THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: All right, let’s start. Good afternoon, and welcome to the Washington press – Foreign Press Center briefing. My name is Zina Wolfington, and I’m your moderator. It is my pleasure to welcome our distinguished briefer today, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Jessica Lewis. Assistant Secretary Lewis will discuss historic efforts to provide military assistance to Ukraine and address U.S. and global supply chain issues and shortfalls in defense production to meet emerging security challenges.
This briefing is on the record. It is livestreamed. After we hear from the PM assistant secretary, we will begin the question-and-answer session. This briefing will end no later than 3:15. The FPC will post the transcript of this briefing and the video afterwards on our website, fpc.state.gov.
And with that, I’m going to turn the floor over to the Assistant Secretary Lewis.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: First of all, thank you so much for having me here today. It’s a real pleasure to be here to meet with all of you at the Foreign Press Center, and I look forward to all of your questions. I want to just start with – just to give you a quick overview of what we’re doing in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
We are, as you all know, living in a quickly changing world. The most notable flashpoint, of course, is Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, which has created ripple effects as countries reassess their national security and future defense needs. We are committed to working with our global allies and our partners to strengthen defense and deterrence as countries reassess their national security and their future defense needs.
As we look to meet this threat, we want to make sure that this century is more peaceful, more prosperous, and more secure than the last. To help us see us through this difficult time, we have overseen, as I like to say, a tectonic change in our security assistance and security planning. And I’m sure that in 10 or 20 or in 30 years we will be reading books about what is happening right now.
Let me start with Ukraine. Over the past year, as I think you know, we have provided over $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. And I believe that what we have done for Ukraine in the scope, the scale, and the speed of this work is part of the tectonic change that I just referenced in terms of security assistance.
I’d like to give you two specific concrete details as we look at this change. In the past year, we have used the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which is the authority that allows us to draw weapons from the Defense Department stocks and bring them directly to Ukraine, 34 times for over $20 billion.
Just to give you a reference on that, prior to this year, the cap on presidential drawdown – the Presidential Drawdown Authority was $100 million per year. So that gives you a sense of the extraordinary change that we have seen in security cooperation over this past year.
We’ve also seen a transformation along the eastern flank. Countries are raising their defense budgets and increasing their purchases of U.S. arms. We have provided congressional notifications, for example, for Foreign Military Financing, which is State’s grant funding, for over a billion dollars to eastern flank countries, and then additional funding for Ukraine.
Some of these countries are transitioning off Russian equipment, they’re becoming – I’m sorry, moving to NATO interoperable systems. And this will – and we will – and they will come out of this stronger than ever, while denying Russian industry a financial lifeline, compounding Russia’s strategic failure for its brutal war of choice against Ukraine.
Certainly while Russia’s war in Ukraine commands much of our attention, we are committed to strengthening our alliances and our partnerships around the globe to meet challenges facing other countries. Just last week in the Indo-Pacific, we advanced AUKUS, which is a historic modernization of longstanding alliances and partnerships to deal with new and emerging threat challenges. We are strengthening our alliances and partnerships throughout the region, including with Japan, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, to uphold our shared values of democracy and human rights, to strengthen our security, and defend the rules-based international order.
And further to this point, we are helping Taiwan to maintain a self-sufficient self-defense capacity to preserve peace, stability, and prosperity in the Strait and the broader region.
Turning to Southeast Asia, we continue to spearhead humanitarian demining in Laos and Cambodia and in Vietnam, and that is to enhance our security, protect civilians, and strengthen our bilateral partnerships. And across the Pacific, we continue to provide advisory support to help these nations strengthen maritime governance, counter illicit activities, enhance cyber security, and safeguard the free flow of commerce.
In the Middle East, we are seeking to bolster the security of our allies and partners, such as Israel and the UAE, through our provision of assistance and our defense trade. And we are also, when we turn to India, finding new and innovative ways to strengthen our security partnership with India.
In Africa, we continue to lead the world in the building capacity of partner countries to contribute to the UN and regional peacekeeping, and to regional stability and security. Building a sustainable and resilient peace is in everybody’s interest, and it is a precondition to tackling some of these global challenges, such as ensuring gender equity, human rights, climate and food security, inclusive economic growth, and so much more.
These programs make a difference for people on the ground and help these countries transition from instability and conflict to a lasting peace.
Lastly, I’d like to note that as we work to strengthen our alliances and partnerships, we seek to lead the world through the power of our positive example. That’s why we are integrating and elevating security sector governance into our security assistance. By emphasizing good governance, we ensure our collective capabilities are being used ethically and effectively. Moreover, by helping our partners build resilient and accountable security institutions, we can invest in strong and capable partners while promoting respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Again, I think this is all part of the tectonic change that is happening across the globe and as we are retooling our security assistance to prepare not only for the challenges that are in front of us, but to help the world that is more free, open, democratic, and interconnected than the one we inherited.
