Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. It’s great to be here at the City Club. As some of you have noted, I’ve been to Cleveland before and spoken, as I just did early this morning, at Case Western.
I think that coming to Cleveland is critical. You all are the heart of America, and I’m really honored to be back here again.
Thank you, Kristen, for the warm welcome. And thank you, Dan, and to the entire team at City Club for hosting me today. My thanks as well to the civic leaders, academics, students, and particularly representatives of the Ukrainian American diaspora for being with us.
And you may note that behind me is a chair. That’s because if you see my silver hair, you know that like probably some of you here I have some back problems. And so I’m going to pull up the chair and sit on it while I talk to you. Because standing for a long period of time is a little difficult for me. So I manage – I go all around the world, including to Ukraine.
It’s a real honor to speak at this forum. Because this is a forum about free speech and robust debate. This institution with a mission essential to America’s purpose: to “create conversations of consequence” – conversations of consequence; I love that phrase – “that help democracy thrive,” which is so unbelievably critical in this world.
That idea could not be more important in our time and in every generation. But today, we’re here to talk about a place where the question isn’t just about helping democracy thrive. It’s about ensuring that democracy can and will survive. A place where courageous souls are risking their lives so that democracy might live. A place where the values celebrated, advanced, and sometimes taken for granted in our communities truly hang in the balance.
That place as you all know well, is Ukraine. That threat to democracy, to freedom, to self-determination – that threat is coming from Russia.
Let’s be crystal clear up front: in this war, there is only one aggressor, and that’s Vladimir Putin. There’s only one victim, and that is Ukraine.
The struggle being waged from Kyiv to Kherson is one with steep dangers for Ukrainians and high stakes for all of us, here in Cleveland, throughout our country, and throughout the world. It’s a struggle where we can, we must and I believe we will prevail, as long as we maintain faith in our cause, fidelity in our course, and unity in our support for the Ukrainians on the front lines.
That unity – at home and with partners abroad – is essential to Ukraine success. It’s vital to the purpose that binds those in Cleveland together with Ukrainians and many others across the globe: dignity and democracy.
Our support, as Americans, makes a difference to Ukrainians’ well beings and to our own futures. Our investments are, first and foremost, about fortifying Ukraine’s defenses and saving innocent lives. They’re about doing what’s right for people in the path of an unprovoked war.
But like so much of our foreign policy, our actions are important for reasons closer to home as well. This is about our democratic principles. This is about shaping and protecting open societies and open markets.
This is about deploying our diplomatic leadership to unify the world to help Ukraine and to solve big challenges, like food insecurity and energy insecurity that impact how we feed our families, fill up our gas tanks, and power our homes.
This is about understanding how far away conflicts can impact pocketbooks, from Cleveland to Cairo to Canberra. This is about how Putin’s war has caused major disruptions in the world economy, manipulating global food, fertilizer, and energy markets; blocking the export of grain from Ukrainian ports; spiking inflation and the cost of living in the United States and elsewhere.
This is about how we have acted, in concert with our partners and allies, to thwart Russia’s leaders and its oil sector, while mitigating shocks to energy supplies and food systems everywhere.
This is about tackling the threats of this era – from the war, to terrorism, to cyberattacks, to pandemics, to fentanyl and drug trafficking – that recognize no borders that touch cities and states and require responses from every level of government.
Here in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. This is also about something even more personal – ties of family and friendship, connections that run long and deep.
Ever since the first Ukrainian immigrants arrived in Tremont in the late 19th century, this city and region have served as a bridge – a sturdy bridge – between our two countries: a bridge sustained by institutions like the Ukrainian Museum-Archives, by neighborhoods like the Ukrainian Village in Parma, by Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic churches, by nearly 50,000 members of the Ukrainian diaspora who call this area home.
I’m proud to call and count myself among the collection of Americans with Ukrainian roots as my grandmother’s story worry began in Perioslov. I look forward to meeting with a collection of diaspora leaders and refugee families later today, along with Governor DeWine, Mayor DeGeeter of Parma, and other officials.
