone.  And let me first start by thanking High Representative Josep Borrell, Josep my friend, for traveling to Washington today for a meeting of the U.S.-EU Energy Council.  The timing could not be more important; this is a pivotal moment.

As President Biden and European Commission President von der Leyen described in their joint statement just a couple of weeks ago, we’re working together right now to protect Europe’s energy supply against supply shocks including those that could result from further Russian aggression against Ukraine.  Energy security is tied directly to national security, regional security, global security.  Europe needs reliable and affordable energy, especially in the winter months.

When Russia halted gas supplies to Europe over a dispute with Ukraine in 2009, people died from the cold.  And when energy supplies fail, economies falter.  We’re determined to prevent that from happening and to mitigate the impact on energy supplies and prices should Russia choose to cut natural gas supplies to Europe more than it already has.  For example, we’re talking with governments and major producers around the world about surging their production and distribution capacity; we’re coordinating with our allies and partners, with energy sector stakeholders, including about how best to share energy reserves in the event that Russia turns off the spigot or initiates a conflict that disrupts the flow of gas through Ukraine.

This is part of broader coordination between Europe and the United States during this crisis and, indeed, beyond this crisis.  We and our allies and partners are united across the board.  We’ve listened to Russia’s concerns and shared concerns of our own about the steps that they’re taking to undermine security.  The United States, the European Union, our NATO Allies, our OSCE partners throughout Europe have put forward ideas about how we and Russia can find common agreement that will strengthen collective security for everyone.  I reiterated this in my conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov a few days ago; others have reinforced these same concerns directly with Moscow.  We and our allies and partners have done so collectively at NATO, at the OSCE.

We’re all driving the same message:  We’re willing to continue a substantive conversation with Russia on mutual security concerns.  The diplomatic path is clear.  At the same time, we and our allies are resolved that there will be real and profound consequences should Russia choose to continue aggression.  We’ve developed a high-impact, quick action response that would inflict massive costs on the Russian economy and financial system, including sanctions and significant export controls that would have a long-term effect in denying Russia the technology that it needs in key sectors.  And we’re working closely with the EU as they prepare complementary actions.

At the same time, we continue to work closely with Congress and with allies and partners to significantly increase assistance to Ukraine to help it prepare to defend itself.  We’ve provided Ukraine with $650 million in security assistance last year, more than in any previous year; we authorized allies to provide U.S. origin equipment; we’ve deployed forces and put more on a heightened state of readiness to shore up NATO’s eastern flank; and we’re working with partners to support the Ukrainian economy.

We’ve done all of this through constant coordination, some 200 engagements to date by phone, screen, in-person.  What happens next will depend on whether President Putin will choose to engage in a meaningful path forward on diplomacy for enhanced collective security or if he will choose the path of further conflict with Ukraine.  Either way – either way, the United States and our allies and partners are prepared.

As we’ve done many times before, we’re acting in unity to defend the principles that have been at the core of security, stability, and prosperity for decades in Europe and beyond.  We can see that across our cooperation with the European Union, including our work together to support resilient infrastructure and developing economies through Build Back Better World and the EU’s Global Gateway, to boost the supply of vaccines and treatments to end the COVID-19 pandemic, and through the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council we’re shaping emerging technologies so that they enhance our democracies, not undermine them.  Today’s meeting of the U.S.-EU Energy Council has continued vital work that we’re doing together both to build energy security and also to advance the critical work of responding to the climate crisis and pursuing new technologies, renewable energy, and doing that together.

When the EU and the United States are working together, we have a tremendous capacity to lead the world.  Together our economies represent about 45 percent of world GDP.  When we’re acting in concert we can move others, motivate others, and actually deal effectively with the challenges that are before our people and people around the world.  So I was particularly pleased to have this opportunity to focus today on energy, but almost quite literally every day in the work that we’re doing together.  Thank you.

Josep.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Secretary of State, dear Tony.  It’s great to be here in Washington again and to meet again also in person after we have been in close contact over the past weeks.  As you have said, we have been on speed-dial mode, and it’s good because we have been coordinating a lot during those days.

