Feb 25, 2022

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript: Russia Invades Ukraine

Press Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript: Russia Invades Ukraine
RevBlogTranscriptsJen Psaki White House Press Briefing TranscriptsPress Secretary Jen Psaki White House Press Conference Transcript: Russia Invades Ukraine

February 25 White House press conference after Russia invaded Ukraine. Read the transcript of the briefing here.

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Steve: (00:01)
… until you see the results that you want.

Daleep Singh: (00:03)
We understand that these costs will accumulate over time.

Jen Psaki: (00:07)
[inaudible 00:00:07]

Speaker 1: (00:07)
Thank you. You’ve just laid out all of the actions that the US, that our allies have taken at this point. As you understand the questions, though, at this point are about the actions you have not yet chosen to take at this point, specifically, the SWIFT system and sanctioning President Putin specifically himself. What are the triggers at this point? Are there actions that President Putin might still take you’re expecting that would trigger those sanctions? Or what are the potential complications, especially about sanctioning Putin personally?

Daleep Singh: (00:33)
I understand a lot of questions about SWIFT and about sanctioning President Putin and lots of other measures that could be mentioned. But let me say this. I think today was a demonstration that we mean what we say. We delivered on what we said we would do, in terms of imposing costs. When we say all options are on the table and that we’re prepared to continue to ratchet costs higher, it would be a mistake to doubt that resolve.

Daleep Singh: (00:59)
But let me also step back and say that when we can consider which sanctions to apply, we’re not cowboys and cowgirls pressing a button to impose costs. We follow a set of principles. We want the sanctions to be impactful enough to demonstrate our resolve and to show that we have the capacity to deliver overwhelming costs to Russia. That’s one.

Daleep Singh: (01:20)
Number two, we want them to be responsible to avoid even the perception of targeting the average Russian civilian and, of course, unwanted spillovers back to the US or the global economy. Number three, we want to stay coordinated, and so we calibrate our sanctions to maximize the chance that we move in lockstep with our allies and partners.

Daleep Singh: (01:38)
Number four, they should be flexible so that we can escalate or deescalate depending on facts on the ground. Lastly, as I mentioned before, they have to be sustainable. These sanctions work over the long term. That’s what’ll guide our design.

Jen Psaki: (01:52)
[inaudible 00:01:52]

Speaker 2: (01:52)
In light of the sanctions that were announced against individuals and entities in Belarus, can you tell us whether there are sanctions against any other countries that are being seriously considered at the moment? What is the line that a nation would need to cross in this conflict for them to be on the receiving end of sanctions from the US?

Daleep Singh: (02:13)
Well, the Belarus measures were about delivering cost to a country that aided and abetted what we saw yesterday and overnight. But I have no nothing else for you in terms of other countries being targeted.

Jen Psaki: (02:24)
JJ. Oh, do you have a question?

Speaker 3: (02:26)
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Definitely.

Jen Psaki: (02:29)
[crosstalk 00:02:29] using the arms here. [crosstalk 00:02:32]

Speaker 2: (02:32)
Thank you. [crosstalk 00:02:33]

Jen Psaki: (02:33)
We’ll come back to you.

JJ: (02:35)
I wanted to ask you about some of the carve-outs. There are general licenses for more than a dozen areas, agriculture, energy, and you just said that the importance is to limit the impact on American, but I was hoping that you could say, is there a percentage that you can share of the number of exemptions that make up the overall transactions? The general licenses, what percentage of the transactions are under those licenses?

Daleep Singh: (03:04)
I would refer to Treasury and OFAC for the details on what exactly is being exempted and the percentage of business that would be included.

JJ: (03:13)
I mean, could you say, is it a third? Is it a half? I mean, is it a small percentage? Is it a high percentage?

Daleep Singh: (03:18)
I would go back to the principles of our design. The measures themselves and the exemptions are balanced so that we can deliver overwhelming costs while not having unintended consequences. That’s the principle. But as to the specifics I’d refer you to treasury.

JJ: (03:34)
Wouldn’t the oil be a large percent? I mean, considering how important it is to Russia’s bottom line?

Daleep Singh: (03:41)
Well look, where we have an asymmetric advantage is in foreign capital and cutting-edge technology. That’s where we’re delivering the most concentrated impact. When it comes to energy, this is the one area where Russia has systemic importance in the global economy. We know it’s the second largest natural gas producer in the world. It’s also the second largest crude oil producer in the world. That’s not to say that we have a dependence on Russia. Russia depends on those revenues just as much as the world needs its energy. But we’re not going to do anything which causes an unintended disruption to the flow of energy as the global economic recovery is still underway.

Jen Psaki: (04:20)
Let’s go to [inaudible 00:04:21].

Speaker 4: (04:20)
Two quick questions, actually. One, if Putin takes Kyiv, does that trigger additional sanctions, specifically that scenario?

Daleep Singh: (04:28)
Not going to speculate on particular hypotheticals.

Speaker 4: (04:31)
Okay. You mentioned the timeline. You’ve been asked about the timeline. The president said in one of the answers to his questions today, he said, “Let’s have a conversation in a month to see if these sanctions are working.” My question is, what happens in the meantime? Russia is taking over parts of Ukraine, major parts of Ukraine, as we speak, so the world just sits back and watches that happen until these sanctions take effect?