These bonds have deepened with the most recent wave of refugees from Ukraine, arriving by the hundreds and thousands over the past year, greeted and embraced here in Cleveland, by humanitarian organizations, by programs led by the governor and local mayors, by the Ukrainian American community.
Your actions are a reminder that, no matter any differences of partisanship or background or ethnicity, we are unified in our support for Ukraine and its people. I can assure you that your support is as vital today, as it was when this work commenced, maybe more so.
Just last week, as Kristen mentioned, I traveled to Kyiv to see this situation up close. One takes a 10-hour overnight train ride from Poland to Kyiv, and then another overnight train ride of 10 hours to go back to Poland.
Along with colleagues from the White House and the Department of Defense, we met with President Zelenskyy and all top officials. We were confronted by the brutality of Putin’s aggression and its horrific consequences.
Indeed, hours before our arrival, Russian missiles destroyed an apartment building in Dnipro, killing dozens, including children. Soon after we left, the Interior Minister and others perished in a heart-breaking helicopter crash
Every day, Ukrainians bear the brunt of Russia’s attacks on critical infrastructure, leaving millions without power for hours at a time, without access to clean water, without heat in the heart of winter.
Seemingly every week, we hear news of another round of Russian atrocities: the destruction of homes; the assault on innocence; the massacres in Bucha and Kherson and elsewhere; the deprivation of basic necessities; the evidence of rape and torture – of families torn apart and children taken from their parents.
These barbaric acts pose direct threats to Ukrainian lives and represent gut-wrenching offenses to global norms.
Even so, despite so much terror, in Kyiv, we also bore witness to the unfailing courage of the Ukrainian people, personified by their president and cabinet and military; embodied by the young leaders who spoke with us about their struggles and experiences.
One of them, a young woman, summed up the feeling on the ground perfectly and powerfully. She said being in Ukraine right now was, at once, “devastating and inspiring.”
Devastating and inspiring. A stunning and searing description. An apt one too.
Our trip to Kyiv was meant to convey a clear message that the American people remain determined to enable Ukraine to defend itself. Our visit was also timed to coincide with two anniversaries: of our campaign to prevent this war and Putin’s determination to wage it.
Let me set the scene of what transpired just a year ago. Russia had amassed over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border for what they said were just “exercises.” They claimed they would never invade Ukraine. But we had ample intelligence of the Kremlin’s intentions – intelligence that wound up being tragically accurate.
Against that background, I led a delegation to what’s known as the Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia. We tried to just demonstrate the folly of their expected course. We presented proposals to address Russia’s security concerns. We prodded our Russian counterparts to fully appreciate the dangers of their path – a path of zero rewards for anyone.
It represented a final opportunity to stave off disaster, stop unnecessary violence, find a way to avert war, and chart a course towards stability and peace.
Two days later, our team traveled to Brussels to meet with the Russians again, together with all of our NATO allies. It was one of the most incredible meetings I’ve experienced in my life: as one country after another – 30 countries – made it clear that we had to stand united in defense of democracy.
We had to stand firm for the rule of law and the international order that’s guaranteed our collective security for generations. We had to stand fast for Ukraine’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its right to set its own policies, choose its own leaders, solidify its own alliances, and dictate its own destiny.
Among our friends and like-minded partners, we had no illusions about where the path of inaction and disunity might lead: a future where alliances fray, authoritarianism dominates, and Russia’s barbarism leaves the door open for others to think they can do the same – they can follow suit.
So at that meeting, we spoke with one voice, with one purpose, with one vision. To each demand of our leadership and strength, we said yes.
It was an extraordinary moment for the global community. But as it turned out, as we sadly knew, even then, the wheels of war were already in motion. Putin’s mind had already been made up. To each of our entreaties, to each of our offers. he ultimately said no.
