THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Well, hello, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center’s briefing on One Year Later: Helping Ukraine Win the War and Secure Peace. My name is Doris Robinson and I am today’s moderator. Just a reminder this briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript today at fpc.state.gov. For those on Zoom, please make sure that your Zoom profile lists your full name and media outlet.
Today we are very pleased to welcome three very knowledgeable and high-level guests. First, in the middle, we have Isobel Coleman, Deputy Administrator; next, Erin McKee, Assistant to the Administrator; and Sarah Charles, Assistant to the Administrator. The briefers’ bios are in the briefing announcement.
I would like to now invite Deputy Administrator Coleman to share any remarks that she has. Deputy Coleman.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you. A year ago, Ukrainians from Kyiv to Mariupol woke up to bombs dropping on their country. And while the warning signs of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the country had been growing for some time, people still just couldn’t believe it was actually happening. It was inconceivable that this unprovoked expansion of the conflict would take place.
Within days, it was apparent that Putin’s further invasion of its neighbor was not following his plan. Ukrainians not only fought back but inspired the world with their resiliency and ingenuity.
As the days progressed, we saw the lengths to which Russian forces would go to brutalize innocent people. They targeted civilians, bombing homes and apartment buildings, and committing crimes against humanity, including the rape and torture of civilians in places like Bucha and Zaporizhzhya. They’ve used food, energy, and critical infrastructure as weapons of war by blocking grain shipments and bombing ports, targeting heating, water, and electricity hubs to deliberately freeze out civilians throughout the winter.
Putin clearly didn’t understand just how self-defeating it would be to bet against the Ukrainian people. We’ve seen farmers continuing to work their fields wearing flak jackets. We’ve seen engineers designing portable stoves so that people can cook foods in community centers. And we’ve seen civilians banding together to make flak jackets out of household supplies.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend four days in Kyiv and meet with a whole range of very brave Ukrainian partners – health workers, educators, first responders, people who are continuing to work and deliver services amid Russia’s war, the government counterparts who are working around the clock to keep government services functioning and the economy afloat and to promote transparency and accountability, and the business owners, energy sector workers, and civilians who continue to support their communities.
To support the people of Ukraine, USAID has provided more than $15 billion in development, economic, and humanitarian assistance to address urgent needs created by the war while also remaining focused on what will be needed for reconstruction and recovery. And we plan to announce even more resources tomorrow.
We’re investing in Ukraine’s economy and helping to resuscitate it after the Kremlin’s attacks on its civilian infrastructure, and we’re helping restore the country’s energy and heating system to counter Putin’s attempts to use winter as a weapon against the people of Ukraine. We’re protecting public health from the deadly consequences of Russia’s war and supporting Ukraine’s health system to restore services while advancing reforms that are critical.
And we’re also continuing our longstanding work in Ukraine to help Ukrainians fight corruption at every level to build public trust, to maintain donor support, attract private-sector investments, safeguard the country’s institutions, and speed its integration with the rest of Europe.
The Ukrainian people have shown us that they’re not just capable of winning the war but of winning their future, securing their own prosperity, independence, and democracy. And the United States and USAID will continue to support the Ukrainian people however we can for as long as it takes.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We will go ahead and start the question-and-answer portion. For those in the room, if you have a question, please raise your hand and wait for the microphone. For those on Zoom, please raise your virtual hand and wait until I call on you. So we’ll start in the room. Let’s start with Alex, and if you could say your name and outlet.
QUESTION: Hello? Okay. Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency, Azerbaijan. Thank you so much for organizing this FPC, and also I specifically appreciate the topic of the event, which you called “Helping Ukraine win,” which allows me to actually pick up on where your deputy administrator left off.
You said we are going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. The sentiment, general sentiment in Ukraine, is that this doesn’t necessarily translate until victory. So my first question is: Would you subscribe – subscribe to that, to those statements that the United States needs to actually make it clear (inaudible) in Ukraine and for how long it’s going to be there? Will the U.S. support Ukraine until victory?
My second, if you please don’t mind, expand a little bit on tomorrow’s announcement. Can you preview a little bit more how – what we should expect, the amount of it and also scope of it?
And my third question, if you don’t mind, given the broader, let’s say, portfolio of your work, will you look at Putin’s actions in Ukraine and the wider region? Moldova is recently example that is being threatened because of its democratic – democracy choice. Georgia is another story; there’s a backslide going on there. It’s clear that it’s not all about, as you also mentioned in your opening statement, the security threats. It’s also about democracy that Putin is targeting. Can you say that when Putin tries to pressure on Ukraine and the surrounding countries, given Ukraine example, will he see more USAID rather than less USAID in the wider region? Thank you so much.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: Thank you. On your first question, I think – it was a little hard to understand, I’m sorry. I think you were asking how long? Is that —
QUESTION: The statements that —
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: For as long as it takes.
