THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name’s Bill Martin, and I’ll be the moderator. And now it is my distinct pleasure to welcome our distinguished briefer, Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried. She’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Assistant Secretary Donfried will discuss U.S. policy on Russia and Ukraine, and the big picture of our relationship with Europe as the NATO Summit approaches.
This briefing is on the record; it is being live-streamed. After we hear from the EUR Assistant Secretary, we will begin the question-and-answer period. This briefing will end no later than 10:15. The FPC will post a transcript of this briefing and the video afterwards on our website, which is fpc.state.gov.
With that, I’m going to turn the floor over to the assistant secretary. Assistant Secretary Donfried, please.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks so much, Bill. So good morning to all of you. I thought it might be helpful if I began by setting the context. And admittedly, I’m going to start on a rather sober note, which is that last week we marked the hundred days of the launch of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It was a plan that Russian President Putin had been putting into place for months. As you all know, before Russia’s forces fired the first shot and launched the first missile on February 24, Vladimir Putin had amassed over 130,000 troops in the areas along Ukraine’s borders, all the while telling the international community that these troops were merely there for training purposes.
Despite repeated calls for those troops to return to barracks, months of calls and visits to persuade Putin to take the diplomatic off-ramp, offers to negotiate and warnings that a further invasion of Ukraine would not go unanswered, Putin made a disastrous decision to launch that full-scale war against Ukraine.
Putin envisioned an easy path to Kyiv. And as we all know, things didn’t go according to that plan. The Russian people have paid the price for Putin’s war of aggression against a peaceful neighbor. We want to see an end to the needless death and misery the Kremlin’s aggression is causing.
As great as the pain of Putin’s war has been for Russians, the suffering it has caused Ukrainians is much greater. We have seen thousands of Ukrainian citizens die defending their country. Outside the battlefield, we have seen thousands of Ukrainian civilians – children, the elderly, journalists, emergency workers – killed in Russia’s brutal bombardments, and millions more have been displaced within Ukraine or forced to seek refuge in other countries.
Russia’s shelling of civilian infrastructure continues creating a massive reconstruction need. Heavy fighting continues today in the east and the south, and reports of Russia’s war crimes and other atrocities are piling up as I speak.
What held true a hundred days ago its true today, and unfortunately will be true tomorrow. This brutality is continuing. In response to that, the United States Government and the American people support Ukraine’s right to defend itself on the battlefield and we will support Ukraine’s decisions at the negotiating table. We support Ukraine’s right to be free, democratic, and independent. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We remain committed to defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the hundred days since February 24, Ukraine has shown it is a formidable force. Countries around the world have shown their unity and resolve in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, as well as in defending the rules-based international order that has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity not only to Europe, but to the world.
Since February, the United States has provided over $6.3 billion in security, humanitarian, and economic assistance to support Ukraine. Ukraine’s fight is our fight. It is the fight for all of us, for democracy and freedom. Thus we will stay the course with the people of Ukraine because we understand that freedom is not free.
So thanks for letting me set the stage with those comments, and I very much look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Donfried, for those remarks. And now I’d like to open this program up for questions. We’ll take a few questions first from those in the briefing room, if you have questions, and then a few questions from those on Zoom. Please raise your hand or your virtual hand if you are on Zoom if you would like to ask a question. If I call on you, please give your name and your outlet.
Okay. And our first question will be, I believe, from a journalist from Poland. Please introduce yourself.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. My name is Magda Sakowska. I’m with Polish outlet Polsat News, and I have two quick questions. As the NATO Summit in Madrid approaches, I have a question: What role in the new strategy concepts does Washington see for Poland, the country at eastern flank of NATO and a country that has given shelter for so many Ukrainian people?
