Department Press Briefing – February 28, 2022
2:15 p.m. EST
MR PRICE: Good afternoon.
MR PRICE: We have a couple items at the top, and I look forward to taking your questions.
As President Putin continues his premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and unlawful war against Ukraine, the United States, along with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to hold the Russian Government accountable.
Indeed, leaders from around the world are working together to further politically and financially isolate Russia, including by blocking Russia from international financial systems and economies. We took further measures against Russia’s financial system in response to the Kremlin’s flagrant violation of international law and utter disregard for the principles that underpin peace and security around the world. We have sanctioned Putin himself; we are disconnecting key Russian banks from SWIFT; we have imposed restrictive measures against Russia’s central bank; and we are standing up a joint task force to find and freeze assets of sanctioned Russian companies, oligarchs, and other government officials.
These actions will severely impact Putin’s inner circle, impede the Kremlin’s use of its international reserves, and limit its ability to fund ongoing destabilizing activities, including the Kremlin’s war machine in Ukraine. President Putin and his cronies in Belarus will continue to face massive costs from the measures we have taken in complete coordination with our allies and partners.
As the people of Ukraine continue to fight with courage and pride for their country, we will continue to provide them the assistance that they need. As you know, over the weekend, Secretary Blinken authorized a third assistance package of up to $350 million for immediate support to Ukraine’s defenses, bringing the total security assistance over the past year to more than $1 billion in support of Ukraine’s frontline defenders. We thank several allies and partners who have also joined us to expedite additional security assistance to Ukraine. We welcome more contributions from all allies and partners to give Ukrainians the support they need to defend themselves against Russian aggression and provide the assistance to the people of Ukraine.
We are also heartened that Ukraine’s neighbors continue to keep borders open to those seeking international protection, and we are urging all countries to allow unimpeded entry and access to all those fleeing violence. We are engaging closely with the UN agencies on the ground to ensure that every single person crossing into neighboring countries is received equally and with the protection assistance their circumstances require. We are encouraging counties in the region to adhere to their refugee obligation and the principle of non-refoulement.
In support of Ukraine’s urgent humanitarian needs, we announced the additional provision, as I’m sure you saw, of nearly $54 million in humanitarian assistance to those affected by the Russian Government’s invasion. This additional assistance, jointly provided by the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, will enable international humanitarian organizations to further support the people of Ukraine.
The United States stands in solidarity with and will continue to support the government and people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s unprovoked aggression.
One final note: As you saw over the weekend, we have advised American citizens to consider departing Russia immediately on those commercial options that are still available. This morning the Secretary announced that our Embassy in Moscow has authorized the voluntary departure of employees and family members. To be clear: this is not a retaliatory measure. We deem these measures necessary because of the safety and security issues resulting from Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
One other element before we get to your questions. Today the United States joins the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Council’s 49th regular session. The U.S. return to that body fulfills a pledge made by President Biden and reflects the centrality of human rights to our country’s foreign policy.
The timing of this session could not be more opportune.
Since the opening moments of Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified attack on Ukraine, reports of human rights abuses have been widespread. Let there be no confusion: Russia attacked Ukraine because Ukraine dared to pursue a democratic path.
And just today, the Human Rights Council voted overwhelming in support of Ukraine’s request to hold an Urgent Debate later this week, on Thursday, about human rights abuses in Ukraine.
On March 1st, Secretary Blinken will deliver remarks to the assembled council members and will use that opportunity to spell out clearly the threat posed by Russia, while noting that Ukraine is far from the only part of the world where the council’s attention is needed on an urgent basis.
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva Ambassador Sheba Crocker will head the U.S. delegation at this session, supported by recently confirmed Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Michèle Taylor. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya will also join the delegation in Geneva.
With that, I’ll turn to your questions.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. I have a couple but they’ll all be brief, I promise. And the first one just has to do with logistics.
So when you say – on the Human Rights Council, did you – you guys were on the council to vote in favor of having this meeting on Ukraine? Or was – did – is that correct?
MR PRICE: My – that’s my understanding. Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, all right. And – but it’s being called an urgent meeting, but it’s not for four days, so I guess urgency is in the eye of the beholder here.
Anyway, on the embassies, the French announced this morning that they were shutting up shop in Kyiv and moving to Lviv, and I just wanted to check on the status of the Lviv operations. Is it still the case that there’s nobody there for the U.S., that they’re all operating out of Poland?
