THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is [Moderator] and I will be the moderator for this media briefing. I would like to start with the ground rules. This briefing is on background.
For your awareness and not for reporting, the briefers today are [Senior State Department Official One], [Senior State Department Official Two], and [Senior State Department Official Three]. For purposes of attribution, they are to be referred to as Senior State Department Official Number One, Senior State Department Official Number Two, and Senior State Department Official Number Three.
With that, I am pleased to welcome you again to this briefing for Foreign Press Center members. Our distinguished briefers today will discuss the sanctions the United States has implemented against the Russian Federation for its premeditated and unprovoked war against Ukraine, and the close U.S. coordination with Allies and partners on those sanctions.
Our briefers will provide opening statements. After those statements, I will open the floor up for questions. If you have a question, please click the raised hand icon or put your question in the chat box. If I call on you, please unmute yourself and begin speaking after giving your name and the outlet, if I have not already done so.
This briefing will end no later than 11:30. The transcript will be posted on the FPC website afterwards at fpc.state.gov.
And with that, I’m going to turn this briefing over to Senior State Department Official Number One. Over to you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, and it’s great to be here with all of you today. First of all, the United States continues to support Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and we stand with the people of Ukraine as they fight bravely to defend their country in the face of Russia’s continuing aggression. We remain united with Allies and partners in our commitment to ensuring the Russian Government pays a severe economic and diplomatic price for its invasion of Ukraine.
My colleagues will speak to the details of the actions we have taken, but first I’d like to make a few general points. These measures are the result of intensive consultations over several months between the United States and our Allies and partners, including the EU and its member states, G7 countries, but also partners in the Indo Pacific and beyond. Together with our Allies and partners, we have implemented measures that have imposed immediate and long-term costs on Russia’s financial system and economy, cutting off Russia’s access to global financial markets and critical trade, degrading Russia’s access to vital technology and inputs, and denying Putin access to his war chest to fund his unjustified, unprovoked, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine.
As a result of the actions we have taken, the ruble is trading at its weakest level ever. The Russian stock market has been closed for weeks. The central bank has more than doubled its key interest rate, the highest in almost 20 years. Russian authorities are forcing exporters to sell at least 80 percent of the foreign currency they receive to prop up the weakening ruble. S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch have all cut Russia’s credit rating to junk, and thousands of firms and entities representing all economic sectors are de-risking from Russia, to include suspending or cutting ties and redirecting goods and services elsewhere in protest of Russia’s war and high uncertainty in the Russian market.
Just as 141 UN member-states voted to demand Russia end its unjust and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, multinational companies are making it clear that there can be no business as usual with Russia while it continues its aggression against Ukraine. And we are committed to maintaining pressure on Putin and the Russian economy for as long as this unjust war continues.
In addition to taking additional measures alongside our European and G7 partners, we are working to expand the coalition of countries adopting these measures alongside us. We are increasing our coordination to target and capture the ill-gotten gains of Russia’s wealthy elites, and we are making it clear that there will be consequences for countries that seek to help Russia evade our sanctions or become a haven for Russian funds. Putin is the aggressor, and he must pay the price. He cannot pursue a war that threatens the very foundations of peace and stability and then expect to profit.
We are also committed to imposing costs on Putin’s cronies and on Belarus for its complicity in Russia’s invasion. And finally, we will hold accountable individuals who commit war crimes or those who are complicit in Russia’s invasion, using every tool available to us, including sanctions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, State Department Official Number One.
State Department Official Number 2.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you very much and thank you for the opportunity to join you here today and discuss the economic measures that we’ve imposed, along with Allies and partners, in a response to Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine and its people.
I want to begin by making one preliminary point, which is that from the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration, we have placed a high priority on multilateral coordination of our sanctions actions. And you’ve seen the fruits of that work from the early days of the administration, with actions targeting events in Belarus and Burma and elsewhere. And I highlight that because I think that work did put us in a position – and had built up trust and a working relationship with partners and Allies – that has been extremely valuable as we prepared the measures that you’ve seen us impose on Russia thus far.