And the second is: The response of the U.S. and Europe, so far at least, to Russian – Russia war is very united and bold, but how do you think the unity could last? Because the differences are more and more conspicuous. France, Italy, Germany, they talk about negotiations. President Macron said that Vladimir Putin shouldn’t be humiliated. And on the other hand, we have Eastern European countries and United States, and that group would like to see Russia defeated, totally defeated. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thanks so much for both those questions. In terms of the upcoming NATO Summit at the end of the month, one of the key deliverables will be the strategic concept, which is setting up the framework for NATO over the coming decade. So it will seek to capture the strategic challenges that are out there, how NATO plans to meet them. So I don’t know that you’ll expect to see something specific about Poland because it’s really the vision of all 30 NATO members about the coming 10 years.
I will say that I think we have seen tremendous unity in the Alliance to date and Poland has been playing a truly remarkable role in standing up in the face of Russia’s renewed aggression against Ukraine. And I think you’ve seen Poland and the U.S. and other NATO Allies coming together in support of Ukraine, which connects very much to your second question about can we see that cohesion continue. And on the one hand, I think you’re right to point to the need to be aware of what is challenging that unity. I think there are various things that could challenge it, including economics. We’re seeing rising inflation based on increasing gas prices, increasing food prices. And that will be challenging as we all seek to manage the economic fallout of this.
On the other hand, I have to say that the way the U.S. and Europe have come together both in the NATO context but also U.S.-EU cooperation has been striking. And as you know, in the run-up to the war, the United States was forthcoming in sharing intelligence about what we were seeing. The Biden administration was very concerned in the months leading up to February 24 that what we were seeing suggested exactly the full-scale invasion of Ukraine that we saw on February 24. Many of our allies shared that assessment; others did not. So I think when that full-scale invasion happened in exactly the way that we had suggested it might, it galvanized the NATO Alliance and the U.S. relationship to its partners in a way that we hadn’t seen before.
It’s interesting; a colleague of mine at the European Union said to several of us this was Europe’s 9/11. And I think especially for Europeans who did not believe at the end of the day Putin would decide on that full-scale invasion, it was a shock. And the unity that came out of that, the deep, shared belief that it was simply not acceptable for Russia to undertake that brutal invasion of its neighbor has led, I think, to remarkable unity both in terms of how can NATO strengthen its own defenses, but also in terms of cooperation with the EU, making sure that we together are putting costs on Russia to make clear how wrong this action is.
So, yes, I think there are pressures on that unity. I think they’ve been there from the beginning. That’s why I went back to the beginning to say I think there were different understandings of what Russia actually would do. But we have held firm because what undergirds this fundamentally is the principles we share that it is not acceptable for a weaker country to – for a stronger country to invade its weaker neighbor, that each country should have the right to choose its own foreign and security policy, that we do believe in these principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we need to stand up and defend them.
So yes, there will be challenges for us, but I think what unites us here is stronger than that. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Great. Let’s see, the second row here. Please introduce yourself.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Iaroslav Dovgopol, Ukrainian news agency UkrInform. First of all, I would like to thank the U.S. Government for the support of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, and I also have two questions for you. Last week, U.S. media reported, citing multiple sources in the U.S. administration, that the U.S. officials have been discussing with British and European counterparts on potential frameworks for the ceasefire and ending the war in Ukraine through the negotiations. So could you please comment on whether the administration, the State Department, is conducting such a dialogue?
And the second question is regarding the food security. What kind of options does the U.S. administration consider to unblock Ukrainian grain? Does it include the possibility of the humanitarian convoy with military naval ships to guarantee safe navigation in the Black Sea? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thanks so much for both those questions. And first, to your opening line about thanking the U.S. for the support we’ve been giving to Ukraine, I also want to say thank you to Ukrainians. I think Ukrainians have set a remarkable, inspiring model for us about strength and resilience in the wake of what truly is a brutal invasion by Russia. So I think Ukrainians are inspiring the entire world at this moment. We feel very strongly that we stand proudly with Ukraine and will continue to give you all of the support that we can. So this is very much mutual.