Yet even more stunning is what’s happened since: for the last year, our unity has not wavered. In fact, as President Biden has said, we are more unified than ever. Our NATO Alliance has held and is on the verge of growing. And more than 50 nations in Europe, Asia, and worldwide have joined our coalition. Together, we have continued to supply a steady drumbeat of military economic, energy, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
That unity abroad matches our unity here at home. With bipartisan backing, the United States has led this effort with pride. We have been the world’s largest provider of security aid to Ukraine. We have seen tremendous leadership from your representatives here in Ohio, as Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and former Senator Rob Portman each led the charge as co-chairs of the Ukraine Caucuses in the House and the Senate.
In part as a result of that leadership, at the end of last year, Congress passed another round of funding to support Ukraine’s defenses, advance its economic recovery, address its ongoing humanitarian crisis, and support its neighbors. Each of them, all of us, feeling the impacts of higher costs of energy, food and living; all of them playing host to millions of refugees separated from their families and forced to flee their homes.
In fact, I think, Ohio is already supporting 3,000 humanitarian parolees and have made offers to do much more.
These investments are intended to reinforce what Ukrainians are achieving on the frontlines, through their bravery and sacrifice, to turn Putin’s inhumane gambit into a strategic failure.
The results point in an unmistakable direction: since the start of this premeditated invasion, Russia has, indeed, failed to meet its objectives.
Russia failed to take Kyiv. Russia failed to hold territory in the east and south. Russia’s attacks failed to break the will of Ukraine’s people – only serving to fortify it. Russia’s actions failed to erode our transatlantic alliance – only serving to strengthen it.
Now, what Putin couldn’t win on the battlefield, he’s trying to secure by freezing people in their homes and terrorizing them from the skies. I saw what this means in Kyiv – with long stretches of darkness and fear in the frigid air.
We will keep doing our part to meet Ukraine’s needs to help the government repair infrastructure; keep the lights on; deliver blankets and heaters; fix houses and shelters; provide emergency food, sanitation, hygiene, and health supplies.
Just last week, the State Department announced even more funding to support Ukraine’s electric grid to keep those lights on and houses warm.
On the home front, we continue to open doors to Ukrainian refugees with nowhere else to turn. Our first step was Uniting for Ukraine, a vehicle for Americans to help tens of thousands reach our shores and resettle in their own communities, including those 3,000 in Northeast Ohio. Many of you in this room have played a role in that effort. And for that, I deeply thank you and commend you.
A few days ago, we launched another step, our Welcome Corps, a program that empowers everyday Americans to privately sponsor refugees from Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. This is a really exciting development. It is, without a doubt, the boldest innovation in our refugee resettlement efforts in the last 40 years.
These steps are critical for Ukrainians today. Yet still, we wish for a day – we wish for peace – when they will no longer be necessary; when the war comes to a close.
Make no mistake: this could end tomorrow. If only one man said yes to peace; if only Vladimir Putin was prepared to withdraw his troops; if only he were able to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and rights; if only he were ready to end the war he chose to begin. Instead, he has shown zero interest in serious diplomacy.
As many have said, if Putin stops the fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.
As we look forward, certain principles will remain our guide. First among them: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. Any conclusion to this horror must be decided by Ukraine itself. It must include accountability for Russia’s crimes of aggression.
Because how any war ends matters a great deal, it must lay the groundwork for lasting security, and a sustainable and just peace. And it must reaffirm what we know to be true: that if Putin prevails in Ukraine, he can threaten former Soviet states like Poland and the Czech Republic. He can present a model for fellow autocrats to engage in similar treachery all over the world.
We simply cannot allow that to happen.
Until that day comes, we will remember another important lesson of this moment. We have seen what’s possible when we stay unified around common goals. Partners and allies may debate tactics, details, and daily decisions. People of different political parties may debate the best application of funds or provision of equipment or steps to take.