I want to make two broad observations about the measures that we have imposed along with Allies and partners. The first is that they have – as we have – as we committed in the run-up to the invasion, they have been swift, and they have been severe. The coordination that we’ve done with Allies and partners helped us reach consensus early on the types of financial actions and targets that we would pursue. This has resulted in a number of very severe measures, including the EU disconnecting seven major Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system; coordinated actions, prohibiting transactions with the Russian central bank; and making it more difficult for Russia to use its foreign reserves to evade sanctions and cushion the blow of these economic measures; and imposing restrictions on major Russian financial institutions, including various restrictions on the largest Russian financial institutions. We have frozen the assets of many of these and taken other measures targeting the full set of major Russian financial institutions.
In addition to these measures, we have, along with partners in the EU and elsewhere, followed through with measures targeting individuals responsible for the invasion and for the – and for Russians’ harmful behavior overall. This includes designating the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, as [well as] Russia’s two top defense officials. And I highlight that in part because it is rare for us to take these measures. Putin joins a very small group of heads of state that we have designated in this way, including Kim Jong-un, Alexander Lukashenka, and Bashar al-Assad.
As my colleague mentioned, we have taken a number of strong measures targeting wealthy Russians and Russian oligarchs, many of whom help finance, either directly or indirectly, Russia’s war machine that is carrying out this unprovoked aggression and invasion of Ukraine. We will continue – going forward, we will continue to work closely with our Allies and partners to impose further costs on Putin and his enablers as appropriate, if he does not change course.
The second major point I want to make about the actions we’ve taken is that we have acted along with Allies and partners in these actions. This includes not only coordination with the EU, but also partners in the UK, Canada, Australia, and Japan so that we’ve covered the entire – the full G7, and a number of partners around the world. I think that the level of coordination that you’ve seen in this response has been remarkable, and it outlines the strength and unity of purpose that the international community has in responding forcefully and swiftly to Russia’s unprovoked aggression to Ukraine. This sends a very clear message to Russia, and it also makes it far more difficult for Russia to avoid or cushion the impact of our actions. They cannot turn to other markets to avoid the impact of U.S. sanctions, because those markets in the EU and Japan and elsewhere have been closed off to them.
So both because it shows the – it demonstrates the unity of our purpose with partners and Allies around the world, and because it cuts off avenues for Russia to avoid the consequences of our actions, this unity of purpose has been extremely important and is something I expect will continue in the weeks to come, unless Russia changes course. With that, I’ll turn it over to our last colleague.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Senior State Department Official Number Three.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone. Thank you to the Foreign Press Center for hosting this briefing, and to all the journalists who attended.
I’m responsible at the State Department for its counterproliferation portfolio, which includes certain sanctions authorities, export controls for dual-use goods, as well as interdiction efforts. Now, my team, alongside both of my colleagues here at this briefing table, as well as others from Treasury and the Commerce Departments, have been heavily involved in a number of recent actions the U.S. Government has taken in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve developed and implemented stringent export control measures designed to impede Russia’s defense and security sectors. We did this by severely restricting Russia’s access to certain goods, from aircraft components up to and including semiconductor and other advanced technologies. Companies that want to sell these types of items to Russia or Belarus must now obtain a license for these items through the Department of Commerce. This includes foreign companies that use certain U.S. software tools and manufacturing processes. And with only limited exceptions for a small set of circumstances, such as humanitarian assistance, these licenses will be treated with a policy of denial. And critically, a denial will not come just from the United States; it will also come from several of our Allies and partners who have joined us to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine.
One of the defining features of the export control program against Russia is that it is multilateral. This is not just the United States denying these exports to Russia, it is countries in Europe and Asia, too, that are taking similar measures. And this feature is going to steadily deprive Russia and Belarus of access to key technologies over time.
In addition to export controls, we have also designated four sanctioned senior Russian defense officials for their role in supporting or aiding Russia’s defense or military sectors. These individuals now have their property and financial accounts in the United States fully blocked. These are by far among the most sweeping export control and sanction actions we have ever levied on a country, and it is a sign of just how serious the United States and our partners and Allies are about imposing the severe costs that my [fellow] panelists spoke to.
I’m glad we are doing this briefing today, and I thank you for coming. It is critical that we highlight the costs the United States and our partners are imposing on Russia for its unjust and unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
And with that, I will yield the floor to the moderator.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Senior State Department Officials One, Two, and Three, for those statements, and now I’d like to begin the question-and-answer period.
Now I would like to start with Dmitry Anopchenko [,Inter TV, Ukraine].