Daleep Singh: (04:51)
Look, we can’t dictate Putin’s actions. What we can do is what’s within our control and to make sure this is going to be a strategic failure for Russia. Over the core of the next month, what you can expect is that we’ll see an intensifying negative feedback loop in Russian markets, and I’ve described the elements of that. You’ll see record capital outflows. You’ll see a weaker currency. You’ll see higher inflation. You’ll see lower purchasing power. You’ll see lower investment. That negative feedback loop, the velocity of it, is going to be determined by Putin’s own actions. That’s what you should expect on the financial sanctions front. On export controls, what you can see is that over time this is going to atrophy Russia’s capacity to diversify outside of just oil and gas and to modernize the strategic sectors that Putin himself has said he wants to develop: Aerospace, defense, IT, lasers, sensors. These sectors all depend on foundational technologies designed and produced by the West. You will begin to see a chilling effect take hold in Russia as those inputs are denied.

Jen Psaki: (05:59)
[inaudible 00:05:59]

Speaker 5: (05:59)
Thank you. For weeks now, administration officials have repeatedly said, yourself included, that these sanctions are meant to deter and prevent Putin from moving forward, from acting. Can you help us understand why the president said today that no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening?

Speaker 5: (06:21)
Then secondly, a quick one on Putin sanctions, without talking about when you might trigger them, can you help us understand what harm they would do to him personally if you were to sanction Putin?

Daleep Singh: (06:35)
Look, on your first question, we don’t usually engage in hypotheticals up here at this podium, but let’s play this out. Had we unleashed our entire package of financial sanctions preemptively, I think a couple things might have happened.

Daleep Singh: (06:48)
Number one, President Putin might have said, “Look, these people are not serious about diplomacy. They’re not engaging in a good faith effort to promote peace instead they’re escalating.” That could provide a justification for him to escalate and invade.

Daleep Singh: (07:03)
Secondly, he could look at it as a sunk cost. In other words, President Putin could think, “I’ve already paid the price. Why don’t I actually take what I paid for,” which is Ukraine’s freedom. That’s what we wanted to avoid.

Daleep Singh: (07:17)
Look, ultimately the goal of our sanctions is to make this a strategic failure for Russia, and let’s define a little bit of what that means. Strategic success in the 21st century is not about a physical land grab of territory. That’s what Putin has done. In this century, power, strategic power is increasingly measured and exercised by economic strength, by technological sophistication and your story, who you are, what your values are, can you attract ideas and talent and good will. And on each of those measures, this will be a failure for Russia.

Speaker 6: (07:53)
[crosstalk 00:07:53].

Speaker 5: (07:53)
I’m sorry, I’m not done.

Jen Psaki: (07:57)
She’s not done yet. Let [inaudible 00:07:59] finish. Go ahead.

Daleep Singh: (07:59)
On President Putin.

Speaker 5: (08:02)
But is it fair to say no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything? You certainly expected that, right?

Daleep Singh: (08:07)
Look, we signaled as clearly as we could what was coming if Russia proceeded with an invasion. As I mentioned before, economic cost of this severity generally matter to any leader because of the effect it has on his people’s living standards. In this case, Putin made the wrong choice.

Speaker 6: (08:30)
[crosstalk 00:08:30].

Jen Psaki: (08:32)
[crosstalk 00:08:32] asking a question. Go ahead, [crosstalk 00:08:34]

Speaker 7: (08:34)
One more on SWIFT, please. The UK has been pressuring allies to still reject Russia from the SWIFT system. Can you say if the US is still intensely working to pressure allies to do the same? How intensely are you [crosstalk 00:08:48]-

Daleep Singh: (08:47)
I can’t comment on what the UK’s position is. I’m not going to speak to that. But what I’ll say is the sanctions measures we impose today, I think without question, were the most consequential ever levied on Russia and arguably the most consequential ever levied in history, if you look at the aggregate financial impact on Russia. That’s why we took the measures that we did. We did so because we could move in lockstep with our allies and partners and because we think the spillover effects will be manageable.

Speaker 7: (09:16)
I’m trying to figure out if this is still a realistic live round? Is the US really still making an intense effort for this? Or is it essentially-

Daleep Singh: (09:24)
This being SWIFT?

Speaker 7: (09:25)
SWIFT, right.

Daleep Singh: (09:25)
Well look, again, I’m just going to repeat all options are on the table and we’re prepared to ratchet costs higher at a time and place of our choosing. President Putin should take that seriously after what he saw today.

Jen Psaki: (09:37)

Speaker 6: (09:38)
Mr. Singh, [crosstalk 00:09:39]

Jen Psaki: (09:38)
Let Michael ask his question. Go ahead, Michael.

Michael: (09:45)
Just two questions. First, if you were to sanction Vladimir Putin, do you know where his money is?

Daleep Singh: (09:51)
Not going to comment on that.

Michael: (09:53)
Secondly, what is the message to Russia at this point on what it would take to roll back, relieve some of the sanctions that you put in place today?