MR PRICE: So as of last week, Matt, as you know, the small team that transferred to Lviv had transferred to Poland. For the course of several days, they were making regular trips from Lviv into Ukraine. From the onset of this phase of the Russian —
QUESTION: From Poland into Ukraine.
MR PRICE: From Poland into Ukraine. From the onset of this phase of Russia’s unjustified, premediated, unprovoked assault on Ukraine, they have not been commuting back into Ukraine.
QUESTION: Okay. So I guess this is for other countries, but do you know how many partner embassies – embassies of partners or allies remain open in Kyiv?
MR PRICE: I don’t have those figures available. Of course, we coordinate very closely with our allies and partners. We have shared with them the reasons for our relocation of operations to Lviv, and subsequent to that our relocation of operations into Poland. I just don’t have a tally to offer.
QUESTION: Last one. On the diplomacy front in terms of what’s going on particularly in New York, are there any countries that you are especially peeved with for how they have voted thus far or made decisions to sponsor or not to, to co-sponsor or not to co-sponsor?
MR PRICE: Well, there’s one that comes to mind.
MR PRICE: Of course, the resolution in the UN Security Council would have been adopted by the UN Security Council were it not for Russia’s decision to use a veto. In fact, Russia was forced to use its veto because countries either voted in favor or abstained on that measure.
QUESTION: Well, I wasn’t talking about Russia. I mean, other than Russia, which was to be expected. But – so do you – so you’re happy with the way the rest of the world has come out and made their voices heard?
MR PRICE: We are comfortable, we are heartened, we are gratified by the fact that the world, the international community, has stood up to speak loudly and clearly in defense of Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity. The UN Security Council resolution you mentioned, Matt, as you know, it would have been adopted were it not for the Russian veto. The – our team at the UN also worked with our close allies and partners to garner some 80 signatures within the UN General Assembly for this very resolution, so well beyond the members of the UN Security Council, permanent and rotating, that voted in favor of this, scores of countries around the world signed onto this in one way or another. And many more on top of that have voiced their clear, unambiguous opposition to what the Russian Federation is doing, what the Russian Federation has sought to do.
MR PRICE: Humeyra, rather than focus on specific countries, we have heard —
QUESTION: Why? They are like U.S. allies.
MR PRICE: Of course we have a very close relationship with India. We have discussed our concerns, our shared concerns —
QUESTION: Have you not talked in the aftermath of the vote how you felt about their —
MR PRICE: We have regular engagement with our Indian partners. We have regular engagement with our Emirati partners. We have regular engagement with our European allies and our European partners. So at every level in multiple fora we have had discussions about this.
QUESTION: Okay. On the nuclear thing, so the Swiss defense minister – earlier today they said they concluded that Russia is rather unlikely to use its nuclear weapons against the West. Does the United States share that assessment?
MR PRICE: Look, I am not going to prognosticate from here, but I do know what the Russians have said very clearly, including in recent months. We have long agreed – the United States and the Russian Federation – that nuclear use would have devastating, devastating consequences. We have stated that many times, including earlier this year in the aftermath of the summit meeting that President Putin had with President Biden in Geneva. It was in the aftermath of that engagement that our two countries again came out with a joint statement reaffirming something we have said since the Cold War, and that is that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
MR PRICE: That is something that the Russian Federation has signed onto, it is something that we certainly believe, and it is a principle that we must protect and preserve.
QUESTION: Sure. But that was a while ago, and then they invaded —
MR PRICE: It was —
QUESTION: – and then they – so then do you think that they’re still within that understanding? Are the indications that you are getting is similar to what the Swiss are getting, that they’re not going to follow through this high alert?
MR PRICE: Well, clearly this is provocative rhetoric. We share the opinion with our partners and allies around the world that this sort of provocative rhetoric, more than being unnecessary, it is dangerous. It adds to the risk of miscalculation. It should be avoided. We are assessing President Putin’s directive at this time. As I think you have heard us say, we see no reason to change our own alert levels.
This gets back to the broader point. Throughout this crisis, while Russia was manufacturing it, and now that we are in the midst of this unjustified, premediated, unprovoked invasion, we have seen the Russian Federation, the Kremlin, President Putin himself consistently try to turn the tables by falsely alleging that it is Russia that is under threat, that Russia faced a threat from Ukraine, that Russia faced a threat from a defensive alliance, that Russia was the one that had no choice but to wage a brutal, premediated, unprovoked, unjustified war against its neighbor.