And today’s discussion after our bilateral meeting has been about energy on the EU-U.S. Energy Council, and this has demonstrated again our strong transatlantic unity on geopolitical questions and around climate and energy issues.  This meeting could have not been more timely.  This ninth meeting of the Energy Council, after four years without meeting, has been a good occasion to deal with the current circumstances of the threats that Russia is putting on the eastern borders of Europe.

Our joint work is needed to accelerate a green energy transition to become neutral from the point of view of our climate in the future.  In the medium term, there is the climate neutrality.  In the short term, it’s security of supplies of gas.  Both things go together.  We need to face the current situation in the eastern border keeping in mind the purpose of decarbonizing our energy mix, because the only lasting solution to energy resilience, security, is going from fossil fuels to renewables.  It is the best way of facing the challenge of climate change.

Today our environment is characterized by the geopolitical turbulence in the context of Russia and Crimea crisis, and energy issues are central to this crisis because Russia doesn’t hesitate to use the significant energy supplies to Europe as the leverage for geopolitical gains.  And when gas prices in European Union have been increasing from 6 to 10 times higher than they were a year ago – 10 times higher than one year ago – this has a major impact on consumers and on the competitivity of the economy.

That’s why our immediate priority to diversify the sources of energy, in particular the gas flows, to avoid supply disruption from our main supplier, who is Russia, and to ensure that the world energy markets will be liquid, competitive, and well-supplied.  Keep in mind that for Europe, our dependency from gas is about 95 percent of our consumption, oil 97 percent, coal 70 percent.  These figures are a good indicator of the need of shifting our energy mix to renewables.

Today, dear Tony, we have sent a strong message of our joint determination to bolster energy security in Europe and in our direct neighborhood, and thinking on Ukraine but also on the Western Balkans.  As to the current crisis around Ukraine, we have seen eye-to-eye our determination to give a united response to Russia’s threats.  This is our best asset.

We have repeated our call to Russia to de-escalate.  Our multilayered diplomatic engagement will continue on various levels and in different formats, as bilateral contacts, the Normandy talks, the OSCE, and NATO.  We certainly at the European Union, we welcome the elements outlined in the U.S. and NATO responses to the Russian demands on European security coordination with the U.S. and NATO.  I think it’s exemplary and shows our unity and determination.

We believe that the diplomatic way out of the crisis is still possible, and this is our clear and first priority, and that’s what we are investing all our efforts.  But at the same time, we remain firm in our resolve that further aggression against Ukraine would have, as the Secretary of State said, massive consequences, and we hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst.  Should Russia continue on a path of aggression, the European Union and the United States actions will be closely aligned, including on sanctions.

Let me stress how important is Ukraine for us.  It is a strategic partner.  We have been supporting Ukraine since Russia grasped Crimea with more than €17 billion.  And this week we have provided another 1.5 billion in macro financial assistance.  We are helping them in countering cyber and hybrid threats, strengthen the capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and tackling disinformation.

To conclude, let me express my appreciation to you, the U.S. Secretary of State, for the excellent cooperation over the last week in tackling so many challenges, and that’s what we are going to continue doing.  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  We’ll now take two questions.  The first question goes to the BBC, Barbara Usher.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Good afternoon.  A question about diplomacy for you, Mr. Blinken.  The U.S. and Europe are pushing Minsk as the solution while Ukraine is completely against it.  Do you still think a measure of autonomy for Donbas, the autonomy stipulated in the agreement, is the way to go?

And a question for you, Mr. Borrell.  You’re welcome to comment on that as well, but with regards to security does the EU agree with the U.S. assessment that a potential imminent invasion of Ukraine is in the cards?  If so, why isn’t the EU raising the same alarm as the Americans?  And if not, do you have a different assessment of the situation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, Barbara.  I’m happy to start.

With regard to Minsk, the United States and Ukraine are united in believing that Minsk is the path forward to resolve the conflict in the Donbas that was created by Russia’s invasion in 2014, and the best way to restore Ukraine’s border, to restore its sovereignty, as well as to uphold the rights of Ukrainian citizens, including those living in the Donbas.

Repeatedly over the last years, Ukraine has sought to move forward with the implementation of Minsk.  The Normandy Format, as it’s called with France, Germany, Ukraine, and Russia involved has been the principal vehicle for trying to advance that.  I think if you look back over the requirements established in the Minsk Agreements, three agreements over the course of several months, it is a fair assessment to say that Ukraine has sought to move forward on most if not all of them, while Russia has made good on virtually none of its obligations under Minsk.