Daleep Singh: (10:07)
Look, the road to diplomacy is always open. Diplomacy is never dead. But in the current circumstance, in the immediate aftermath of an invasion, that option is not available. Right now, we’re imposing severe consequences on Russia for its decisions. If there were to be a shift in Russia’s strategic choices, that upheld core principles of respecting your neighbor’s borders, respecting your neighbors, sovereignty, allowing countries to have the freedom to set their own course and their own destiny, that would be a different situation. But that’s not where we are.

Jen Psaki: (10:42)

Tyler: (10:43)
You suggested that there’s things that still remain on the table, but as you’ve walk through the hypothetical scenarios of trying to keep diplomacy open you said that they have now crossed the line. But if you’re saying they’re still more on the table, do you expect things to get worse in the coming days? That Russia will continue to move forward? Is that the intelligence? I know you guys have been quite transparent about the intelligence you have. Are you keeping things back because you think the situation is going to get worse?

Daleep Singh: (11:10)
I think we’ve been transparent, and to a remarkable degree. One aspect of that transparency is by saying we can’t get into President Putin’s head. Your question requires me to speculate on how he’s thinking about next steps. I simply can’t do that.

Tyler: (11:24)
But just in terms of US intelligence and the way that you are planning out the different sanctions you have and keeping things on the table, is that a sense that it will get worse because you want to hold things back?

Daleep Singh: (11:37)
Look, our job is to be prepared and manage risks, all manner of risks. That’s what we’ve been doing over the past three months as this crisis intensified. We’ll continue doing that.

Jen Psaki: (11:47)
Last one from Steve. Go ahead.

Speaker 6: (11:50)
[crosstalk 00:11:50]

Steve: (11:55)
Targeting the Russian energy industry is totally off the table. Is that what you’re saying, Daleep?

Daleep Singh: (12:00)
What I’m saying is that our measures were not designed to disrupt in any way the-

Daleep Singh: (12:03)
… what I’m saying is that our measures were not designed to disrupt in any way the current flow of energy from Russia to the world. Now, we have also said we are going to cut off Russia’s access to cutting edge technology. That technology can be used across many sectors. And so as it relates to Russia’s long-term productive capacity, we are seeking to degrade that capacity, but nothing in the short-term as it relates to energy.

Jen Psaki: (12:26)
Thank you so much, [inaudible 00:12:27]. Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.

Daleep Singh: (12:28)
Thank you.

Jen Psaki: (12:29)
Okay. I know it’s late, but we will get to as many people as possible. I just wanted to note a couple of things at the top for all of you. One, USAID put out an announcement that they’ve deployed a DART, or disaster assistance response team, to respond to humanitarian needs in Ukraine. This DART team which is currently based in Poland, is working closely with European allies and partners who will be on the front lines of the response. The team will lead the US government’s humanitarian response to help address critical needs caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The DART comprises 17 disaster experts from USAID, who are assessing the situation, identifying priority needs to scale up assistance inside Ukraine, and working with partners to provide rapidly needed assistance to communities affected by the conflict.

Jen Psaki: (13:15)
I know a number of you have also asked me and we’ve tried to provide as much detail as possible about how the president has spent his time over the last period since last evening. I think we put out a few details, but just to reiterate for all of you. He closely monitored the events on the ground from both the Oval Office and then back in the residence over the course of last evening. We put out a few details last night, including the fact that he spoke repeatedly with his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan. He also spoke with his US UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, before she gave that powerful speech at the UN last night. He received a briefing from Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, Secretary Blinken, and his national security advisor around 11:00 PM approximately last evening as well. As you know, he also spoke with President Zelenskyy. He continued to monitor closely into the wee hours last night.

Jen Psaki: (14:06)
This morning, as you all know, he engaged or he met for just about an hour with his national security team, which included both a full table in the room and full members from the cabinet, from the national security team on the screen. During that meeting, as is standard, he received an update from, of course, defense, intel, his diplomatic team about the status on the ground, and he has of course remained closely engaged with them through the course of the day. As you know, he also had a G7 meeting that lasted a couple of hours this morning, and he also spent an hour this afternoon on the phone with the leaders in Congress, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, briefing them on the situation, on a secure call, briefing them on the situation on the ground, answering questions they had as well. So that has been his day to date, and he is continuing, of course, to focus on other priorities as president. But why don’t we go to you, Zeke?

Zeke: (15:01)
Thanks, Jen. Just picking up on that, has the president made any additional foreign leader calls today? Has he spoken to President Zelenskyy since their call last evening?

Jen Psaki: (15:11)
There’s not been another call to President Zelenskyy. I expect, as you have seen over the past several days, he will continue to have calls with leaders. We will keep you abreast as those happen.

Zeke: (15:21)
And with the US government saying that it believes that the Russian objective right now is to decapitate the Ukrainian government, does US believe that President Zelenskyy at this moment is safe?

Jen Psaki: (15:32)
We’re not going to get into security questions, but we are in touch with President Zelenskyy, and we are working to provide him a range of support.

Zeke: (15:41)
And President Zelenskyy in addition to calling for the West to cut Russia off from [inaudible 00:15:47] also proposed or called for, demanded, I think, is the word he used in a tweet that the US and its allies [inaudible 00:15:54] flies on over to Ukraine. I know the president just said that he won’t put US boots on the ground in Ukraine to fight Russia. Is he training airspace in play? Is that something that is [inaudible 00:16:08] any discussions?