Neither we nor NATO nor Ukraine nor any other country has any desire or intention for conflict with Russia. At the same time, we are unwavering in our commitment to extended deterrence and confident in our ability to defend ourselves and our allies. As you’ve heard us say, our commitment to Article 5 is just as strong today as it was at NATO’s founding more than 70 years ago.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Mark Stone from Sky News. Thanks, Ned. First of all, can you give us any sense of what you’re reading as of what President Putin meant yesterday? Is he talking about battlefield nuclear weapons? Or was he talking about something even more frightening? That’s my first question.
MR PRICE: Look, I don’t think it is wise or responsible for me to try to interpret, to try to read into what President Putin might have been signaling, trying to signal. Again, we think that this type of rhetoric is provocative, it is profoundly unhelpful, and is at its core dangerous. We think it should be avoided.
QUESTION: And so to follow up, what is your assessment of his state of mind and how are you accessing that assessment? I mean, are conversations like that with Naftali Bennett of Israel yesterday and Emanuel Macron – are they helpful? What’s – what are the lines of communications to work out what’s going on in his head?
MR PRICE: Well, we are going to judge the Russian Federation, we are going to judge President Putin by his actions, and clearly his actions in recent days have justified and given us cause to justify precisely what we said we would do in the runup to this unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. President Putin, his cronies, the Kremlin, those around them – they are facing the unprecedented set of economic and financial measures, just as we promised, not based on rhetoric, not based on threats alone, but based on their actions.
When it comes to our engagement, look, here clearly our relationship with Russia and the world’s relationship with Russia is different today than it was last week or than it was before this unprovoked crisis began late last year. But we still believe in diplomacy. We know that diplomacy is the only responsible, sustainable means by which to end this conflict. It is precisely why we are supporting our Ukrainian partners as they engage in those talks. Other countries around the world have continued to engage with the Russian Federation. If we need to engage with the Russian Federation, we have the ability to do so ourselves, whether it is through the State Department, whether it is through the Defense Department, whether it is through any other channel we have with the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: So those – the deconfliction lines are open, in terms of – with Defense or with State, they’re there?
MR PRICE: We have maintained deconfliction channels with the Russian Federation for the better part of a decade now. Again, we think that the ability to communicate clearly is in some ways even more important during times of crisis and conflict, as we are in now, than it would otherwise – than it otherwise would be.
QUESTION: And just to put one more question to you on the nuclear deterrent aspect of this, what has happened to Russia’s nuclear arsenal since Putin said over the weekend that they would be putting their nuclear deterrent forces on alert?
MR PRICE: Again, we are not in a position to characterize anything the Russians might have done. You’ll have to ask them if President Putin’s rhetoric was matched by any sort of action. We have had no change in our posture at this time. We don’t judge there is any need for a change.
QUESTION: Okay. And then after the talks today between the Ukrainians and the Russians, they announced that they’d have another round in a few days. Does – do you have a response to that? And do you think that the continuation of talks is any reflection of how Russia feels about its military advances in Ukraine?
MR PRICE: Well, as I said before, we support Ukraine in its efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to this conflict. Ukraine sought before the onset of this invasion to do just that. The United States sought before the onset of this invasion to do just that. Our allies in Europe sought before this invasion to do just that. The OSCE sought to do just that, and the NATO-Russia Council sought to do just that. At every turn, the Russian Federation rejected those offers of substantive, constructive engagement.
Now that the invasion – we are in the midst of an invasion – we have heard this very message from President Zelenskyy, from Foreign Minister Kuleba – we – you would be right to color us skeptical of what it is that Moscow intends. What we’ve said before, including last week, applies equally today. Diplomacy at the barrel of a gun, diplomacy at the turret of a tank – that is not real diplomacy. We are ready and willing, just as our Ukrainian partners are, just as our European allies are, to engage in real, in substantive, in genuine diplomacy in order to see if we can find a way out of what is a needless, brutal conflict. But that diplomacy is highly unlikely to bear fruit, to prove effective, in the midst of not only confrontation but escalation. Well before the invasion started, we made the point that we were all for diplomacy, but in order for it to bear fruit it needed to take place in the context of de-escalation. That is, in some ways, even more true now.
We are supportive of the Ukrainians engaging with Russian counterparts. We are offering – as you know, Foreign Minister Kuleba had an opportunity yesterday to convene with the G7 ministers. President Biden has had an opportunity in recent days to speak to – excuse me, President Zelenskyy had an opportunity in recent days to speak to President Biden. Secretary Blinken has had several conversations with Foreign Minister Kuleba on a bilateral basis in any number of days.