QUESTION: As a journalist, I want to thank very much the Foreign Press Center for organizing this. And as a Ukrainian, as a person whose family is still in Ukraine at the moment, sleeping in shelters, I want to thank very much every U.S. official and every one of you for doing this, for supporting my country. I mean it.
My question is you all agree with me that it’s important not only to provide this action, but to be sure that Russia will not be able to avoid these actions using cryptocurrencies, using proxies, using any other ways. So could you share what’s your plan, and what may be done, and what’s going on just to stopping Russia to find the back doors and to avoid the sanctions? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks for that question. And let me just say that we all really do stand with the people of Ukraine. And as somebody who has spent a lot of time there, that is – that comes from the heart.
I think we have demonstrated already, with our partners and our Allies, that we are committed to closing loopholes, that we are committed to matching each other’s measures to try to prevent exactly the sort of evasion that you are referencing. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve taken measures to sanction Belarus’s financial sector as well. And we are really working, as I mentioned, not just to expand the coalition of countries that are implementing the measures that we’ve discussed today, but also to make it very clear that there will be consequences for countries that help Russia to evade our sanctions or that become havens for Russian money.
[Senior State Department Official Two], I don’t know, our Senior Official Number Two, I don’t know if you want to add to that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, thank you. I would just add that – two points. One is any time we impose sanctions, there is a – there is extensive resources that we bring to bear to monitor compliance and to enforce those sanctions either here, domestically, for violations that may happen here in the United States, or by making additional designations against targets that are evading or facilitating evasion or material support to the targets of those sanctions. So that machinery will continue to be in place.
And then, just to underscore, I think the fact that the unity that we have shown with partners and Allies and the fact that partners and Allies have taken similar actions alongside the United States has already put us in a very strong position to address those risks, because there are similar and analogous restrictions in place in the European Union, in the UK, in Japan and elsewhere, which put us in a very strong position to be able to monitor and respond to evasion when we see it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And if I could, as it pertains to export controls, similar to what was just noted, the fact that this is multilateral dramatically narrows the pathways that Russia can identify to have workarounds against the export controls.
But, in addition to that, we do have an extensive program of enforcement that includes outreach to industries around the world that will be impacted by this, as well as enforcement via government-to-government mechanisms.
MODERATOR: So I have another question of – another Ukrainian journalist, Yaroslav Dovgopol [,Ukrinform].
Yaroslav, please unmute yourself and pose your question.
QUESTION: Hi, do you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you. Please proceed.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you for doing this. So actually, I have two questions.
The first one, do you consider declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism as an additional step to raise pressure on Russia?
And the second one, about – it’s about the legal process in the State Department, about designating Putin a war criminal. Could you give us some more details? When do you expect the first official conclusion, and how can it help to hold Russia accountable? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I missed the second question.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Off-mike.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. So on the first question, as we’ve emphasized so far, we are committed here in the United States along with partners and allies to continue to impose severe costs on Russia as long as it continues its unprovoked aggression in Ukraine. I won’t get into the specifics of what those measures may be, but I think what you’ve seen so far from us and from our allies demonstrates the commitment we have to impose and maintain those costs as long as necessary.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And to your second question about war crimes, I’m not going to speak to legal processes. But what I would just say is that, as we’ve emphasized, intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime, and we continue to see very credible reports of widespread and increasingly devastating, deliberate attacks on civilians, which include strikes against schools, hospitals, churches, civilian vehicles, and residential areas. It’s clear that Putin is carrying out a premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine, and it violates international law, and is creating a human rights and humanitarian crisis. And we are appalled, frankly, by the Kremlin’s brutal tactics, and heartbroken by the loss of so many civilian lives.
And so we continue to track and assess all of these reports very carefully, and we’re committed, as we have said before, to pursuing accountability for acts such as this using every tool available to us, including criminal prosecutions where appropriate, but also, as I mentioned in my statement, sanctions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I would now like to ask Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency in Azerbaijan.
Alex, please unmute yourself and pose your question.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, [moderator], and I thank all the speakers for making themselves available this morning. Two quick questions.
There are concerns that the U.S. is lagging way behind Europe on sanctions, targeting oligarchs, and supplying weapons. You have seen reports today that [the] Ukrainian foreign affairs minister spoke with his European colleague, and they are discussing preparation of the fifth EU sanctions package on Russia. Where are the U.S. sanctions on Abramovich and others?