Jen Psaki: (16:08)
We’ve certainly seen his tweet or his request via tweets, but I don’t have an update on that request.

Zeke: (16:17)
[inaudible 00:16:17] if not, off the table [inaudible 00:16:18]?

Jen Psaki: (16:18)
Again, I don’t have any update in this point in time or status of the discussions. Go ahead.

Speaker 8: (16:22)
Thanks. Just a followup on troops fast, and few cyber questions. Do you expect NATO to call up a major response force and how many US troops could be called to help in that effort?

Jen Psaki: (16:30)
That’s really up to NATO. As you know, we have a number of troops, thousands of troops, that are on call, but that is a decision to made by the NATO Alliance.

Speaker 8: (16:38)
And the president said if Putin pursues cyber attacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond. So just clarifying, does that first mean that there has not been any evidence of any cyber attack from Russia against any American companies at this point?

Jen Psaki: (16:52)
Not that we have identified or attributed at this point in time.

Speaker 8: (16:55)
And can you explain-

Jen Psaki: (16:56)
Aside from past ones that you were fairly tracking.

Speaker 8: (16:59)
I guess, I mean, in the last 24 hours.

Jen Psaki: (17:00)
I understand.

Speaker 8: (17:02)
Can you explain more of the White House’s thinking on kind of this debate in Washington about whether a cyber attack against a NATO ally would trigger an Article 5 response, a response from the Alliance?

Jen Psaki: (17:13)
Well, that again is up to the NATO Alliance to determine, but obviously a cyber attack does constitute an attack. So that would certainly be a point of discussion among the NATO members.

Speaker 8: (17:22)
One more really fast, on the USAID disaster response you just mentioned, a 17 person team, is that enough? I mean, we’re talking about… We’ve heard you guys talk about the potential of hundreds of thousands of-

Jen Psaki: (17:34)
You’re actually right. And I think that’s an important point. But what we’re trying to do here is provide any incremental update on the status of what our work is. And I’ll just note, and you may be fully aware of this, but in terms of humanitarian assistance, we have been the biggest provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. We’ve provided over $52 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the past year. Over the past few weeks, we’ve committed additional funding and supplies to humanitarian organizations. There’s been a specific need and therefore a focus on support services, food, clean water, hygiene, shelter, trauma, primary healthcare and we are prepared to certainly provide a significant amount more. So this is just one step, obviously less than to 24 hours after the events of last night. And we will continue to plus up from here, go ahead.

Speaker 9: (18:21)
Jen, there are a number of protests within Russia itself. Are you monitoring this? What’s your message to them?

Jen Psaki: (18:27)
Well, there certainly are. And I know with everything going on, this may not have caught everybody’s attention. But let me just note that today we’re seeing Russian people in the streets, open letters from leading Russian journalists and cultural figures denouncing president Putin’s war of choice. And reports of Russian mothers concerned about the reckless deployment of their sons to this fracture recital war. I think it’s important to remember back in 2014 when they didn’t even acknowledge that they were sending Russian soldiers. They didn’t even acknowledge when they were body bags come back from Ukraine into Russia. And there is an outcry in the streets by more Russian people than I think many would expect. So despite Putin’s crackdown at home dissenting views remain, and I think that’s important to note. To publicly protest against President Putin and his war is a deeply courageous act. Their actions to the world that despite the Kremlin’s propaganda, there are Russian people who profoundly disagree with what he is doing in Ukraine.

Speaker 9: (19:23)
One more, Speaker Pelosi’s talking about sending $600 million in lethal aid to Ukraine, is this something you support?

Jen Psaki: (19:31)
We are in conversations with Congress and I mentioned the president spoke with leaders just earlier this afternoon. I don’t have an exact number, but those are ongoing conversations about what needs the Ukrainians have on the ground in a variety of categories; security, humanitarian, other economic assistance. Go ahead.

Jamie: (19:48)
Does the US have any analysis to indicate that there is dissent or division within Putin’s government, or is it your understanding that Putin’s government is united in this war?

Jen Psaki: (20:01)
It’s an interesting question. And, Jamie, without getting into intelligence, which obviously we look at, I mentioned, obviously, Russians protesting in the streets. That’s not exactly what you asked about. But if you watched the meeting President Putin had with members of his national security team the other day, it was quite striking the back and worth he had with his intel chief in that meeting. And the analysis of that is certainly can be done in an open source manner, given it was quite public, but I will leave outside analysis to give further assessment of that.

Jamie: (20:32)
And as you know, we are seeing Ukrainians start to plea the country. Is the US prepare to accept Ukrainian refugees?

Jen Psaki: (20:41)
We are, but we certainly expect that most, if not, the majority will want to go to Europe in neighboring countries. So we are also working with European countries on what the needs are, where there is capacity. At Poland, for example, where we are seeing an increasing flow of refugees over the last 24 hours of flow of individuals, I should say, out of Ukraine, what their needs are. And we’ve been talking and engaging with Europeans about that for some time now.

Jamie: (21:08)
Well, part of what you’re doing is to prepare for the United States to accept-

Jen Psaki: (21:12)
The president is certainly prepared for that. But I would just us note that because there are a number of European countries neighboring Ukraine who have expressed an openness to it, we would anticipate many of them would want to go to European countries.