But we’re all pushing in the same direction. We are all determined to empower Ukrainians with the means to defend their lives and our shared values. We are all focused on standing with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
If we need any extra motivation to stay this course, we should only think back to what that civil society leader told me and my colleagues in Kyiv: that life in Ukraine is devastating and inspiring.
We should commit ourselves to changing that – to ushering in a time when Ukrainian Americans from Cleveland can visit their family members and friends in a different Ukraine, an even stronger Ukraine, a rebuilt and reimagined Ukraine, a Ukraine that is open and safe, democratic and secure, still inspiring and always free.
May that be the vision we realize and the future that we all build together. Thank you very much.
Moderator (Dan Moulthrop): So I should disclose, since you did earlier, I, too, am the descendant of Ukrainian immigrants. Both my mother’s grandparents, my mother’s parents, both my maternal grandparents. My mother’s here, by the way. But let me ask you directly, though, about the challenge that Kristen spoke to in the introduction – that there’s increased scrutiny on the costs, the financial costs. And the consensus is breaking a little bit in Congress. How much have we spent?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: We’ve spent a lot…
You know, I think this is hard. This Club’s mission is about having conversations of consequence, to uphold the democratic values that we hold dear – our vision of what we want the future to be like for our children, and in my case, grandchildren, and what kind of world they’re going to live in. And whether they will be free to make choices that are important to uphold those values that we all fight for. And so what price tag do you put on that?
I think the money that a bipartisan, very strong bipartisan consensus in Congress. that I believe still remains. I just spoke very recently with Chairman McCaul, now chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a Republican who is just completely committed to continuing to support Ukraine and believes that the Caucus in the House will maintain that.
Senator McConnell, when many, many years ago, I was the Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, when Warren Christopher was Secretary of State. That was a long time ago. And I was around when the Soviet Union broke up, and there were 13 newly independent states.
And Mitch McConnell, who was in the Senate at the time, still earlier, pushed really hard: that of the $1.5 billion, which we thought was an enormous amount of money – and I don’t know how much that would be in today’s terms – that 300 million of that 1.5 go to Ukraine, because he thought Ukraine was central to ensuring democracy in Europe, a free, united Europe. That would be a market for American goods and create jobs and create peace and stability in the world.
He still believes that today. I’ve spoken with him about it. And so there is strong bipartisanship in the Senate as well. So I think this center will hold.
Yes, of course, we have to be accountable for that money. Ukraine has to be accountable for that money. There are headlines today about Ukrainian leaders, President Zelenskyy, taking very tough action in the middle of the war, to ask for resignations – in essence, fire – some of his colleagues, because he believes they have been corrupt.
That is the kind of accountability one wants in a democracy. And I give President Zelenskyy a lot of credit because he understands he will not be able to hold that bipartisan consensus in our Congress, he will not be able to hold the unity in the world, if people believe money is not being well spent.
But for me, the bottom line is, what price – democracy? What price – ensuring that Putin has a strategic failure so that others like Putin around the world don’t do the same in Africa or Asia or Latin America, or even here at home?
Question: The efforts at the beginning prior to the war, the invasion, prior to Putin beginning his war, those efforts to convince Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin not to do what they seemed poised to do. Those efforts ultimately failed. You said that if Putin chooses to stop fighting, the war ends. Is there any chance that Putin would choose to stop fighting?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: I hope that day comes sooner rather than later. There’s no one who wants a just peace, a sustainable peace. more than the people of Ukraine. Nobody. So when people worry, well, you know, why is Ukraine continuing? Trust me, they would like it to be over now.
Putin has shown absolutely no interest in diplomacy. There have been many leaders around the world – there’s almost no place I go, and I travel all over the world – where the leader of countries doesn’t say, “we’re trying to get him to the negotiating table. We want to mediate the end to this.” And we would be delighted for anyone who can get him to stop.
There will come a point, I think, I hope, sooner rather than later, where he will understand he is not going to prevail on the battlefield.