But in all of my conversations with our Ukrainian counterparts, they remain committed to it.  There was recently a meeting of senior officials in the Normandy Format.  Ukraine continues to put forward good-faith ideas on how to move forward.  Minsk does not spell out some issues of sequencing when it comes to the steps that the parties need to take.  Ukraine has been approaching this in good faith.  We have not to date seen Russia do the same.

The agreements speak of special status for the Donbas, and I believe that with the appropriate sequencing, the Ukrainians would be prepared to move forward.  But again, the overall picture on Minsk since 2014 has been one in which Ukraine has sought to move forward on most of its requirements and commitments; Russia has not.  So if Russia is serious about implementing Minsk, I think it will find a strong partner in Ukraine, and France and Germany are helping to lead this effort.  There’s supposed to be another meeting of the – in the Normandy Format in the next couple of weeks.  I hope Russia will demonstrate a seriousness of purpose.  There are some near-term steps that could be taken to continue to build confidence in – toward the implementation of Minsk.  We have one of them that’s already more or less in place, which is a ceasefire that brings things back to the levels of 2020.  It hasn’t been perfect, but it’s definitely been an improvement over what we were seeing just a few weeks ago, so that’s encouraging.

The Ukrainians have also talked about having a release of prisoners on both sides, and making sure as well that across the line of contact people can move much more freely.  Unfortunately, that’s been blocked by those on the separatist side.  I think that would be a good way to show seriousness of purpose, and then to pursue the actual implementation of the accords.  But bottom line is Ukraine is committed to Minsk.  If Russia is too, then I believe there’s a way to move forward and resolve this conflict.

QUESTION:  Some in Ukraine are saying that the level of autonomy would be disruptive to your country.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  This is all for discussion and in progress.  Again, the Minsk Agreements talk about special status, but there are myriad other requirements that go to security, that go to restoring Ukraine’s border, that go to steps that unfortunately continue to be taken primarily by the Russian and separatist side that need to be addressed.  And I believe that those are addressed and addressed pursuant to what was agreed in 2014.  There’s a way to resolve this through the Minsk Agreements.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Thank you for your question.  We share a strong concern about the risk that are accumulating in the Ukrainian-Russian border.  And certainly, we are living, to my understanding, the most dangerous moment for the security in Europe after the end of the Cold War.  But at the same time, we believe that there is still room for diplomacy, there is still room for discussing, for knowing which are the concerns of everybody, also the Russian concerns, in order to avoid the worst.  Be prepared for the worst, and try to avoid it.

Nobody masses 104,000 soldiers heavily armed in the border of a country at the same time that you state about independency of this country in a way that certainly represents a strong threat –140,000 troops massed in the border is not to go to have tea.  So we have to increase our efforts in order to avoid a big risk for the peace and security.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  I haven’t finished yet.

QUESTION:  Sorry.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Minister Lavrov has sent a letter to all members of the European Union, to the member states, about it, asking for taking into consideration the security concerns of Russia.  I am coordinating the answer to this letter, and I insisting on the fact that there is still room for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

QUESTION:  Do you think that telegraphing the alarm about a potential invasion works against diplomatic efforts, the success of diplomatic efforts?

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  With the mask, it is difficult to understand you.  Can —

QUESTION:  Do you think that telegraphing the alarm so much about the potential of an invasion works against chances for a diplomatic solution?

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  On one hand you have to warn about the situation, and on the other hand you have to work in order to solve the situation.  Both things go together.

MR PRICE:  Our next question will come from El Pais.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  I have a question for High Representative Borrell and I – and also for Secretary Blinken.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Speak louder, because with the mask it’s difficult to understand.

QUESTION:  Secretary, for – question for High Representative Borrell and also Secretary Blinken.  It’s pretty much a follow-up question, actually.  The U.S. administration have been – has been sharing to the public several pieces of intelligence information or at least conclusions, and also specific sanctions regarding Russia’s intentions, and even how imminent an attack would be.  Do you think this can create alarmism, and do you think this is the smart strategy?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  First, let me say I’ve been reading El Pais very attentively, especially in recent days.  This is not alarmism; this is simply the facts.  We have to deal with the facts.  We have to deal with the facts in the context of history and we have to deal with the facts in making sure that we are fully prepared, and the facts are, as Josep said, that we have seen over the last few months a massing of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders.  That’s not happening in a vacuum.  It’s happening in the context of what Russia already did in 2014 in invading Ukraine, seizing Crimea, creating a conflict in the Donbas that continues to this day.