Jamie: (21:24)
And just one more quick question, the president, of course, has repeatedly said that American troops will not enter Ukraine. Is there any scenario that’s been discussed where that decision might be reconsidered?

Jen Psaki: (21:36)
The president has no intention of sending US troops to fight in Ukraine. That has not changed. Go ahead.

Speaker 10: (21:43)
This was asked to the president earlier, but I don’t think we got a full answer. Yesterday Vladimir Putin said that he warned if others are involved of such consequences that you have never encountered in your history. Does the US understand that as a threat of using nuclear weapons?

Jen Psaki: (22:00)
Well, we can’t obviously get into the mind of President Putin as much as he said that, nor do we know all the specific details about his strategic posture. But we don’t see any increased threat in that regard at this point in time. Go ahead.

Speaker 11: (22:15)
Just follow up on some of the cyber questions.

Jen Psaki: (22:17)

Speaker 11: (22:18)
I know that you and others have talked about how the government is on alert for the potential of a cyber attack, but can you share… Are there any specific steps that are being taken that you can share that the US is doing to protect the infrastructure, power grid, US banks?

Jen Psaki: (22:35)
Well, I would say, one, there’s been efforts that have been ongoing for some time, since the beginning of the administration to harden the private sector. I work with the private sector in partnership to harden their cybersecurity protections. We’ve actually seen a great deal of progress made in the financial sector. It’s one of the stronger sectors in terms of protections from a cyber front that we see out there. So it’s been ongoing for several months. Obviously when there are moments like this, where we continue to watch and look for what the potential is, we continue to engage closely with a range of industries about what they need to do about the potential threats. And that’s something that happens obviously privately and through a range of agencies. I can see if there’s anything more specific that we can read out to all of you.

Speaker 11: (23:18)
Just real quick, one follow up. President Biden said that the US is prepared if an attack comes there. Would… Pardon of me. He said prepared to respond. Would that response be a-

Jen Psaki: (23:32)
A cyber attack.

Speaker 11: (23:36)
A cyber attack, yes. Would that be an equivalent cyber attack against Russia?

Jen Psaki: (23:38)
Well, I would say that the president reserves the option to respond in any manner of his choosing. Overt or covert, seen or unseen as we like to say in more available English, but I’m not going to get into specifics of what that looks like. He has a range of options. Go ahead.

Speaker 12: (23:54)
Thanks. On oil prices and the SPR, does the administration have an oil price in mind that would trigger another release from the SPR?

Jen Psaki: (24:02)
I think not that we’re going to get into-

Speaker 13: (24:03)
Trigger another release from the SPR?

Jen Psaki: (24:03)
I think not that we’re getting into detail from here, JJ. I understand certainly the question. What you heard the President talk about today, and I can just reiterate a little bit, is that what has been ongoing, both from the President who has been very engaged in this, having conversations with leaders in the Middle East and other parts of the world, as well as many members of his National Security team, taking whatever steps we can to mitigate the impact on the global oil markets.

Jen Psaki: (24:26)
And obviously, that means increasing supply. Obviously, a coordinated release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be a part of that. But in terms of what that looks like or the specifics, I’m just not in a position to get into more details at this point.

Speaker 13: (24:37)
Thanks. If the worst happens and Russia either reduces the flow of natural gas or cuts off energy altogether to Europe, does the administration have a good idea for how long households in Europe could last under that kind of circumstance?

Jen Psaki: (24:51)
I don’t have an assessment of that from here. I can certainly check with our economic team. One thing I will say that one of the steps we’ve been taking, obviously natural gas shortages and supply is an enormous regional issue, one that would hugely impact Europe more than here, of course. One of the steps we’ve been focused on and been taking is engaging with partners who may have excess LNG supply, like countries in Europe, Japan, for example, where we were planning to give them some and now they’re going to divert it to Europe. So, we’ve been working to help mitigate any impact of further invasion and a shortage in Europe. Go ahead.

Speaker 14: (25:32)
Some of the ectopy that we’ve seen today in Ukraine from the clashes have been in and around Chernobyl. Does the United States have an assessment of the risk of a radioactive release?

Jen Psaki: (25:40)
So, I do have one actual update on that as well. There was also a report out, so let me speak to this first just so I don’t forget, about hostages around there as well. So let me speak to that first. We are outraged by credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding the staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage. This unlawful and dangerous hostage taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly concerning. We condemn it and we request their release.

Jen Psaki: (26:19)
In terms of a further assessment, I don’t have anything more on that from here.

Speaker 14: (26:22)
Can you give a [inaudible 00:26:23] of how the President spent the 24 hours or so? First, I wanted to ask about his call with President Zelenskyy. Did he indicate if he was still in Kyiv? Did he identify his location at this point?

Jen Psaki: (26:34)
We are aware of where he is located and we are in touch with him. I would say on that call, what they discussed is President Zelenskyy’s request for the President to condemn the actions of President Putin and the Russians and to engage with other global leaders about it, and that’s exactly what he’s done.