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s the general statement. But the Ukrainians expect more, such as we will stay with Ukraine until victory. So that phrase “victory” is quite sensitive in Ukraine. And I mean, I hear from more of them, let’s say, raising questions that the U.S. will be here by saying that “for as long as it takes” until it will not.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: So on that first point, I think victory is really a term for Ukrainians to define, not for the United States. So I will continue to underscore the fact that we will stand with Ukraine, walk with Ukraine, for as long as they need us to.
With respect to tomorrow’s announcement, I think you’re going to have to wait until tomorrow for the announcement, but you should expect to hear from us more about financial support that we are providing going forward for Ukraine, and also some of the particulars on energy and other areas that we have already offered support. So more on that to come.
And then on the last point, this is ultimately about how countries choose to organize themselves, and democracy I think is very much at the root of it. It’s a threat to Putin’s Russia. And yes, you will see more of USAID in the region. We have our regional assistant administrator here who can say more on that. But you have seen us increasing our investments around the region to support democracy.
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR ERIN MCKEE: If I can just jump on with a bit more particulars, you mentioned Moldova. And since last February, 364 days ago, we recognized that Moldova stands on the frontline alongside Ukraine. Their generosity of receiving and facilitating refugees as well as the threat that they faced from Putin’s weaponization of energy is something that we responded to.
So in addition to the support to Ukraine, we’ve provided greater development assistance to strengthen their democratic institutions, as well as some direct budget support to help offset the increase in energy prices that they faced when they pulled from the Russian grid and tapped into the EU’s grid last December, in anticipation of Putin’s threats and leverage of energy as a weapon of war, or to keep as leverage against the countries that surrounded Ukraine as he prepared for his invasion, including in the Caucasus.
I understand you’re from Azerbaijan. We recognize the importance there of obviously also on the frontlines of stability and shoring up democratic institutions and responding to the recognition that a strong, stable, democratic, prosperous Europe and Eurasia is vital to not just Ukraine but to the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go online. We’ll take a question online, and then we’ll come back. Let’s go to Nirmal Ghosh with The Straits Times, Singapore. Nirmal, go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for doing this. Can you hear me clearly?
QUESTION: Okay. Yeah. So my question is: Are there any estimates as to the environmental damage caused by the war – heavy metals and toxins in the environment and so forth? How much – what will it take to clean that up, hopefully, post-war?
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR ERIN MCKEE: So we, as part – we are working closely with the World Bank and our other partners to look at both damage assessment, and part of that is obviously the environmental impact. It – as long as the conflict continues, we don’t have a final number, but as you know, the United States is deeply committed to Ukraine’s vision of its future, and that is a strong, sustainable, green country after they ensure Putin’s strategic failure. And so alongside the World Bank and the other partners that we’re working with on the ground to both assess the damage and where the response is most needed, environmental assessment is a key element of that analysis. I don’t have a figure for you right now, but you are right, it is something that must be factored into – as we move into recovery and ultimately restoration, that that cleanup work is on an order of magnitude alongside the destruction.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: I would just add that it’s an environmental toll that is not just confined to parts of Ukraine, where the fighting is going on, which is, I think, where it’s most acute, but you’ve seen – because energy has been used as a weapon of war, you’ve seen countries now resorting to using more coal just to get through the winter. When I was in Kyiv a few weeks ago, the air was heavy with coal dust, and this is not a city that had to rely so heavily on coal before. And with the Black Sea being closed for so many months, you saw a lot of exports having to take a much longer route and using up much more energy to try to get critical goods out of grains to feed the world out of Ukraine. So the – I think the environmental toll is – has not been calculated, but we know it’s very, very large.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. We’ll take – we’ll go back to the room. And we’ll take the young lady here.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So could you detail the scope of this assistance to Türkiye? For instance, what those funds go towards and how much of the assistance will go to Türkiye and how much to Syria?
MODERATOR: And could you say your name and outlet?
QUESTION: Iclal Turan from Anadolu Agency. Thank you.