Some people have suggested that we urge a ceasefire right now. But think about what happens if that happens right now. Then everything freezes in place. And Putin will argue that the borders then should be wherever the battlefield is today. That helps Putin. That doesn’t help Ukraine to ensure that it has secure borders, that next year Putin won’t try this all over again.
So whatever happens has to be a just and sustainable peace, so that Ukraine knows it has a secure country where it can ensure its territorial integrity.
Question: There’s been, prior to today’s headlines regarding corruption, the last week have been headlines regarding Abrams tanks, and as well as their German counterpart. Can you help us understand what’s actually going on with those conversations?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: I think you’ll see, in the days ahead, resolution of some of these issues..
This is hard for everybody. Each country, as President Biden said, has to make its own decisions about what weapons it wants to provide. And Germany is an incredibly important partner to the United States an important part of NATO, an important ally of the United States. And think about what they have done so far – a country that understands its own history very, very well, that teaches its children in schools about its history very straightforwardly – has never wanted to militarize in a way that people feel threatened. Again, given its history.
They have provided lethal aid already in substantial quantity to Ukraine. They have provided humanitarian assistance. They have taken in many, many, many, many, many refugees. They have increased their military budget phenomenally. They have shut down all the pipelines from Russia, in terms of Russian oil.
So Germany has taken a lot of steps. They have had great concern about having tanks, German tanks, go across Europe again. And I understand that. Countries around the world, on the other hand, want to be able to supply Leopard tanks. And because Leopard tanks are manufactured in Germany, in essence, German content and technology, Germany has to give permission.
I suspect, if you stay tuned, that all of this will be resolved relatively soon. But as I said in my remarks, there will be debates over details and the way forward and tactics. What matters is, do we stand together? And I have no doubt that the United States, NATO, partners and allies around the world, 50 countries and more, stand together
Question: In this sort of context where the values are so important, as you’ve said, the values that the United States supports, and the US allies and Ukrainian allies to Ukraine support, are so important and so deeply felt – there’s a danger of mission creep, of saying at the beginning, we’ll provide humanitarian support. And then you start providing military support and saying we’re only providing military support, then you’re providing training as well. And then you’re providing, ultimately, maybe tanks next week. Who knows? I’m sure you know, I don’t. So are you and your colleagues in the State Department and in the administration concerned about mission creep?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: I’m not. The President has been very, very clear. Every step of the way. I think he has been cautious. He does not want American boots on the ground. He doesn’t want us in directly in the fight. Supporting Ukrainians. Training.
You know, when we supply this equipment, the Ukrainians have to learn how to use it. So that takes a little bit of time. And just getting equipment to Ukraine from everywhere in the world takes time. And again, this is about a fight that is important to all of us.
When Putin began this, to give you one example: because of the war, Ukraine, as I think all of you know, is known as the breadbasket of the world. A huge amount of the world’s grain, corn comes from Ukraine. Likewise, a lot of grain from Russia, fertilizer from Russia. And it all stopped.
And that meant that people in India, people in South Africa, people in Chile, people in Thailand, faced food insecurity if they could not get the grain.
Now, fortunately, negotiations went on, even in the midst of war, to agree on terms for allowing ships to come in and begin to take out that grain. Every step of the way, Russia remains a problem, constant negotiations.
But what happens in Ukraine is not just about Ukraine. And as fundamental as I think it is a fight for democracy, it is also a fight to make sure that people can eat; that inflation does not go out of control; that energy prices stay low.
So when oil supplies got cut, because of what Putin has done, we all came together with our partners and allies to put a price cap in place, which created market pressure to lower price. And so we’ve all seen our gas prices come down.
So democracy is at the heart of this – territorial integrity, sovereignty, right of countries to make their own choices. But it’s also about how everything that happens in the world is interconnected and affects all of us and affects us at home. So this fight is important for each of us.