So we are comparing notes, we are coordinating closely, and we are supportive, knowing what we all assume are the limitations on diplomacy in the present context. It is precisely what Foreign Minister Kuleba and President Zelenskyy have spoken to. We share a sense of skepticism, but at the same time, we want to exhaust every potentially viable diplomatic avenue.
QUESTION: On that, with the negotiations between the Russian and Ukrainian delegations this morning, have you – has this department had a sort of idea or read-in or talking to the Ukrainians about how that went, if they’re optimistic or not? Are you optimistic that there really will be more talks in the coming days? And obviously that’s subject to what happens in the next few days.
MR PRICE: I’m sure we will have a readout from our Ukrainian partners in short order. As you know, the talks only recently concluded for the day before I came out here. We had high-level engagement with our Ukrainian partners over the weekend, late last week. Our shared approach, in some ways our shared skepticism, is something we’ve discussed in private. It is also something that our Ukrainian partners have discussed publicly, just as we have. So I am sure in the coming hours we will be hearing with and speaking with our Ukrainian partners.
As for the next steps, we are supportive of what our Ukrainian partners deem to be in their best interest. They will find a partner in the United States going forward in this effort.
MR PRICE: Well, what I will say generally about Belarus is that they, and President Lukashenka have allowed President Putin to make a mockery of Belarus’s independence, of its purported sovereignty. That has been the case for some time now, as Russian forces have flooded into Belarus, as Russian forces have staged inside what should be sovereign Belarusian territory to undertake a premeditated, unjustified, unprovoked attack and invasion against a third country.
The – all the while, the regime continues to brutally repress the democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus. It has, as I said before, become increasingly subservient to Russia, demonstrating again President Lukashenka’s willingness to act against the interests of his own people in order to curry favor with Moscow and to stay in power.
As a result of the regime’s indefensible support for and even facilitation of what we are seeing the Russians do in Ukraine, we’re imposing sanctions. We have imposed sanctions on some two dozen Belarusian individuals and entities. These actions focus on Belarus’s defense and related materiel and finance sectors, two fields that are closely tied to Russia.
QUESTION: And do you think they’ll escalate their participation in the conflict? You say they’re already facilitating it.
MR PRICE: Well, again, you – it is not for me to try and predict what Belarus might do, might seek to do, or more importantly, what Moscow might impose on Belarus to do. We have seen at every turn that President Lukashenka has set aside – cast aside – the will of his own people and cast his lot with President Putin and his militaristic aims against Ukraine. So if that continues, Belarus will continue to face measures of profound accountability.
QUESTION: What communications has the U.S. Government had with Russia, say, over the past 48 hours, or even since the Secretary canceled the talks with Lavrov, on the Treasury side, on the Defense side, the State side?
MR PRICE: So I wouldn’t want to characterize every element of engagement, but again, we believe that in times of crisis, we believe that lines of communication are in some ways even more important. So we have continued to engage the Russian Federation. There are issues that are of bilateral interest to us. Our staffing posture in Moscow is one such issue. Delivering notices, demarches, is something we continue to have the ability to do. It is something we’re able to do out of our embassy in Moscow.
I am not aware of any high-level engagement since the Secretary informed secretary – Foreign Minister Lavrov last week that we did not deem this context to be appropriate or conducive for diplomacy, for the meeting that was to have taken place in Geneva last Thursday. But again, if we need to convey a high-level message to the Russian Federation or a lower-level message to the Russian Federation, we have the ability to do that.
QUESTION: Was that done over – after President Putin’s statement on his nuclear posture?
MR PRICE: Has there been engagement in the past 24 hours?
QUESTION: Yes. Uh-huh.
MR PRICE: I couldn’t speak to whether there has been direct contact within the past 24 hours, but there have been recent engagement on areas that are of – in our national interest, and that includes issues of our bilateral – of our staffing presence in Moscow.
QUESTION: Okay, one follow-up. The Ukrainians have been asking for months and months for even more – even better weaponry than the U.S. has been supplying them, and especially for Stinger rockets which can take down aircraft. Is the U.S. supplying Stinger missiles to Ukraine?
MR PRICE: So, Paul, we have over the past year committed more than $1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. That includes the $350 million that Secretary Blinken signed out over the weekend, it includes the $200 million that President Biden authorized and was signed out in December, it includes the $60 million that was signed out and committed with the visit of President Zelenskyy last year.