Speaker 14: (26:55)
We’ve seen a number of statements today from former presidents, President Obama and President Bush and also saw former President Trump on television talking about this. Has the President … You mentioned during the Afghanistan [inaudible 00:27:05] he had been in contact with his predecessors. Has he been in touch with any of his predecessors during this?

Jen Psaki: (27:09)
He has not been today.

Speaker 14: (27:10)
And then in terms of another domestic priority that was potentially included in his meetings today, given the situation, his time and focus and attention on Supreme Court, at the [inaudible 00:27:21] on Ukraine, will this affect the timing of his Supreme Court announcement?

Jen Psaki: (27:24)
We are still on track to make an announcement before the end of the month. We have to do a lot of things around here at the same time. Go ahead.

Speaker 15: (27:31)
Just a follow up on the cyber attacks in article V-

Jen Psaki: (27:35)

Speaker 15: (27:36)
Question. I know you said it’s up to NATO to decide, but from a US perspective, would any cyber attack against a NATO ally trigger article V, or would there be a measure for what counts?

Jen Psaki: (27:47)
Again, this is a conversation we would have with our NATO allies and partners. I don’t have anything in addition to add to it.

Speaker 15: (27:53)
And just to follow up on the Supreme Court, I know you said you’re on track, but has he made a final decision given there are basically two days left for the end of the month?

Jen Psaki: (28:02)
Not a final final. No job offer has been made. Go ahead.

Speaker 16: (28:07)
Thanks. Just a couple. Are there any concerns or indications at this point that Russia had prepared for the sanctions you are putting in place and developed preemptively ways to blunt that impasse?

Jen Psaki: (28:19)
Well, it’s an interesting question. Some of it is hard because it’s hard to get into the minds of President Putin and the oligarchs around him. One of the steps we tried to take, as we were contemplating the individuals we were going to sanction, we sanctioned family members as well because what we’ve seen of the tactics they used in the past is they moved money around and resources around to family members, and we tried to address that on the front end.

Jen Psaki: (28:44)
In terms of the banking and the financial sector, it accounts for such a large percentage of how they do business that that would be a difficult thing for them to plan and plot against. And if you look to even just the anticipation of the potential sanctions, as [Delipe 00:29:02] was mentioning, the ruble is the worst performing currency in the world right now. Their inflation has skyrocketed.

Jen Psaki: (29:09)
So, we’re even seeing in their markets the anticipated impact, even before today, and that’s even before the actual squeeze on the financial sector in the country. So, it feels to me it would be a little hard to plan around and plot around given the significance of what was done today and the fact that we’re sanctioning 10 of Russia’s financial institutions and these export control measures, which essentially cuts President Putin off from semi-conductors and access to a range of technology he wants for the future.

Jen Psaki: (29:39)
Those are difficult things to plan ahead for.

Speaker 16: (29:43)
I guess secondly, does [inaudible 00:29:45] have any assessment for how China is reacting to this at this point, whether they are willing to provide support to Russia, how much, and has there been any kind of contact there in an attempt to move them off of any support?

Jen Psaki: (29:57)
Well in terms of what impact they can have, China only accounts for about 15% of … China and Russia, I’m not sure, you can double check me on this, about 15% of the global economy. You look at G7 partners in the US and Europe, it’s about 50%, right? So they cannot cover what the impact of the sanctions that have been announced in coordination with Europe, how they would impact Russia.

Jen Psaki: (30:21)
I think from our perspective as it relates to China, while I can’t get into the heads of what their thinking is, this is really a moment for China, for any country, to think about what side of history they want to stand on here. That is certainly the case that we would make publicly and privately.

Jen Psaki: (30:40)
I think you saw that Secretary Blinken spoke with his counterpart just a couple of days ago. The President is certainly open to speaking with his counterpart, but I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time, or a timeline. Go ahead.

Speaker 17: (30:52)
Thanks Jen. Over the past couple of weeks as you’ve been sounding the alarm on this, you’ve put the sanctions back together and conducted diplomacy with the Russians and the rest of the world, how did the Ukrainian government use that time since they’ve been initially warned that this was the likelihood? Did they use that time wisely to prepare?

Jen Psaki: (31:13)
Tell me more about what you mean exactly.

Speaker 17: (31:16)
Well, you’re seeing reports from the streets in Ukraine of people being surprised. You had obviously local and national leadership in Ukraine telling people to stay calm, to go to work even a day before the invasion began. So, were they properly prepared, and was there more that they could have done?

Jen Psaki: (31:40)
I think it’s not particularly constructive for us to give an assessment of that. What I can tell you is that our focus has been on providing up to date, what has turned out to be quite accurate and transparent, information about what President Putin was preparing to do, which was invade Ukraine. And we have been very clear with American citizens who were there. We have been clear with our European partners for months now, including Ukrainian leadership.

Jen Psaki: (32:11)
So that has been what our focus has been and we will remain a strong supporter and partner of President Zelenskyy in Ukraine moving forward. Go ahead.

Speaker 18: (32:19)
Thanks Jen. Following up on the sanction question-

Jen Psaki: (32:22)

Speaker 18: (32:23)
We have heard for weeks that these sanctions were at least a part of a strategy that was based on deterrence-

Jen Psaki: (32:28)

Speaker 18: (32:28)
As well as prevention. Today with the President’s comment that no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening, moving forward, do you expect these later sanctions to prevent any further advancement or aggression from Russia?