Your question about potential frameworks for a ceasefire and where are we on this, I brought along a copy of President Biden’s guest essay in The New York Times last week because I thought it was one of the most fulsome statements of U.S. policy that we’ve seen for some time. And I thought his comment about diplomacy that could end the war was really important. He quoted actually President Zelenskyy, who said ultimately this war “will only definitively end through diplomacy.” And then President Biden goes on to make clear that our aim here is to make sure we help Ukraine be in the strongest possible position when we get to that negotiating table. I think that negotiating table, unfortunately, is not around the corner, and I say that because there is no evidence that Russia today wants to engage in good-faith negotiations at that table. So, unfortunately, I think it is still some time away.
Your second question about food security is also an important one. Now, food security is not a new issue. This has been something we collectively have been concerned about for some time. It’s been exacerbated by COVID, it’s been exacerbated by climate, and now by that third C of conflict. And I want to be really clear here that that third C of conflict relates to the war that Putin started against Ukraine. It is Russian actions that are exacerbating the food security problem. It is something the Biden administration takes very seriously.
As you know, the United States had the presidency of the UN Security Council last month, in the month of May. Secretary of State Blinken spent time in New York both hosting a food security ministerial, also hosting a conversation in the UN Security Council to try to bring added attention to the issue and added support to solving this. And there are no easy solutions, so we are looking at a series of possibilities. One is the one you mentioned: Could there be some way of allowing shipments through the Black Sea? That’s an attractive option because in terms of quantity, you could get very significant amounts of grain out, but it is fraught with challenges – security challenges, commercial challenges. So those conversations are ongoing. The EU has also been very engaged in this and thinking about whether there are ways that we can get more grain out over land, and they have a whole set of ideas around this that we are very supportive of.
So this issue is a focus I think for countries around the world, including those countries who are most impacted by food insecurity in emerging countries. So this is an incredibly serious issue. We are very focused on it together with allies, partners, the UN, the EU, but there are not easy answers. And I can’t tell you right now what the best solution is.
MODERATOR: One more question. Please, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, thank you very much for your time and thank you, FPC, for organizing this. Two questions on Georgia.
MODERATOR: Give your name and your —
QUESTION: Yes. My name is Demna Devdariani. I’m with Mtavari Channel from Georgia. Many members of the European Parliament are calling the European Union to impose sanctions against the richest man in Georgia, oligarch Ivanishvili, and against some Georgian judges who are the part of so-called “clan” and who they instrumentalized justice to oppress political opponents. When you look at that and when you also look at the imprisonment of the – and the CEO of my broadcaster, Mr. Nika Gvaramia, and major crackdown on opposition media in Georgia, what comes to your mind when you observe the significant democratic backsliding in Georgia? I mean, what are the main concerns you have when you see all of this?
My second question is in the context of the war. Amidst this raging war in Ukraine by Russia, how much your perspective about regional countries and primarily Georgia has shifted when you see all of that tectonic geopolitical changes in the region? Do you consider boosting any military cooperation with Georgia, providing many military ammunition or such kind? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So thank you for those questions. First on the situation in Georgia, you in specific asked about sanctions – as you know, sanctions are a tool the U.S. Government has used around the world in combatting corruption. We never pre-announce sanctions. We – but I think you see how the U.S. has used that tool in other places. And what I will say about Georgia is we would urge Georgian officials to advance the vital democratic reforms that we have worked so closely with our Georgian counterparts on. And I do think one critical lesson from what we see playing out is how important strong democracies are, and the need for all of us to work on strengthening our democracies. And I would count the U.S. in that group.
And I just want to point out that the reason President Biden hosted the democracy summit last year was not to say the U.S. has this all figured out. It was to say democracy is not some endpoint; it’s a process. And what we do as allies and partners is encourage each other to be stronger democracies. And so my message for Georgia is continue on that path, continue to be a strong democracy. And what we’re doing here today is an example of my respect for all of you. In any democracy, a free press is critical. So we have to think about all of those aspects of democracy and make sure in our respective countries that we are doing the most that we can to have democracies that have resilient institutions and that we continue to work to strengthen.