Thank you, and I wanted to leave plenty of time for your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Lewis, for your remarks. Now I would like to open this program up for questions. I will take a few questions from journalists in the room first and then a few questions from those on Zoom. Please raise your hand if you would like to ask a question, and if I call on you, please give your name and your outlet.
First question to Dmitry.
QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much. Dmitry Anopchenko, Ukrainian television D.C. correspondent. And thanks very much for Foreign Press Center for organizing this. Madam, I’ve got two questions on Ukraine on military and financial help. Firstly, on the military, I am reporting every time when the new tranche is going to Ukraine, but you know it’s just the top of the iceberg. So I am really interested to what’s going on inside, what’s your policy, how you prove, how you estimate what Ukraine needs, and how you choose the amounts and the arms – so how it works from inside. It’s really – I am really interested in this.
And about the financial aid, Ukraine needs a lot of money to make governance, to support financial system. So what’s your plan? How do you see that money which should go directly to Ukrainian budget to support the country? And to – on behalf of my viewers, I have to ask: It’s a lot of Russian propaganda that because of the banking problems here in the United States, American Government will not be able to provide that support to Ukraine. So what’s your answer on that? What’s your comment on that? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Thank you very much. Let me start with the security assistance question. And first, I need to start by saying, as you know, we’ve provided over $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the war – excuse me. And what you’re asking about I think is the process of how do we understand what Ukraine needs, and then how do we determine the packages as they move forward.
Before I talk about the U.S. effort, I really want to note that over 50 countries are contributing to providing Ukraine the security assistance that it needs, and we are working together in that coalition. As we look at how, when, and what is being provided to Ukraine, this is a group effort, so to speak, of all of our – of many of our partners and allies.
When it comes to – let me just take a moment and talk about the U.S. side. The Presidential Drawdown Authority and these other authorities that we have – so we have various grant-funding authorities – those are both Defense Department and State Department authorities. And so what we do – and I’m going to speak generally here – is there is regular communication with our Ukrainian friends, and as the war has evolved, we have looked at what Ukraine needs at each part of the war.
So, for example, at the very beginning of the war, it was very clear that Ukraine needed things like Stingers and Javelins – so that’s anti-tank, anti-air – and we needed to get those in quickly. So obviously we communicated with the Ukrainians about that, and we look at what is the best way to get Ukraine that assistance. So at the very beginning of the war, for example, we used something called third-party transfers, which gave us the ability to say a country close to Ukraine may have Stingers and Javelins; we will authorize them to move that equipment immediately into Ukraine. Then as the war progressed, we saw that Ukraine needed more sophisticated air defense. So we take a look at our own stocks, we take a look at who else may have that system – excuse me – and then we work to have – to look at the best way to get those systems to Ukraine and into Ukraine.
So each case, we have to look at what Ukraine needs, who has those systems, what are the best way to move them. And so what I think you’re referring to are the presidential drawdown packages. There is a discussion within DOD based on what Ukraine needs. There’s a discussion within DOD based on what we have. Of course in that discussion there always has to be a conversation about making sure that we are taking care of our own security needs and that the United States remains prepared, and then a package is put together.
On the State Department side, we own – the Secretary of State owns the authority – it’s a delegated authority from the President to the Secretary of State – to move forward with the Presidential Drawdown Authority. We notify Congress and then DOD executes the actual provision of the aid.
So that is a long way of saying it – we design what we’re providing to meet the immediate needs in the war. We look at what we have, we look at what others have, we look at the different authorities, and we put together a package.
And then your second two questions, I would love to provide you the answer on them. Unfortunately, I’m not the person who works on the other side of the house, so to speak, assistance, and so I don’t have detailed answers on the provision of assistance unrelated to security assistance. But happy to have our team work with you to get someone who can give you that answer.
MODERATOR: Do we have any other questions in the room? If no, we will move on to Zoom. Alex, please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Hi Zina, thank you so much for doing this. Madam Assistant Secretary, thank you so much for being here today. I have two questions. Let me get your fresh reaction to the EU leaders’ decision today to endorse a plan for sending Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition within the next 12 months. Can you please speak to the significance of that, how much it’s going to help out Ukraine? And also (inaudible) after this decision (inaudible) to be focused on.
And secondly, some of the presidential drawdown and other fundings that have been released recently, they do explicitly mention not only helping Ukraine, also eastern flank countries. You also mentioned that we need to help them out in terms of boosting up their defense against Russian aggression. But we never received the full list of those countries that are getting your funding from Ukraine package. If you don’t mind, can you please give us the full list? Thanks so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Great. Just to – just to clarify, the first question was about the announcement on the EU side of providing artillery to Ukraine?