Jen Psaki: (32:41)
Well, I would say that later in the back and forth or the press avail, he also said when asked, “If sanctions cannot stop President Putin, what penalty can?” And he said, “I didn’t say sanctions couldn’t stop him,” which leads me to believe that’s not exactly what he meant. He also went on to say, “The threat of sanctions and imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of sanctions are two different things.”

Jen Psaki: (33:02)
And the way that we look at this broadly speaking, and to touch on this a little bit, is that we do see them as having a deterrent impact. Right? It doesn’t mean they’re 100% foolproof. But if there’s a 95% chance of Russia invading without the threat of sanctions and there’s a 60 … I’m making up these percentages, just to make a point. But a 65% chance that they will with them, you’re obviously going to go with the threat of sanctions because you want to reduce the threat of an invasion.

Jen Psaki: (33:32)
So there is a deterrent. We’ve seen the deterrent impact work at times, right? I’d also note that we were very clear eyed about the fact that President Putin, not just a few days ago, he gave the speech a few days ago where he questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine as a sovereign country. He’s also talked about how the breakup of the Soviet Union was the worst thing that’s happened, that’s a paraphrase, in recent decades of history.

Jen Psaki: (33:56)
So we are clear eyed about his ambition, but the other part of it that we were quite focused on is the consequences. And the way we see it is, as we’ve touched on a little bit, inflation’s skyrocketing, the ruble is the worst performing currency in the world, it was his decision to go to war. It’s our choice to make him pay a price, same with the global community, and we believe these consequences are also going to have an impact.

Speaker 18: (34:20)
Just at the risk of repeating a question as well-

Jen Psaki: (34:23)

Speaker 18: (34:23)
The President did also say let’s check in in a month, and there has been some questions about time here. It seems like this is a strategy to use these sanctions to put pressure on Russia to eventually discourage them, or force them, to pull out this advance. So what is the time table here, do you think, for when the Russian government will start actually feeling the impact of these sanctions and possibly pull out?

Jen Psaki: (34:45)
Well in many senses, they’re already feeling the impact. Look at where the ruble is. Look at where inflation is. Look at where the markets are in Russia. In terms of how Putin will feel the impact, we just sanctioned a range of oligarchs around him. We sanctioned 10 financial institutions. These are all significant enormous steps that are going to have an impact on him. But in terms of the moment by moment, I can’t give you an assessment of that.

Speaker 18: (35:13)
[inaudible 00:35:13] just off topic-

Jen Psaki: (35:13)
Go ahead.

Speaker 18: (35:13)
Just there’s been a lot of questions about refugees in the region for Ukrainians that are in the country as the US, especially after yesterday, considering TPS or any sort of protection.

Jen Psaki: (35:24)
Sure. As you know, that’s a decision that would be made through an inter-agency process led by the Department of Homeland Security, and I don’t have any prediction of that. I don’t have any kind of prediction of that at this point in time. Obviously, these events are just unfolding as we speak.

Speaker 18: (35:37)
And that process has started this conversation?

Jen Psaki: (35:40)
I’m not going to give you any specifics on an internal process, but I would just say, again, it’s an inter-agency process. And right now, we’re of course in the middle of an invasion and a war in Ukraine. Go ahead.

Speaker 19: (35:50)
Thanks Jen. Earlier, you had said you have to do a lot of things at the same time. One of those things, of course, is the State of the Union next week.

Jen Psaki: (35:56)

Speaker 19: (35:57)
Can you tell us how the President this week has been preparing for that, how much time he’s spent on this speech, and how he’s juggling that with this very-

Speaker 20: (36:03)
…time he spent on this speech and how he’s juggling that with this very busy schedule that you made out earlier tonight.

Jen Psaki: (36:06)
Yeah, absolutely. So in addition to obviously being very closely engaged and leading the effort on the U.S response to the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the president has been working with speech writers, working with members of his policy team to finalize details of his state of the union, starting to do some read throughs, not too many yet. I expect those will increase in the days ahead. I expect we won’t have too much of a preview for you, maybe tomorrow. But maybe more likely this weekend.

Jen Psaki: (36:39)
He’s also been engaging with his COVID team. Talking about where we are in the state of the pandemic. What’s next in the pandemic. He’s been working closely with his economic team and receiving updates on the supply chain, the implementation of the infrastructure bill. So, even as we have all been understandably focused on the conflict in Ukraine, the president has been very hard at work on a range of issues that are vital to the American people.

Speaker 20: (37:06)
You touched on my follow up. ABC’s reporting the White House is revamping the COVID strategy now that hospitalizations are on the decline. Should we expect the president to roll that out in the speech next Tuesday.

Jen Psaki: (37:16)
I don’t have any preview for you on timeline or format. But the president has been working and engaged with this COVID team for some time now. And we’re making strong progress on moving toward a time when COVID is no longer a crisis. The COVID team has been spending a lot of time and energy, including with the president, working with experts inside and outside government, local health officials and governors. And this work is broader than one piece of guidance.

Jen Psaki: (37:44)
How we look at it is we’re preparing to stay ahead of the virus, protecting our most vulnerable, keeping our country open. And that is going to look at everything from, the CDC is obviously reviewing mask guidance, but also how we’re going to ensure that vaccines, boosters, tests, treatments, and other important components of our medicine cabinet are available to the American people. Go ahead.