Your second question about – how do we think about the question? So we have Russia’s war against Ukraine, and of course, first and foremost, we think about the implications of that war for Ukraine, and they are tragic. And I’m someone who works every day on the diplomatic side of this, and I may feel positive about how closely we’re working with allies and partners, in my response to the question of your colleague. But I still see Ukrainians being killed every day, and that is heartbreaking. So this is not – we are not where we want to be. This is – we want this war to end.
So you’ve got the consequences for Ukraine. Then you have consequences for the region, for Europe. We have seen a fundamental change in the European security landscape that I grew up with. So when we think about the implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine, we absolutely think about that regionally as well. And what is it that we the United States, that we together with our NATO Allies, our partners, are doing to think about what that changed security context means for NATO and for our partners in the Alliance. And I think you even then need to take another step and say, what are the implications of this for global security? Because there are important implications. We talked about food security, but we also see how China is engaging in this. And we can go back to February 4, where China and Russia, Xi and Putin agreed on their “no limits” partnership, and we also see how China has taken very clear stances on European security.
So I think we need to have a multidimensional view of what the implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine are, and look both at the challenges that it presents, but also the opportunities. Because I think it’s shifting some long-held views in ways that also provide opportunities in the region.
So yes, I think this is important that we think holistically about the implications of this war and what it means both for Ukraine, for the region, and for global security. And that is something I can assure you we very much are doing in the Biden administration. Thanks.
MODERATOR: We’d now like to take some questions from the Zoom. And I’d like to invite Claudia Sarre of ARD, Germany, to unmute herself and pose her question.
QUESTION: Hi there. This is Claudia, ARD German Radio. I have a question. After the Russian attack, there’s a new and different reality in Europe, basically a new world order, and especially Germany has taken on a new leadership role. What do you think is America’s opinion on Germany? Do you think they want them to take on more responsibility?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thank you so much. And Claudia, you’re fortunate because I can see your name on the screen, so it’s easy for me to remember. So thank you for that question. In many ways it follows on very nicely from the last one, but you gave it a specific Germany focus. And I will say, as someone who’s a longtime Europe watcher, I’ve lived in Germany, I was struck by the announcements Chancellor Scholz made in the immediate wake of February 24. We all saw the speech he gave that weekend, which I think rightly is called a Zeitenwende, where he overturned decades of German policy on a whole host of issues, including providing weapons to a conflict zone. We saw the decision to dramatically increase German defense spending. We have this 100-billion-euro fund that’s now working its way through the German parliamentary system. The decision to meet the 2 percent of GDP spent on defense target, that is a guideline set by NATO.
I could go on. Everyone’s familiar with the package that was announced. And I do think this is remarkable, and I think it reflected the fact that in the wake of February 24, this surely was Germany’s 9/11. It changed the calculation for Germany, and I should say that is not – in saying this is – it was a colleague in Europe who said to me, “Karen, February 24 was Europe’s 9/11.” I think it’s particularly true in the case of Germany. The United States, successive administrations, have long wanted Germany to play a larger role on security policy. So this is very much welcomed here in Washington. Germany, of course, has been a critical ally and partner over decades, and we think German engagement is a force for good.
So we very much welcome those decisions, and very much applaud the role Germany’s playing in its support for Ukraine, whether that is economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, or security assistance. And I do think it is a significant change for Germany, again, we very much welcome.
MODERATOR: All right, I’d like to take another question from the Zoom callers. Bas Blokker of NRC Handelsblad, if you could unmute yourself and pose your question.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much. And thank you, Ms. Donfried, for taking our questions. I hope you can hear me all right.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Very well, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. I’m Bas Blokker from the Netherlands, and I work for an outlet called NRC. And I have a two-tiered question as well. It – analysts seem to agree that the U.S. has crossed some kind of threshold about a month and a half ago: the fact that Defense Secretary Austin said we want to see Russia weakened; the fact that President Biden said that U.S. policy was now pointed at punishing Russian aggression to lessen direct risk of future conflicts.