Question: We’re gonna bring in audience questions in just a second, but before we do, I wanted to ask you to respond to certain criticism about the US involvement in Ukraine. In the New Republic, Trita Parsi argued that there are a number of non-monetary costs, there’s the strategic costs. That our involvement is provoking the formation of a Russian-Chinese-Iranian Alliance, and the emergence of a multipolar world that that sort of displaces the US has role as a superpower. What do you say to that?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Trita is a very thoughtful guy. I know him pretty well. He and I have talked a lot in the past about Iran.
Look, we already live in a multipolar world for starters. That hasn’t been created because of Ukraine; that already existed. We are, of course, concerned about new relationships being formed that can create challenges for us, and we are taking on those challenges as well.
We have a lot of tools to do that, including sanctions, including actions that we are taking with our allies and partners in this regard.
I think it is very important, as the President has said, as Secretary Blinken has said, Secretary Austin – the pacing challenge for this decade – Ukraine, Russia being the central focus right now for so many people – is actually China. China is the only country that has the wherewithal to compete effectively with us, in military, diplomatic, political, and economic terms.
Secretary Blinken last May laid out sort of the framework of “invest, align, compete” regarding China. We’re going to invest in our own country, and President Biden, Vice President Harris and Secretary Blinken and the rest of the cabinet and the Congress have passed legislation to invest in our country – in infrastructure jobs, in climate jobs, in renewable jobs, in technology jobs, in the semiconductor industry, which is so critical to our technological future – so that we strengthen our own core our own ability to compete our own market.
Second, to align to work with partners and allies together in this multipolar world. And then to compete, and to insist on norms and rules of the road. China’s trying to construct a whole new set of rules of the road, even though the current rules of the road helped them to develop and become as powerful as they are today.
Secretary Blinken will be heading to China soon. We want to make sure there are guardrails. We have no interest in conflict. We have no interest in war. But we are interested in making sure there are guardrails. And that there are common understandings about how we’re going to move ahead.
Question: Wendy R. Sherman is the Deputy Secretary of the US Department of State and Dan Moulthrop, with the City Club, and we’re going to move to the Q&A with all of you. If you’re joining us via livestream, you can tweet a question at the City Club. Or you can text it to 330541579 for the number again is 330-541-5794.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: One thing I want to say, since I see the people at the microphones. Yes. I’m going to say, after the first three questions, they’re all guys. One of you really brave women….
Question: We got one okay. Okay. Much appreciated. Wendy Sherman feminist.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Absolutely. It’s a rule I have everywhere that I speak.
Question: And I appreciate you calling that out and calling them in. Our first question, please.
Question: Madam Ambassador, my question for you is, had Trump been in office, how different would the world be now with Russia and Ukraine? And part two of the question is, why were we silent when Chechnya was taking place, and it has been case after case in Russia taking over different regions. And we never did anything till it became to Ukraine.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: have no idea what President Trump would do. I cannot begin to imagine., and I don’t want to hypothesize, what he would do. I would leave that to you and others to imagine what he would do.
I would hope, because this has been a strong bipartisan effort, that he would’ve understood what was at stake for America. And that, given that strong bipartisanship, that we would have been on the same path, that would be my hope, of course.
Now as to Chechnya: there are many things in the world that are hard. And we have called out Russia in what it has done in the past. In many ways, we have had sanctions on Russia for many things, including all of its activities, including how it has poisoned its opposition, literally in Mr. Navalny.
So we have not treated Russia with kid gloves. I think we have been quite direct. And there have been times when I’ve worked well with my Russian colleagues. They were helpful in getting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action done with Iran, whether you supported that or not, they were helpful. And there have been other times where they’ve been terribly horrible. And we have called them out.
So I appreciate what you have raised. And it is important that we’re always there when we see our values of being attacked.
Question: In retrospect, were any errors made in our response to the invasion of Crimea? And if there is ever a negotiated settlement, what would be the question of Crimea? Would it stay with Russia? Or do you think it would end up with Ukraine? What is sort of the view on that?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: So our view is, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, Ukraine will decide the end of this story. They will decide what is a just and sustainable peace, what they need to ensure that a few months after a peace is gotten that Russia will not invade again; that they will not try to come back; that their borders will be secure. So those issues are in Ukraine’s hands, not for us to determine in my view.