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR SARAH CHARLES: I’m happy to take that one. I actually just returned from Türkiye on Monday night and – where I was visiting our teams. The first phase of the response was obviously very focused on search and rescue, but we very quickly pivoted – both in Türkiye and, as critically, on the Syrian side of the border – to support shelter, water and sanitation, health assistance. As you noted, Secretary Blinken announced an additional $100 million in assistance, bringing our total support to $185 million in assistance. That’s both for assistance inside of Türkiye but also assistance to Syrian refugees that are residing in Türkiye, and critically, again, assistance going to Syrians regardless of where they’re living inside of Syria, including a significant portion of that assistance in opposition-controlled areas of northwest Syria where we’re very focused on scaling up rapidly assistance, taking advantage of the opening of border crossings across southern Türkiye into northwest Syria, and bringing supplies and additional support into Syria, including after the earthquake – the additional earthquake on Monday night.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go back online. Begum Donmez from VOA, please, go ahead and unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for doing this. Just as a follow-up on Türkiye, we know that USAID is working with some of the local NGOs on the ground, and we know that the team transferred some of their equipment to a local NGO so – as they departed the country. So can you tell us which local NGOs is the USAID working with? And a second question if I may. Ukraine will soon ask to extend the deal, the grain deal, and not for 120 days this time but for a year, and we’re hearing from U.S. officials that Russia is delaying the ships. And Türkiye has been a key partner in this, but it also has been dealing with the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes now. So any steps taken to navigate through those two difficult situations now? Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR SARAH CHARLES: So both – both in Türkiye and in Syria, we’re very focused on trying to scale up the response through local partners. Our urban search and rescue teams left behind critical equipment used to remove heavy rubble, specialized listening equipment, as well as health, water, and sanitation support that they brought with them. We’ve handed over that equipment on the Turkish side of the border to a Turkish urban search and rescue nongovernmental organization that we’ve worked with in the past – not just on response to earthquakes inside of Türkiye, but this is a team in Türkiye that often deploys in the region when there are earthquakes. And we’ve long worked with them and are very pleased to be able to support them with additional equipment.
On the Syrian side of the border, we’re handing over equipment to the White Helmets, as they’re known, a local Syrian Civil Defence organization that has been heroically working on urban search and rescue efforts inside of northwest Syria.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: On the Black Sea Grain Initiative, it is, I think, really critical that this agreement be both extended and expanded – extended for the full year that the Ukrainians are requesting so that farmers and other agribusinesses – exporters – have the confidence to be able to plan out for a year. We are hearing reports that farmers are not planting their full fields for fear of not being able to export. And so much of the world’s poor and hungriest depend on grain from Ukraine, and so it’s really important to have the consistency of this agreement and also to expand it to include other ports, such as Mykolaiv, so that the Ukrainians can export more of their grain and other products to the word. Türkiye is a key partner in this. We understand that they are distracted understandably with their own situation with the earthquake, but the UN is very seized with this agreement, and we are hopeful that it will be both extended and expanded.
MODERATOR: Thank you for that. We are running short on time. We do have time for one additional question, if anyone has one final question. And I see we have a question from Ibrahim. Ibrahim, go ahead and unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hello. Thank you so much for you having me. I have a question about Turkish – Türkiye earthquake. The Turkish Government opened an (inaudible) on the quake (inaudible), and actually – and the Turkish Government also closed access (inaudible) which is that – the social media. And people are sharing their opinions and criticizing against Turkish Government. What is the position of the United States against this Turkish Government’s act?
MODERATOR: Ibrahim, could you start the beginning of your question again? It was a little hard to hear.
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR SARAH CHARLES: I think we understand the question.
ASSISTANT TO THE ADMINISTRATOR SARAH CHARLES: I will defer the specifics of the U.S. Government position to the State Department in terms of the Turkish Government’s broader posture vis-à-vis social media. I will say that in the early days, social media was a critical tool to help first responders respond to the urgent needs of Turkish citizens that were trapped in the rubble. And we certainly see this all over the world that citizen journalism, that social media is critical, particularly in those early days, to ensure that assistance gets where it needed – is needed most, and then throughout the response, that responders are held accountable for how assistance is delivered. So we certainly more broadly encourage the free use of social media, particularly in a disaster.
MODERATOR: Thank you. So we are about out of time. I want to throw it back to Deputy Administrator Coleman for any final closing remarks.
DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR ISOBEL COLEMAN: I understand that this is the Foreign Press Center, and there are many outlets represented from around the world here. And I just want to emphasize that as we mark this tragic one year anniversary of Putin’s further invasion of Ukraine, while the United States has very much been a leader in the response, it has not been alone in responding to these events. Countries from around the world have rallied to Ukraine’s side, providing everything from financial support to autotransformers to military equipment. Japan has just announced a significant contribution of financial support to Ukraine, as has Norway and many other countries. And I think it’s a reflection of the fact that countries around the world understand that this is not just about Ukraine but about the – really the defense of freedom and democracy and the future of a values-based world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I would like to thank our briefers today, and I would like to thank the journalists for participating today. This concludes today’s briefing. Thank you all.