I have two questions about that. Has this crossing a threshold, if you will, affected your job, your diplomatic job, your message to the European allies very much? And the second one is there’s this concern that designating Putin as a dictator who has to be made to pay a price in order to keep him from causing more chaos and engaging in more aggression, that this actually plays into his hands. He has tried to paint his war in Ukraine basically as a preemptive strike against Western aggression, and well, calling him even implicitly a dictator or calling for his removal – Putin – might prove his point and it might prove – might urge countries like China to take his side. Is this a valid concern?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Okay, so I want to be really clear. The reason there is a war in Ukraine today is because of a decision made by President Putin. He decided to unleash a full-scale invasion that was unprovoked and is unjustified and is brutal. There is – I see no rationale for that, a preemptive strike – against what?
Anyway, NATO is a defensive Alliance. The only time NATO has ever invoked Article Five was, as we all know, after the attacks of 9/11. NATO engaged in multiple discussions with Russia trying to make sure Russia did not feel its security was undermined by NATO enlargement. We all remember the NATO-Russia Founding Act, where NATO said: we will not put substantial forces or nuclear weapons in new NATO member states. And then we had 2014, and now we have February 24.
There is no justification for what Russia did. It is wrong. And the United States was clear in the run-up to February 24 that if Putin proceeded with his invasion, it would not go unanswered. So this idea that punishing Russian aggression, that that’s a policy that’s a month old – we were clear in the run-up to the war that if Putin unleashed this invasion, there would be consequences of an order of magnitude different than what had been imposed in 2014. There were statements at the G7, at NATO, the EU, all saying that in December of last year.
So I don’t think this is a change in policy. We have been clear throughout that not only would we support Ukraine, but we would impose costs and consequences on Russia. You saw the U.S. with European allies and partners work together in the run-up of February 24. Even countries who weren’t convinced this was going to happen said if this happened, it would be so wrong and so fundamentally alter the security order that we’re willing to work today on putting together that package of sanctions and export controls. And that’s why you saw us so quickly announce that package in the wake of Russia’s invasion.
And I would say you look at those sanctions and export controls and they are of an order of magnitude different than anything we’ve done before. There are so many aspects of it that you’ve not seen, and we haven’t sanctioned the central bank of a G20 country before. There are so many elements of this that are new and serious, and I don’t think we even understand fully the impact of this on Russia’s economy. We can see the hundreds of private sector companies that are leaving Russia, but I think the impact on this over time, particularly of the export controls, is highly significant. We’re already seeing that affect Russia’s defense sector.
So (a) I don’t think this policy is new, but (b) the sentiment that we want to make sure Russia cannot unleash this sort of aggression again seems to me a quite prudent goal because this is not acceptable. You can’t have a country just roll into its weaker neighbor and kill innocent people. That is not what we stand for. That is not what we believe in. So I don’t think this is a new policy. I think we were very clear in the run-up to February 24 Russia would face serious consequences.
At the same time, we negotiated with Russia. I was the person in Moscow in December who was handed draft treaties, one for Russia and the U.S., the other for Russia and NATO. We engaged in those negotiations. Deputy Secretary Sherman went and engaged in serious negotiations. We were hopeful that there was a diplomatic off-ramp that was offering significant assurances to Russia. Putin decided not to take that. So I want to be very clear about where responsibility here lies and that actions do bring consequences. And yes, the U.S. is going to ensure that these consequences for Russia’s action continue. Thank you.