QUESTION: That’s correct. Today’s decision, they announced that they endorsed a plan for sending 1 million rounds of artillery.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Yes.
QUESTION: Is it enough, do you think, or do you expect more from them? How much can that help out given the current circumstances? Thanks so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Got it. No, thank you. And I think this is an example of what I was just talking about. This is an effort where we have many countries contributing. I think this is really significant, and I was just actually in Europe and I had a chance to talk to some of our partners and allies, and I think the contribution on artillery, which is very much needed in this war, the increase – and my understanding is this is also going to help with production of that – I think is very significant. And I – we obviously thank the – our partners and allies who have contributed to that.
I think it also shows that we need all of these different mechanisms to address specific needs related to the war. So the U.S. has a role to play. In this case, this is an – I believe an EU mechanism. And so we need to put all of these pieces together. So again, I think this is a significant and important development, and we look forward to continuing to work with the EU and coordinate with the EU as, again, we all try to address Ukraine’s needs.
I think your second question was on the countries that we had provided our Foreign Military Financing, which is our grant funding, to on the eastern flank.
QUESTION: That’s correct. That’s correct. Of course, I was not meaning, like, geographically. I just mean what countries have in fact been able to receive that funding, and if you can provide with the numbers that would be extremely helpful.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Absolutely. I’m going to have to let my team follow up on the list of specific countries and numbers. The one thing I would refer you to is we have provided congressional notifications that lay out the over billion dollars to a whole range of countries. So I’m not going to be able to give you the exhaustive list, but I – just to give you a sense of who we’ve provided it to, obviously the Baltics, to Poland, and to numerous other countries that have an interest in upgrading their systems or – and/or are contributing to Ukraine. So I’ll let my team follow up with you on the details as we get those specific numbers.
MODERATOR: Any other questions in the room? All right, Dima (ph).
QUESTION: Oh, thank you. If I may, I just checked the responsibilities of your department to be – just to understand it’s your cup of tea. (Laughter.) As I thought, one of them is just helping partners to train their militaries. So right now we got Ukrainian team who ended – just ended the training in Fort Sill. It was the first time after the start of the war when you’ve got Ukrainians on the ground. Do you have any other plans? Could you share something with us?
And you know the idea which Ukraine is lobbying, in a good understanding of this word, is providing the training for Ukrainian pilots. Do you think it’s possible? Are there any discussions between Kyiv and Washington on this? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Thank you. And let me start with the first question you asked about training in general. So we provide – we have the authority and the funding to support training. Most of our training carried about – carried out by our Defense Department or people participating in some of our military schools. So that’s in general, not just specific to Ukraine.
When it comes to Ukraine, I know that both we and a whole series of partners and allies have been helping the Ukrainians train. I think as you know, as we have provided more sophisticated systems – HIMARS, there’s a whole series of sophisticated systems that we’ve provided – people – Patriots – people need to be trained on those systems to be able to use them effectively. And so that’s one of the components that has been added in, and again, I think one of the things I like to say is that as the war has evolved, the nature of our assistance has evolved. And in my view that’s not just assistance in terms of providing the weapon, it’s providing the training that goes on. So that is ongoing, but I just want to be clear it’s not just a U.S. effort. We have a number of other countries who are participating.
I think on the F-16 question specifically, at this point I think the President has been clear. I don’t have anything to add to that. I think we will obviously continue to look at what Ukraine needs, but on the F-16s, no additional comments from me.
MODERATOR: Any other questions? Please.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for doing this. I am Bas Blokker; I am from the Netherlands. And I’m not entirely sure about if I have a good understanding of the role you have, so this may be not the answer I should ask – the question I should ask you. But from the emailed introduction, I understand that you travel a lot to allies and to partners, and you mentioned India. So far this country has not joined the sanctions against Russia, not even spoken out against the war. And I was wondering if your negotiations with partners and allies involve conditions like this, like asking India, if you want to do business with us in this regard, maybe you can – you can step up. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Before I answer the India question, may I just say that I was just in the (inaudible) last week. So – and I have to say I had a wonderful trip. And I really want to commend the Netherlands for its support for Ukraine. I think people may not have a complete picture of how significant it is, particularly if you look at it in a per capita basis. I think the Netherlands has really played a leadership role and is continuing to do so.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: (Laughter.) Well, I think the facts bear him out. I actually read – I believe he’s given a number of speeches recently on the topic of Ukraine, and I had the opportunity to read those while I was there. And it’s clear to me that not just the funding that the Netherlands has provided, but I think the leadership role in terms of being creative about some of these questions I was addressing earlier, like how can we get Ukraine a specific capability at a specific time that it needs, how do we look at this evolving over time, how do we work with our eastern flank partners to make sure that as their defense needs are changing.