So that’s what we’re seeing.  That’s what we’re looking at.  That’s what we’re responding to.  And we’ve made very clear as well that there are two paths before Russia.  One path is the path of diplomacy and dialogue that we have been pursuing together and in an effort to strengthen collective security for everyone.  We have deep concerns in the United States and Europe about many actions that Russia has taken over the years that undermine security.  Russia says it has concerns about us.  We have demonstrated that we’re fully prepared to address those concerns on a reciprocal basis and doing that in full and very close coordination.

At the same time, though, given the facts that we’re seeing, given the history that we know, we have to be prepared for what could happen.  We – we don’t believe that Mr. – President Putin has made a decision, but he has put in place the capacity should he so decide to act very quickly against Ukraine, and in ways that would have terrible consequences for Ukraine, for Russia, but consequences also for all of us, because these actions – this aggression, this threatened aggression against Ukraine – would undermine the core principles that were hard established after World War II and after the Cold War that have helped to protect security, stability, peace, and prosperity in Europe and beyond ever since, principles like one country can’t simply go in by force and change the borders of another.  One country can’t simply dictate to another its choices, its decisions, including about with whom it will associate.  One country cannot exert a sphere of influence over its neighbors to try to subjugate those neighbors to its will.

All of those things are at stake, and that’s why it’s been so important not just in terms of Ukraine, as important as that is, but in terms of the larger principles that are endangered by Russia’s conduct.  As Josep said, we strongly believe together in the United States and Europe that the preferred course – the responsible course – is to work through the differences that we have diplomatically and through dialogue, and we’ve demonstrated our commitment to do that.  But equally, we are prepared if Russia chooses the path of aggression.

We’ve worked incredibly closely together in the last months, as I mentioned, nearly 200 engagements among us that continue every single day, and I think it demonstrates a solidarity of purpose, a commitment to engage together on this either way that Russia chooses.  I have to say as well that here in the United States we’ve had very strong bipartisan support for Ukraine, for upholding these principles, for working together.  I spent time with Congress last week, and that was abundantly clear from Republican and Democratic members alike.  So we will see what President Putin decides, but either way, he is going to find a Europe and United States that are fully aligned, fully coordinating, fully cooperative.

Last point I’d just make:  You mentioned at the very beginning the disinformation campaign that we see Russia engaged in.  We believe – and it’s why we’ve spoken about it repeatedly – that the best antidote to disinformation is information, and that’s what we’ve sought to provide to the best of our ability.  We know that part of Russia’s playbook is to create false provocations as justification for acts that Russia was preparing to commit in any event, and so we’ve sought to put light on those, hopefully to deter them from happening, but at the very least so that if they do happen, no one is surprised and no one misinterprets what’s actually going on.

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE BORRELL:  Well, at the beginning of the crisis, you remember, Tony, we had the phone call, and that’s when I said nothing should be agreed about European security without Europeans.  And I am very happy to say that since then we have been working very closely, I think more than ever.  This crisis has been pushing the transatlantic unity, and I am strongly satisfied of the participation of European Union on the (inaudible), the exchanges of positions among the U.S., the NATO, and Russia.

European Union is not a military association.  It’s not a military organization or union.  But we have a lot of strength on the civilian side.  And when we talk about sanctions, we talk about personal sanctions, about trade and sectoral economic sanctions, and we talk about financial sanctions, it has not to be interpreted as a threat.  We are not threatening anyone.  But we want to make clear which would be the consequences of some actions, because this is the deterrence part of the diplomatic talks.

I think it’s our duty to make clear which will be the consequences of aggression against Ukraine.  If it doesn’t happen, good, and we will do everything on the diplomatic side in order to avoid it.  But we have to be prepared to answer, and from the European Union, we have a certain number of tools on the economic side, trade and financial side that could be mobilized and certainly will be very damaging for the Russian economy.

MR PRICE:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary and Mr. High Representative.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, folks.  Have a good afternoon.