I’m not in a position to detail every element of that security assistance, but what I can say is that it includes supplies that are effective when it comes to anti-armor, anti-aircraft, small arms, munitions. This is a discussion we have had at many levels for – on a consistent basis with our Ukrainian partners to determine precisely what their security – their defensive security needs are. The provision of our defensive security assistance is calibrated precisely to those needs.
I should add that the $200 million that was authorized by President Biden in December that – we have not yet spent all that money, and so there was never a pause in the delivery of our security assistance. We – Secretary Blinken authorized this additional $350 million knowing and consistent with President – what President Biden said prior to the Russian invasion, that if Russia were to invade Ukraine, not only would our security assistance continue, but we would double down on it. We have made good on that pledge as well.
QUESTION: Just on this breaking – Russia’s UN envoy says 12 Russian UN diplomats ordered by United States to leave by March 7th. Can you confirm and talk about it?
MR PRICE: I don’t have anything to offer there. Obviously, I’m – I haven’t seen these headlines.
QUESTION: Were you not aware of this plan?
MR PRICE: I – again, I haven’t seen a headline that just came out before I took the podium.
QUESTION: Just one more —
QUESTION: Did this happen?
MR PRICE: Again, I can’t speak to something I haven’t seen the full details of.
QUESTION: Okay, but also one more thing on the recent engagement. You just said there wasn’t any high-level one, but Russia’s foreign minister today said Russia complained to the U.S. ambassador to Moscow over what it described as hostile protests near diplomatic facilities. And from their readout, I understand that John Sullivan was in a meeting with the Russians in Moscow, and it says they also discussed other bilateral issues. Can you talk a little bit about what was discussed? And did you guys get any indication from this meeting that Russians may want to talk about any diplomatic path or anything like that?
MR PRICE: So I indicated before that our embassy in Moscow continues to have the ability to engage with our Russian counterparts on issues that are of interest to us. Ambassador Sullivan has continued to engage at his level. We have not had high-level engagements from Secretary Blinken, Deputy Secretary Sherman, from the department here. But, of course, even with the announcement of today’s authorized departure of non-emergency employees and eligible family members, we still have Americans on the ground in Moscow. Their safety, their security is of paramount importance to us. The ambassador often does engage with his Russian counterparts on issues pertaining to that and will continue to.
QUESTION: Ned, just to follow up on that, just to be absolutely clear, the Russians in New York are saying that you have expelled or asked 12 UN diplomats, Russian diplomats, to leave the United States. Are you saying you don’t – you can’t comment on that, you don’t know about it?
MR PRICE: I don’t have those details in front of me. This apparently just came out during – since the time I’ve been up here.
QUESTION: Yeah, but can you react to it? Is it accurate? Have you asked 12 Russians to leave?
MR PRICE: I’m not going to react to something that has just come out while I’m – as I’ve been up here.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: It is suggested that this is part of the ongoing – that it’s not related to Ukraine, that this is part of the ongoing spat over – diplomatic spat over diplomatic staffing in which you have said that you have told Russians who are – who have been here, diplomats in the U.S. who’ve been here longer than three years —
MR PRICE: We have been clear about the three-year visa validity. What we’ve also been clear about is that the watchword for us is parity. We want to see diplomatic parity between our mission in Moscow and what the Russians maintain here.
QUESTION: Right. So my question – I’m not just saying that to say it. My question is: does that parity include Russia – obviously the Russians have more people here because they have a mission – because you are the host of the UN and they have a mission up there, whereas you have a mission in New York, too, but they’re Americans. So are the diplomats who are – the Russian diplomats who are posted to New York considered part of – when you talk about parity, are they considered part of that?
MR PRICE: When we talk about our bilateral missions, typically we refer to our embassy in Moscow, our – and their embassy —
QUESTION: And their embassy in Washington and not in New York, and not the mission —
MR PRICE: Typically when we talk about it, we talk about our respective bilateral missions.
QUESTION: Okay. So that would then suggest that this is something different than the parity battle.
MR PRICE: I’m sure we’ll have more to say on this later today.
QUESTION: All right.
MR PRICE: Anything else? Yes.
QUESTION: So you – you and other officials have remarked lately how bizarre the Russian president’s speeches have been and his – and now he’s – we see him issuing nuclear threats. So I wonder, do you still consider him a rational actor? And on the sanctions that were announced today, do you have any parameters for when you can climb down from those?