As for when Crimea was taken, you know, we can all go back and look at history and learn lessons. There is no doubt – there is an op-ed, I’m not sure where it was by Kuleba today in Politico, the foreign minister, who lays out what he thinks was the mistake of the Minsk agreement which was meant to keep Ukraine secure.
So I think it’s always useful to go back and look at the lessons learned. So that this time, this is why it’s so important nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. They have to decide what will ensure that they can have a safe, secure, viable, democratic, economically secure, and border secure Ukraine.
Question: …I was thrilled to hear you say how the United States is committed to this idea of accountability for Russian leaders for the crime of aggression. I wanted to kind of push you a little on that a little bit more, as some of you in the room who follow this might know, the only permanent international criminal tribunal in the world is the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and the United States has, throughout the years, been incredibly hostile to the ICC, and is under the Biden administration, less hostile, but even so I would say sort of selectively supportive of the court, not totally generally selective of the court. And that the only tribunal where the crime of aggression could be prosecuted would be an ad hoc tribunal for aggression.
There have been discussions in the UN General Assembly about the creation of such a tribunal. But thus far, I have heard statements from the US as being neutral on the issue and sort of studying the issue. So if you can tell us a little bit about a little bit more about the US policy on accountability, in particular for the crime of aggression. Thank you so much.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. Thank you for the work you do. It’s terribly important. And some of Cleveland State students were at my remarks at Case Western this morning. It was great to have them there as well.
The issue of accountability is absolutely critical. When people ask what happens at the end of this, if there is not accountability, we have not done our job. We have not done our work.
In terms of what that should look like: it is true. We have not come to closure on this. We are open to all vehicles that can provide accountability. Yes, we are not a member of the [ICC], and we could have a long discussion about why. But we have supplied information where we can; we have cooperated where we can, where we feel within our own legal system, and our own interests, we can do so.
But we have an accountability advisory committee that’s working with us to think through – and we are open to any and every mechanism that can ensure accountability.
Question: …I’m with Falls & Company. We are a public relations communications firm. More importantly, we’re one of 85 agencies around the world that we market together. And under the term [inaudible]. We are all now about to help our Ukrainian sister company. And our focus is going to be from now until the anniversary of the war, to be able to call attention to American companies and other companies around the world that basically are still doing tremendous business in Russia, and with Russia, and with the government.
So right now, as of now as of today, we still have 298 companies still doing business – American companies, headquartered in the US – with Russia. We’re employing 133,000 Russians and generating $41.6 billion of revenue for the Russians. This is happening all over the world. And I didn’t get to ask you my question. So henceforth, why I’m here now.
We look forward to working with the State Department, with the President, and trying to call attention to this because there has to be accountability. So what initiatives has the State Department been engaged with to be able to basically tell them to stop?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you, Rob. And thank you for the work that you and your colleagues are doing with American business and in terms of Russia.
When this unprovoked, premeditated, horrifying invasion took place, within weeks, about 200 American companies left. It’s hard to unwind a business, as all the business people in this room know. So some businesses have taken longer than others to unwind that relationship, but business after business is leaving, and appreciate your efforts to increase that pace.
Our Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, our Undersecretary for Economic and Environment, has been engaged, as have been our Secretaries and Departments of Commerce and Treasury, to support business in unwinding their affairs with Russia.
These are all individual business decisions that people have to make, some of them very tough. I think that companies know – I ran a global consulting business for well over a decade, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and others. And I know, at the time, Coca Cola was a client, and they had left places in the past, and getting back in once there’s a decent environment again, and values are back, is not easy.
So these are all very tough business decisions. But I appreciate the work you’re doing. And I appreciate the work all of my colleagues have been doing, to support business to unwind those relationships, and ensure that there is a strategic failure for Putin.