Speaker 21: (38:07)
Thanks Jen. I had a couple of questions.

Jen Psaki: (38:08)
Sure. Then I’ll go at it again. Just go ahead.

Speaker 21: (38:08)
Thanks. I had a couple of questions. First, a follow up about some of the humanitarian needs you’ve been talking about. You’ve talked about how much money and supplies are going to be going, but how are you going to ensure that those supplies get to the Ukraine? Is there going to be some sort of airdrop and would the president consider putting U.S boots on the ground for humanitarian needs, to make sure they get to the people that need it?

Jen Psaki: (38:31)
Well, we do have fortunately or unfortunately, a fair amount of experience on providing humanitarian assistance in conflict zones. And we typically work, and USAID specifically has a great deal of experience with that. Working with trusted third party entities. Obviously the government, which remains in power. So there’s a range of ways that we would provide assistance. In terms of other mechanisms, I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time.

Speaker 21: (38:57)
And then, another question for you. And this has been happening while you’ve been up at the podium. So, I’m not trying to ambush you, but I would like to give you a chance to respond. Senator Ted Cruz is speaking at CPAC, and you came up. He called you quote unquote “Peppermint Patty” and has encouraged people to boo you. So I wanted-

Jen Psaki: (39:16)
Don’t tell him I like Peppermint Patty. So, I’m not going to take it too offensively. Senator Cruz, I like Peppermint Patty. I’m a little tougher than that, but there you go. Go ahead.

Speaker 22: (39:29)
Hi. Yeah. So, back to the president’s comments earlier today. So he did say to give it a month to see if these sanctions work. However, under Russia’s current assault, Ukraine clearly might not have a month or even weeks. So is it fair to say that he is conceding Ukraine to Putin?

Jen Psaki: (39:47)
There’s nothing about the president’s strategy or approach or leadership in the world, building a coalition of the majority of countries in the Western world to stand against the actions of President Putin that suggests that he is ceding anything.

Jen Psaki: (40:04)
You saw him lay out a set of historic sanctions today that will maximize pain on Russia. Yes, as we’ve conveyed, they’re meant to have a squeeze over the course of time, but we’re already seeing an impact on the financial markets, on the currency, on inflation in Russia. And there are unfortunately, the Russian people are going to feel the pain of that.

Jen Psaki: (40:28)
So, I would say the president is going to continue as he has for weeks now to work in close lockstep with European partners to continue to press from the global community for deescalation as it relates to the events in Ukraine. Go ahead.

Peter: (40:44)
Thank you Jen. If President Zelenskyy is in danger of being killed or captured and put on some sort of a show trial, would President Biden send U.S troops in on a rescue mission to get him out?

Jen Psaki: (40:57)
Again, we are in touch with President Zelenskyy who is an important partner. We support him, who he’s the leader of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine. But I’m not going to get into security steps.

Peter: (41:07)
Okay. There’s this talk about a possible forecast for financial pain, particularly at the gas pump for Americans. The president said today, the notion that this is going to last for a long time is highly unlikely. Would he try to ensure that by lifting some of the restrictions that he’s put in place on the energy industry or rethinking some projects like the Keystone Pipeline?

Jen Psaki: (41:33)
Well, first of all, the Keystone Pipeline is not flowing. So I’m not sure how that would solve anything. There’s also plenty of oil leases that are not being tapped into by oil companies. So you should talk to them about that and why. But what the president’s talking about is, we certainly understand, and he said this today, right? It may have been in response to your question. I don’t remember. But if there’s an invasion of another country by a big country, there’s going to be impacts on the markets, right?

Jen Psaki: (41:57)
And we certainly anticipated that and we anticipate that as it relates to the global oil market as well. So that’s why the president for weeks now has been engaging with a range of big global suppliers. Some in the Middle East, others, to see what we can do to ensure there’s supply out there in the market to reduce the impact on the American people.

Peter: (42:16)
And the U.S is one of the Russian oil industries best customers, hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. Would the president ever consider ordering U.S companies to stop importing Russian oil?

Jen Psaki: (42:29)
I don’t have any prediction of that at this point, Peter. We announce some significant sanctions today. Our objective is to ensure there is the greatest economic pain on Russia and not on the Russian people, but on President Putin and to minimize the impact on the American people, including companies here in the United States. All right. Thanks everyone. See you tomorrow.

Speaker 23: (42:52)
[inaudible 00:42:52] said that he thinks that Putin’s going to go and try to expand back the Soviet Union. So is this… Do you all think this is act one in a multiple country invasion?

Jen Psaki: (43:02)
Well, I’m not going to make a prediction of that, but we certainly think he has grander ambitions than Ukraine.

Speaker 24: (43:07)
Can you clarify that same point? Does he believe that President Putin is going to absorb Ukraine into Russia, when he says that President Putin wants to reestablish the Soviet union? Is that what he’s saying?

Jen Psaki: (43:16)
I think he believes that as we all do, that President Putin has grander ambitions than Ukraine, hence the military campaign is continuing. Thanks everyone. We’ll do this more tomorrow.

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