MR PRICE: So I don’t think it’s useful, productive, or even possible for me to try to get into President Putin’s head. It’s certainly not something I would want to do from here. Again, what matters to us are the actions of the Russian Federation, and again, if rhetoric materializes into action that threatens our – directly threatens our Allies or the United States, as you’ve heard from the President, we will respond resolutely. We will respond decisively. Our commitment to Article 5 is sacrosanct. Our commitment to our Allies is unwavering, and that will remain the case.
When it comes to the sanctions, your question was how do we climb down from this?
MR PRICE: Well, first, our goal has been to climb up because of what the Russian Federation has done. We were clear that if Russia were to pursue this path, the costs would be profound, and I think you have seen that. Everyone is familiar, or everyone – I assume just about everyone – is familiar with the steps that we’ve taken as recently as this morning, as recently as the weekend, on Friday, so I won’t go through that entire litany.
What might be more productive is to speak to the implications of some of those measures. And we have seen the Russian economy and the Russian financial system react, as we might have expected, to the severity and scale of these measures. The ruble has fallen about 20 percent and it’s trading at its weakest level ever. The Russian stock market was kept closed today. I understand it will be kept closed tomorrow, likely due to fear of capital flight if it were to open. That is a very precarious situation to be in, having to keep your stock market closed for fear of what would otherwise transpire. The central bank of Russia more than doubled their key interest to 20 percent. A 20 percent interest rate is not something that a country can sustain. This is the highest level in almost 20 years, and the central bank also instituted capital controls by ordering domestic brokers to reject foreign bids to sell Russian currency – Russian securities. Russian authorities are also forcing exporters to sell at least 80 percent of their foreign currency that they receive in order to prop up the rapidly weakening currency. The S&P late last week on Friday downgraded Russia’s credit rating to “junk” status. With the measures that we’ve announced against the Russian Central Bank, this slush fund, supposedly sanction-proofing depository for President Putin, amassing hundreds of billions of dollars over the years in an effort to evade Western sanctions, we have essentially cut off his ability to weather the sanctions storm that together we have imposed with our partners and allies.
But your question was really in the other direction, and what would it take to climb down from here. And I would make a couple points. One, sanctions are not an end in and of themselves. Sanctions are a means to an end, and the mean – and the end we are seeking to achieve in this case is in an end to this conflict, and end to this brutal war, and end to the loss of life that Russia is inflicting needlessly, on an unprovoked basis, to its neighbor. So we want to see de-escalation.
We believe, as we do in this case, as we do in other cases, that these economic measures will apply pressure on the Russian Federation to ultimately do the right thing, and that is to bring an end to this conflict. Were that to happen, these measures would be calibrated accordingly. If that does not happen, if Russia continues to escalate, these measures will be calibrated accordingly. We are prepared to escalate further. We are also prepared to calibrate in the other direction if these measures have their intended effect.
QUESTION: But the conflict can end on different terms, so like, do you – is that a simple the conflict ends, the sanctions ends – end? Because their – you know what their – and Russians’ end goal is – I mean, they want to end this conflict, but on their terms, right?
MR PRICE: So I wouldn’t to be quite so categorical. Obviously, there will need to be accountability for what the Russian Federation has done, the fact that it has launched this needless, unprovoked, unjustified war against its neighbor. That is something that the United States, together with the international community, we will need to wrestle with, how best to hold the Russian Federation accountable for that, just as we have continued to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its attempted annexation of Crimea, for its incursion, invasion into the Donbas in 2014 some eight years ago.
What we have seen – and I’ll make this point – is that this conflict has already displaced hundreds of thousands of individuals, of people, and resulted in significant civilian casualties. This is a war that threatens to explode even further on urban areas, rendering even more displacement, casualties, loss of civilian life. And civilians, we know, will bear the brunt, especially as this conflict encroaches on civilian population centers and civilian cities.
We consider reports of civilian casualties to be credible and in line with Russia’s past operations, both in Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine and in conflict areas elsewhere in the world, where Russia has been belligerent. The Government of Russia and all Russian personnel involved in these operations should know that the United States is supporting an international, multilateral effort to detect and document potential human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law. And as I was saying before, we are equally committed to supporting the pursuit of accountability for human rights violations, for abuses of international humanitarian law, for potential war crimes, for other potential atrocities, using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions where appropriate.
QUESTION: Yeah. What’s the leverage to do anything about the humanitarian situation or to stop this kind of thing? We’ve talked about making comments in the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly or the Security Council where Russia has a veto. If Russia is willing to escalate this conflict further, do you agree with that, first of all, and second of all, what is the real leverage if Russia can veto these measures and can simply proceed?