Question: Thank you for being here today. I wanted to know about the status of the resurrection of the Iran nuclear deal, and whether your enthusiasm for it is tempered at all by the relationship and the assistance that Iran has given to Russia in the Ukraine war.
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Thank you. So, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran deal, is still on the table. But it’s not on the agenda.
And it’s not on the agenda, not only because Iran has given UAVs and there’s other military engagement with Russia, which is horrifying, because it’s led to the death of many civilians in Ukraine and is really a weapon that is horrifying in what it’s done to the civilian population, and taking out power grids, and trying to freeze people to death.
But because of wanting to support the protesters in Iran. The right of women to have a future in Iran. Because of what Iran’s malign behavior has been in the Middle East and their undermining of governments throughout the world. Because they still wrongfully detain Americans in Iran.
So there are a lot of reasons, a lot of reasons, why the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is not on the agenda right now.
That said, we remain very concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and where it is headed. We are in close consultations with many around the world, including our European partners, and of course, with Israel, and others in the Middle East, about how best to deal with all of the challenges that come from Iran. And it is of great concern, a lot of energy and efforts going into meeting each of those challenges.
Question: From one Wendy to another, welcome to Cleveland. Given some of the low expectations that some people have had for President Zelenskyy when he first assumed office, is there any one aspect of his leadership and strength that has surprised you?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: It’s a great question. Really interesting, because before I became Deputy Secretary of State, I was a professor of public leadership and head of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School. So I’ve thought a lot about leadership.
What I find so amazing about President Zelenskyy is he has created a whole new way to communicate with people. Not only does he understand social media in an extraordinary way, but look at what he did. He, by using technology spoke, to parliaments all over the world. Said I can bring other countries into this fight. I will go out and talk with them, not by physically traveling there because I can’t, but by reaching them over a screen. He’s done that in Parliaments, legislatures, and groups of people.
He doesn’t miss any opportunity, no opportunity. And of course, he made that historic, extraordinary trip to the United States Congress just a few weeks ago to speak to the American public.
So this is a man, maybe because he was an entertainer, who understands and has used technology to communicate with people in new and inventive ways that I think, have challenged all of us to think about how we communicate how we put a message across, how we consolidate support for an effort, for a venture. I think it’s just amazing what he does.
Every single night, every single night, he does a video for the people of Ukraine – every single night. I mean, it takes President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats to a whole new level. So I think people will study in the future, how he has done this, how he has communicated with his own people, and how he has communicated with the world. It’s been quite amazing, and really inspiring.
Question: Thank you. You alluded to human rights and atrocities and investigations during your talk. Globally, we see these pictures of people in hospitals, theaters, schools, being targeted residential apartments, things like that. My question is not the follow up in the human rights investigations afterwards – what could be done to end that sort of targeting in real time now?
Deputy Secretary Sherman: Great question, what has been very critical to try to end some of that is air defense, air defense, air defense.
A lot of this is targeted at critical infrastructure to knock out the power grid of Ukraine, so that people are frozen to death. So, if you don’t have power, you not only don’t have heat, you not only don’t have lights, you don’t have water, because you can’t – you have no pumps; the pumps can’t operate. So that’s what’s happening.
The way to deal with that is air defense around power grids. So we have gone all over the world to try to get air defense systems in, but also to get transformers, generators, repair parts.
One thing that’s become very apparent to me is that Ukrainians are incredibly inventive. Ukrainian engineers have figured out how to sort of jerry-rig power grids in ways nobody ever imagined. People who have been teaching in engineering schools are now on the front lines. And our military has been incredibly impressed with the inventiveness, with the ability, of Ukrainians to do things in the field, do things to protect themselves that have never been imagined.
We’re all going to learn so much, painfully, from what has occurred here, but most important for the power grid, not only are supplies, transformers, other efforts to help the Ukrainian people in real time, but air defense, air defense, air defense.