And secondly, do you think it is fair to assume that, as long as Putin keeps his – keeps up his invasion of Ukraine, even if he finds a way to save his face and declare victory, that the economic sanctions against oligarchs will continue? Thank you so much again.
MODERATOR: Is that clear?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you for that question. So just on the pace in Europe and the pace here, I think you’ve seen that we have demonstrated a remarkable level of coordination in terms of the nature and type and sequencing of our imposition of economic sanctions measures, whether they address the financial sector in Russia, government officials, or oligarchs. Those – that work will continue.
I can’t comment on future actions we may take, but I think we’ve made clear that our work to target the assets of oligarchs will continue, and will be a robust work stream not only from a sanctions-targeting perspective, but from an enforcement perspective in partnership between our Department of Treasury and our Department of Justice as they work with their partners and governments around the world in an effort to crack down on illicit Russian funds and the assets of these oligarchs. So in that sense, we’ve made very clear our commitment to that work stream, and that we will continue that work going forward.
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. Now I’d like to ask Pearl Matibe of Power FM, South Africa.
Pearl, please pose your question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for the opportunity to discuss this very important question. I’d like to ask all of the presenters today to move yourself away from the European continent and focus your minds as you answer my question regarding Africa, specifically Southern Africa, and South Africa in particular.
So the president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said that he is resisting calls to condemn Russia. He has laid out his reasons, although he recognizes that South Africa does not condone the use of force or violation of international law. But at the same time, South Africa is resisting calls to condemn Russia. South Africa is the only African country in the G20.
So what I’d like to ask you is, given that we know that sanctions are a double-edged sword, have you considered how these sanctions are affecting the ordinary man on South Africa’s main street or Zimbabwe’s main street. We have seen, for example, how just the increase of one or two cents on fuel prices has been the reason for protests. For example, in January 2019 in Zimbabwe, protests erupted because fuel prices went up. These are issues that hugely impact the ordinary man in countries in the SADC region.
Could you please tell me a little bit about how you see these sanctions impacting Southern Africa, specifically SADC countries, including Zimbabwe, South Africa, and others – Eswatini as well, if you could, speak specifically to that. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you for that question. I think none of us can speak specifically to the impacts on a certain country. That would require additional analysis that we just aren’t able to provide today. But what I think we can say is that we are considering very carefully ourselves and doing so alongside Allies and partners the consequences and the impacts of these actions, not just on our own economies but on economies and markets around the world. And we have been very clear that these measures are designed to impact – to put the greatest amount of pressure possible on President Putin, who is the architect of this war, and on the Russian Government to change its behavior. We recognize that there are impacts on the people of Russia as well, but the intended target really is the Government of the Russian Federation.
And as [Senior State Department Official Two] has mentioned and may want to speak to further, we also have tools at our disposal even as we enact these measures to mitigate unintended consequences, and that is an ongoing process primarily that our Department of the Treasury undertakes, and so that is something that we continue to watch very closely, including particularly commodity prices globally. And so this is an area where we’re paying a lot of attention. We’re looking at it very closely and we are taking it into account as we consider future measures.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is from Hiba Nasr of Asharq News in UAE. Hiba, go ahead and unmute yourself and pose your question.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: We can hear you. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks for doing this. My first question is I want to go back to the question on the possibility of designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. You didn’t rule out in your answer. This is what I want to understand. And second, when you said you’re expanding the coalition, what countries are you considering to approach? We saw this statement today from the State Department that Under Secretary Nuland is visiting India. Are you in – are you negotiating with the Indians on this level? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you. Well, I think we’re not going to speak to either diplomatic conversations or preview potential future actions. But I think what we can say is that 141 countries voted on a UN General Assembly resolution that said Putin must stop this unjustified, unprovoked, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine and pull out his troops. And so we see that there is a broad global consensus on the need for us to take action to support Ukraine and to ensure that Russia pays a price for its aggression. And so we have engaged and will continue to engage in broad outreach to partners around the world to urge them to come along with us in this effort to hold Putin and his cronies and those who are complicit in this invasion accountable, and also, again, to make it clear that there will be consequences if countries seek to help Russia evade or work around our sanctions or become a haven for Russian money.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And on the question about a state sponsor of terrorism, I just don’t have a comment on that right now. But again, I think we have demonstrated along with partners and Allies our commitment and intent to impose severe costs using a variety of tools and our commitment to continue that course of action as long as Russia continues its aggression in Ukraine. And what you’ve seen so far is a willingness to use a variety of those tools, and we’ll continue to do so going forward.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And our next question is from Takenori Miyamoto. Please, give your outlet and pose your question.
QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Thank you for taking on my question. I’m a correspondent from Nikkei, Japanese newspaper. My – I’m very interested in the goal of the sanction against oligarchy. So generally speaking, Putin – President Putin does not have any account in Western bank in his own name, so instead of, he use the oligarchy and his friends to hold assets. So my question is: These sanction against oligarchy aimed at affecting Putin wealth? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So thank you – thank you for that question. I think obviously we have designated President Putin. That will have an impact, and as you note, the location of his wealth is something that affects how he feels that impact. But we’re also aware that the Russian Government and – is surrounded by a group of oligarchs who also support and feed into the – its efforts, its harmful activities, and support either directly or indirectly Russia’s war machine that is carrying out the aggression in Ukraine. And so we will maintain our focus on targeting those oligarchs going forward.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And I would just add that we, as [Senior State Department Official Two] noted, have established a task force along with our G7 partners, and are working with others around the world on enforcing our sanctions and particularly on asset seizures from these types of individuals who are close to the Kremlin, or part of the Russian elite. And that work does include doing the investigations to see where the ownership of valuable assets, particularly things like yachts and foreign properties, actually lies, because we do understand, as you said, that frequently these are not held in the names of the individuals who are high-ranking officials or otherwise well known.
And so that is work that we really are dedicating ourselves to, and you’ve seen the results with a number of yachts and properties having already been seized, particularly by our European partners. And that’s something that we’re really committed to continuing to pursue.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Donghui Yu of China Review. Please, go ahead. Pose your question.
QUESTION: Hello, yeah. Thank you for doing this. My name’s Donghui Yu with China Review news agency of Hong Kong. And President Biden and President Xi just concluded a video call moments ago. We all know that the U.S. is pushing China to comply with sanctions on Russia. But considering the strategic competition between the U.S. and China, and China is seen by the U.S. as the primary competitor – so what assurances or guarantee, rather than the threats or pressure, that the U.S. would like to provide to China, that will be persuasive for the Chinese to comply in the sanctions on Russia? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you for that question. I would say that I think this is really – it’s really about taking a stand for the principles that countries around the world, including China, have committed to support, including particularly sovereignty and territorial integrity. And so the PRC has been an outlier in not joining the community of nations in condemning this unprovoked, unjustified, and unlawful invasion of Ukraine, and urging a ceasefire and imposing costs on Russia, on the Russian Government for these actions.
And so I think we have raised these concerns directly, particularly about any future support that the PRC would provide to Russia in the wake of the invasion. And we’ve made it clear the implications for the PRC’s relationship with us as well, as our Allies and partners in Europe and the Indo-Pacific. And that’s something, of course, that our National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan did earlier this week in his engagement with his PRC counterparts, and that the President did, as well, today. And really, the key objective of those engagements has been to convey our concerns and discuss the implications for our relationship. And we again just would urge the PRC to act on its commitments to support sovereignty and territorial integrity, because that’s really what this conflict is about.
QUESTION: So that’s no assurances?
MODERATOR: Thank you. I think – is there anything you wanted to add? No. I think this – the – we’ll go to the next question.
And actually, I think we have time for one last question, and this question will be for – one we got in advance from Evgenii Orel of RIA Novosti of Russia, and his question was – concerned under – he said: “Under what conditions will the United States agree to remove sanctions from Russia that are already in place? Are there any certain criteria what Moscow must do that these sanctions are lifted?” Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks. Well, I would just say that sanctions are not designed to be permanent, and they’re a tool. And if we do see the results that we’re trying to achieve in terms of an end to Russia’s aggression, and restoration of Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty and territorial integrity, then our hope would be that many of the tools that we’re using, that we would also see an end to those tools.
MODERATOR: All right. With that, I think we’ll just give you all a chance, if either Senior State Department Official Number One or Number Two or Number Three would like to make any additional statements before we wrap up.
Okay. If not, then I would like to thank our distinguished briefers today for joining us at the Foreign Press Center, and I’d like to thank all of the Foreign Press Center members who participated today. This concludes our briefing. Thank you.