MR PRICE: Well, I’ll make a couple points there. One, Russia cannot veto our efforts – international efforts, multilateral efforts – to document and to hold accountable those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. This could be at the political level; it could be at the operational level. And together with our partners, we will assemble everything we can to hold these individuals to account, whether that form is criminal or in any other context.
What I will also say on the humanitarian front is that the United States continues to be the single largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. This was one of the many measures that you heard from us in recent hours. It was yesterday that we announced $54 million in additional humanitarian assistance to Ukraine to help the people of Ukraine. That is in addition to $52 million that we have provided to Ukrainians in Ukraine over the past year. And as the humanitarian needs of our Ukrainian partners increase, we will be prepared to work with the international community to do more.
We’re working closely with the UN. We’re working closely with NGOs and aid organizations on the ground. As you know, our humanitarian assistance goes to our partners who are on the ground. And we’ve been in regular contact with our humanitarian partner providers. Many of them are still able to conduct their important, their lifesaving work inside of Ukraine, and we’re continuing to fund them, as are so many of our allies and partners around the world.
So Moscow can be obstructionist in some ways, Moscow can politically stand in the way, but Moscow would have a hard time standing in the way of this work, and Moscow won’t be able to stand in the way of the accountability to which we’re committed.
QUESTION: What specific things are you worried about? There have been records of cluster munitions, but I guess neither Russia nor U.S. are full signatories to that. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has mentioned possible atrocities. What specific things are you looking at or worried about? What reports concern you the most?
MR PRICE: We are concerned about the whole – the entire gamut. We have seen reports that civilians have been killed. We have seen reports that children have been killed. I’m sure all of us have seen the images of a kindergarten that was destroyed, tales that have emanated from Ukraine of innocent civilians who have been maimed, injured, or even killed in the conduct of this senseless war. We’ve seen residential buildings with giant pockmarks in them, smoke billowing from civilian population centers.
All of this is cause for profound concern. Even if and when civilian infrastructure and civilian locations aren’t intentionally targeted, as we know, there is no weapon in the world that can be as precise as any belligerent would like. And so when another country seeks to take civilian population centers, encircles a city of 2.9 million people like Kyiv, apparently has an interest in forcibly taking Kyiv, that has the potential to result in significant civilian harm and civilian loss of life. That’s something we’re going to be watching very closely.
QUESTION: On sanctions and oligarchs, Britain has just expanded its list of people they’re sanctioning, including the tycoon Usmanov. Is the U.S. going to expand its sanctions of oligarchs, or did what we had today – is that the last of U.S. sanctions?
MR PRICE: We will do more, assuming the Russian Federation continues to escalate, and we have seen no indication at this point that the Russian Federation is prepared to do otherwise. You’re right that the oligarchs and cronies that we’ve sanctioned, they are – the lists are symmetrical, but they are not identical. Just as we have done with our allies and partners with our other economic and financial means, we will increasingly bring those two things closer together. They may not be identical at the end of the day, just given different authorities and our different systems, but they will ultimately be symmetrical and mutually reinforcing. And yes, we will do more.
Beyond additional targets, what we are launching and what you heard about recently is the task force that, together with our allies and partners, we are going to identify – we are going to hunt down and freeze the assets of Russian companies and oligarchs. We are going to hunt down their yachts, we are going to hunt down their mansions, any other ill-gotten gains that we can find and freeze under the law. No longer will they have – be able to operate with impunity in the West. No longer will they be able to invest their ill-gotten gains in other jurisdictions, their ability to send their children to boarding schools around the world – these are all things that we are going to go after very aggressively together with our allies and partners.
QUESTION: Two follow-ups. One is: One of the most powerful oligarchs is Roman Abramovich, who is an Israeli citizen yet he seems to have sweeping influence in Russia. Why hasn’t he been targeted?
MR PRICE: Again, our sanctions, they are statutory, and every target has to meet the statutory definition, statutory requirements. So I wouldn’t want to rule any entity or person in or out, but as appropriate, we will continue to go after additional oligarchs and cronies.
QUESTION: Okay, and the final one is: Do any of these oligarchs, billionaires, have – actually have currently significant assets in the United States?
MR PRICE: I think we have all heard and know there are certain jurisdictions, including in this country, where Russian oligarchs have attempted to hide their ill-gotten gains. We will, working with our allies and partners, do everything we can to identify those, to root them out, and to make – to close those – to close their ability to hide those gains.
QUESTION: But will we know if anything is seized or blocked – a home, a yacht, in the United States?