MODERATOR: And with that, another question to the Zoom, and if I – I would like Oystein Bogen of TV2, Norway, if you could unmute yourself and pose your question.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Can you hear me?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thank you very much for taking our questions and for a very enlightening brief. I have a question related to the NATO Summit and I was wondering, first of all, how important is it to get Turkey on board for the membership applications for Finland and Sweden before that summit? And secondly, is there any ongoing contact between Turkey and the United States about that question at the moment?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Great, thanks so much. So let me start by saying I think if we want one example of the strategic miscalculation Putin made, the fact that Finland and Sweden are applying for NATO membership is a striking one. These are two countries that have been partners of NATO, but always felt it was not in their strategic interest to join the Alliance. As you know, Finland has a very long border with Russia. Finland in the past has not sought NATO membership. Putin in the run-up to his war against Ukraine said he was concerned about too much NATO along Russia’s borders. Well, if that was a concern he had and something he was seeking to prevent, he has brought about exactly the opposite with Finland applying for NATO membership.
So the United States, the Biden administration, has been clear that we very much value Finland and Sweden. They’ve been tremendous NATO partners, and we will welcome them into the Alliance. You see tremendous bipartisan support on Capitol Hill here for their membership. So this is something we very much support.
That said, any decision about NATO enlargement is not a decision just for the United States; it’s a decision for all 30 NATO Allies. And of course, Turkey is very much a valued NATO Ally, and Turkey has raised concerns in particular about Sweden and Finland’s relationship to the PKK, and we very much are concerned about a terrorist threat. So we think it is important that Turkey, Finland, and Sweden be having this conversation. We are confident that they will be able to resolve this issue and that Swedish and Finnish membership will move forward. But that is, of course, an ongoing conversation among those three countries.
The U.S. has regular conversations with our Turkish counterparts. In fact, yesterday Under Secretary of State Toria Nuland was in conversation with Deputy Foreign Minister Önal; that’s a regular channel. Secretary of State Blinken, when he was in New York for the food security engagements that I mentioned at the UN, had the opportunity to have a meeting with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu. So there are ongoing contacts between the U.S. and Turkey where all of the issues on our agenda are raised.
So on this, I am confident that there will be a positive conclusion. And again, we very much encourage those discussions that are ongoing. Thank you.
MODERATOR: I’d like to now go to Alex Raufoglu from Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary Donfried, for being here today. Let me start with the statement you made. It was very interesting, you compared the – you call it 9/11 and what’s going on in Ukraine. 9/11 had two sides; we recognize terrorists on the other side, which goes back to the question that I’ve been raising at the State Department, that where are we in terms of recognizing Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism?
Secondly, in terms of implications of Ukraine war to the other countries in the region. I represent Azerbaijan’s Turan News Agency. I know you had a meeting with Azeri foreign advisor – the president’s foreign advisor recently. Do you think that Ukrainian war adds a sense of urgency to other conflicts, like Nagorno-Karabakh or Georgian conflicts or Moldova and others? Do they really get that, the sides of those conflicts?
And lastly, from a personal perspective, I was reading your statement from last July on the Hill. Quite a year it has been for you. I know you’ve been covering this region for many years, but you were talking about how to support democratic process in Georgia, in Belarus, in Ukraine, China, Russia’s threats. But looking back, if you think about what’s going on in the region right now, what is – what are the top three threats? I believe you will start with Russia and in the region right now, and what are the next two? Thanks so much again.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Oh gosh, those are a lot of questions. (Laughter.) So I’m not sure I got them all. You mentioned the visit of Hikmat Hajiyev, and I did have the real pleasure and privilege of meeting with him earlier in the week. And I do believe – and I shared this a little bit earlier in answering another question – that I think the implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine affect the entire region. And I do think it’s affecting the South Caucasus as well. And I think there is real hope right now that there is opportunity for Azerbaijan and Armenia to move forward in normalizing that relationship, in seeking a peace settlement. I think we’ve seen both countries take important steps. That is something the United States very much encourages, and that was one of the focus points of the conversation I had. And I know he saw other key officials in the U.S. Government during that visit.