So I see – there was a real reason I went there. It wasn’t just a coincidence. And so I expect to really continue those conversations and to have – continue that very positive relationship that we have with the Netherlands.
To turn to India, let me start by saying India plays an incredibly important role in the region and in the world. I believe it’s the world’s largest democracy if you look at the number of people there and voting. And we have a robust relationship with India that covers a whole host of issues. Obviously, we are clear with India, for example, about the question of our sanctions as it relates to Russia and the importance of those sanctions, but we are also having a conversation with India about shared and common interests, which range from talking about China, the role they’re playing in the region, to other – a whole other host of issues.
I continue to believe that when you look at the U.S. security relationship with India, for example, compared to where it was 10 or 15 years ago, that we’ve seen it deepen and strengthen and evolve. Of course, there is more work to do in that space, and we will continue to do that work.
MODERATOR: I see there is a follow-up question from Alex in Zoom. Please unmute yourself, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much. I really appreciate the opportunity. Assistant Secretary, I have two more questions, if you don’t mind. One on the South Caucasus: How much, if at all, the war impacted your security assistance to all three South Caucasian countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia?
And second part, adjacent to that question, is as you know, Russia has been inserting itself militarily in the region under the name of peacekeeping. Peacekeeping is something you mentioned in your speech earlier. I’m just wondering if those – if you think under current circumstances that those countries have alternative option. If they turn to the West with the bid of having Western peacekeeping missions in their territories, will the United States be open to the idea?
And lastly, if I may, if you can provide any comment to today’s Turkish parliamentary commission’s approval of Finland’s NATO bid, I would appreciate that as well. Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Absolutely, and thank you for the questions. Let me start with – I think which was your first question on Armenia and Azerbaijan and the South Caucasus, and I think, as you know, that the U.S. remains committed to promoting a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous future in the South Caucasus, and we recognize that there can’t be a military solution to the conflict and that the use of force to resolve disputes is not acceptable. As the Secretary has emphasized, we are committed to the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations, and direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a lasting peace.
Let me talk a little bit about specifically what the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is working on in this space. So in October of last year, we announced $2 million in the humanitarian demining assistance for the areas affected by the intensive fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan forces in the South Caucasus from a couple of years before. I think one of the things you may know about our bureau is that we lead the United States demining effort around the world, and so this piece falls directly under our purview.
This is intended to promote regional peace and build on over the – over $500,000 in assistance announced in November 2021. We remain deeply concerned about land mines and unexploded ordnance that continue to kill and maim citizens, block economic development, and impede the safe return of displaced communities. We believe that our efforts play a critical role in bolstering human security and enabling displaced communities to return to their homes, and one of the things that we have seen – not just specific to this region – when you talk about a country trying to recover from war, you cannot recover from war if your farmland, if homes, if communities are littered with unexploded ordnance. And so the work that we do with our international partners to clean this up is mission critical for countries to be able to recover and recuperate and to protect civilians.
On that note, I’d like to mention that we do a report every year – it’s called To Walk the Earth in Safety – that outlines all of the work that the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is doing on demining and unexploded ordnance, and that should be coming out very shortly on April 4th, so I hope all of you will read that report.
I think your – I apologize. I need you to remind me of your next question.
MODERATOR: Alex, feel free to unmute.
QUESTION: Absolutely. It was about the role of the peacekeeping mission potentially being present in the region if they request, if they have any alternative option. And lastly was about NATO, Finland.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LEWIS: Oh, it was about NATO and Finland and Sweden.
Look, when it comes to peacekeeping, the role that my bureau plays is we provide the training for peacekeepers to carry out their missions, and I do think we need to look closely at how we’re going to help countries continue to be able to do that work. Obviously those are run through the UN, and I want to steer clear of commenting on exactly how the UN will manage those processes moving forward, but I do think we need to look at questions of not only Russian support but Russian equipment that right now, for example, I know there are difficulties getting spare parts for and things like that that may affect countries’ abilities – or sorry, peacekeepers’ abilities – to carry out their peacekeeping work.
Let me turn to NATO and the question of Finland and Sweden membership, and I think, as you noted, we welcome President Erdogan’s announcement of the vote to ratify Finland’s accession. We also continue to encourage Türkiye to ratify Sweden’s accession protocols. We believe that both nations will strengthen the Alliance and we are confident that these will move forward, and this will enhance their security as well as that of the Euro-Atlantic region.
MODERATOR: Last call for questions in the room, in the Zoom. I see none. This ends the Q&A session. I would like to give my special thanks to our briefer, Assistant Secretary Jessica Lewis, and to all the FPC members who joined us today in person and online. Thank you. This concludes our briefing today.