MR PRICE: Any of that would take place in a law enforcement context, I would presume. So I would need to refer to my law enforcement counterparts.
QUESTION: Ned, I’m a little curious about the task force. Presumably, you guys already know.
MR PRICE: We – this is —
QUESTION: Right? I mean, I’ll give you yachts and aircraft. They can move and might go out of U.S. jurisdictions. But if some guy’s got a massive mansion in Palm Beach, it’s not like he can – you know about it already, right? No?
MR PRICE: This is an effort to share information with, to work with, to coordinate with our allies and partners. You’re right, some of this is about assets that can move between jurisdictions, but clearly there is a determination on the part of the United States, on the part of our allies and partners, including some partners who previously have sought to maintain some degree of neutrality. The fact is that no responsible country around the world can be neutral when it comes to Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified, needless invasion of Ukraine. And we’ve seen any number of countries demonstrate very clearly, very vividly, that they are standing on the side of Ukraine, they’re standing on the side of the rules-based international order.
QUESTION: So is it fair to say, then, the U.S. contribution to this task force since you most likely already have identified assets, immovable assets like property and maybe money and – that mainly what you’re going to be doing with this task force is assisting other countries in finding these properties or whatever in their jurisdictions?
MR PRICE: Well, clearly, anything that’s in the United States would be under the purview of domestic authorities here, and it would be under the purview of law enforcement to take any appropriate action. But yes, we have intelligence, we have information, we have an ability to identify and to pinpoint some of these assets that other countries might not.
QUESTION: I have two non-Ukraine ones.
MR PRICE: Okay. Two – there I didn’t hear you say very quick, but I’ll assume very quick non-Ukraine ones.
QUESTION: They will be very quick. (Laughter.) Does anyone else want to go, though? I don’t want to —
MR PRICE: It’s all you.
QUESTION: Okay. One, today is the day – today is the anniversary, the 50th anniversary of the Shanghai Communique. Did you guys make a conscious decision to snub the Chinese or to just let this one go by?
MR PRICE: Matt, there are many anniversaries that go by without a —
QUESTION: I know, but this is a significant one.
MR PRICE: — without a statement from the State Department. It doesn’t in any way mean that we are trying to diminish the historical meaning or importance of an anniversary. I know you look forward to our statements on every occasion, but sometimes —
QUESTION: Well, okay, but it just seems —
QUESTION: And you’ll have a statement on every occasion.
QUESTION: You can’t —
QUESTION: You do. I mean, the national day of Narnia you guys put out a statement on. (Laughter.) It’s – but this is a pretty big deal, or at least it was 50 years ago. So I just want to make sure that you’re intentionally not recognizing the anniversary.
MR PRICE: I am not aware of us having any plans to issue a statement, but I wouldn’t read more into it than that.
QUESTION: All right, okay. Second one. You had the – the Secretary was at and then presumably he left to go do other things, but the Bahrain Strategic Dialogue happened this morning, or whenever it was – this afternoon. I just want to ask about political prisoners in Bahrain and if that issue was raised, in particular the case that I’ve raised before about Professor al-Singace.
MR PRICE: I know that we have engaged Bahraini authorities on that specific case previously. I couldn’t say whether it was raised today. I wasn’t in that meeting. But if we have anything to share, we will.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you all very much.
MR PRICE: Where we are on Iran talks? Clearly – and you heard me say this last week – there has been significant progress in recent days that I think it is fair to say, and you’ve heard this from our allies and partners, that we are at a decisive moment. And I think you all saw the reports that the Iranian negotiator went back to Tehran, only recently returned to Vienna. So I would expect we will have additional clarity in the coming days, and we will need to have additional clarity in the coming days given that we are at this decisive, consequential moment, knowing that Tehran’s nuclear advancements will soon render the nonproliferation benefits that the JCPOA conveyed essentially meaningless before too long.
QUESTION: So just one thing on that since we’re going to Iran. He also said – Iran also said there are three main unresolved issues and they’re still really important. So you’re saying that this week is critical. You guys have said that for a while now. But are you prepared to walk away if those issues are not resolved by the end of the week?
MR PRICE: We are prepared to walk away if Iran – if Iran displays an intransigence to making progress. But let me be clear that walking away won’t mean leaving the status quo. We have talked about the alternatives, at least in general terms, the alternatives that we have developed and we are prepared to pursue together with our allies and partners if the Iranians are unwilling to engage in good faith in a constructive way on the remaining outstanding issues.
Thank you all very much.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:07 p.m.)