You referenced when I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last year. It was my nomination hearing. And if you’d asked me then, “So do you think Russia will undertake a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of next year,” I would’ve said no. I certainly wasn’t expecting what happened, and you’re right; in many ways, it’s changed everything. And I referenced this a little bit earlier as well.
So we are very focused in my bureau, of course, on Russia’s war against Ukraine, about all of the elements of that strategy. So there’s the supporting Ukraine element of that strategy. I’ve talked about many aspects of that, but what I haven’t yet highlighted is that we have our new ambassador to Ukraine in place. So Bridget Brink has been there for maybe all of a week at this point, but that’s really exciting for me and for the State Department, to have that Senate-confirmed ambassador in place. And I should give a shoutout to Kristina Kvien, who was the chargé before Ambassador Brink got there, who really did a tremendous job under extremely challenging situations. But we are just delighted to have the Ukraine – our embassy in Ukraine back in Kyiv, and to have Ambassador Brink leading that effort there.
So there’s the support Ukraine piece. There is the making sure that we are imposing costs and consequences on Russia for its behavior. And then there’s the reinforcing NATO piece, and working closely with others on our strategy towards Ukraine. So that surely is still the dominant issue that we are dealing with.
I think it’s also important, and I flagged it earlier, for us to not lose sight of the challenge that China is posing in many places, but also in Europe. And this is an issue where I think European intents have changed in significant ways in recent years. I think for many Europeans there had been a view that gave precedence to the economic relationship with China, and it was really about a trading relationship with China and about Europe going to China. And I think China’s Belt and Road Initiative made clear to many Europeans that China is also coming to Europe. And in many cases, China was buying up critical infrastructure across Europe. There are many examples of this. Look at ports. You could also look at 5G infrastructure and making sure people understand the vulnerabilities if China were to control 5G networks across Europe.
So this is a conversation that’s been happening over time with our European allies. But I think China’s stance in supporting Russia in its brutal war against Ukraine has given another element to concerns Europeans already had about human rights abuses, unfair trade, and other things with regard to China. So I do think that that conversation, which is very much continuing in the transatlantic relationship, is a very important one.
And then, along with the challenges, I don’t want to miss the opportunities because I do think there are opportunities here, and precisely because we have had this remarkable cohesion and unity with our European allies and partners resulting from Russia’s brutal invasion. It has reminded us why this relationship is so vital to both sides of the Atlantic, and that it’s these shared values which then lead to common interests.
And so I think there’s an opportunity to say, with that renewed sense of unity, where is it that we want to make a difference together? And I think, actually, when we think about Azerbaijan and Armenia, we also see the critical role the European Union is playing there. So it’s a wonderful example where the European Union and the EU, working together with Azerbaijan and Armenia, can be hopeful about advancing that peaceful process.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Oh, state sponsor of terrorism. So honestly, on that, I think it’s better if you had someone who understood the legal piece of it because I think that’s the crux of it, is whether – does that apply in this case. And I know that’s something that legal experts are looking at. But I just don’t have the granularity to give you a good answer.
MODERATOR: All right. Well, I know there are a lot of questions, and I know we could keep the Assistant Secretary here for another four hours with questions. But unfortunately, she has, as you can tell, many other things that she has to do today. But I think we’re going to have to conclude our question-and-answer session there now.
I’d like to thank you very much, Assistant Secretary, for coming over to the Foreign Press Center and briefing. I’d like to thank all the Foreign Press Center journalists who participated, either here in the briefing center or online. And I would like to thank you all for coming, and with that, I will conclude today’s briefing.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thank you so much. That was 45 minutes that flew by. I had no idea we were that close to the end of the time. I hope we can do this again. I think it’s really important, and I appreciate the work all of you are doing. And thank you for coming this morning.
QUESTION: Excuse me. How about the question from Russian media?
MODERATOR: Well, I think that if you send – send me your question, Denis, and I will certainly share it with the Assistant Secretary. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thanks, everybody.