SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It’s always good to be back in Belgium, in Brussels, at the NATO Headquarters, which has become almost a home away from home. But this week, these last two days, this has genuinely been a historic NATO meeting.
Yesterday, on the 74th anniversary of the Alliance, I accepted Finland’s membership documents to join NATO. Finland is now our 31st Ally. With this step, Finland is safer; NATO is stronger. We look forward to welcoming Sweden to NATO in the near future. Like Finland, it’s militarily capable. It’s a strong democracy, fully dedicated to upholding the commitments and values that underpin our Alliance, including Article 5.
At the NATO leaders summit last summer, the NATO Allies agreed on a new strategy for the first time in a decade. Since then, including at this ministerial, we’ve been working to implement that strategy, making our Alliance stronger, more resilient, better positioned for the future. We’re building on the Wales defense investment pledge to invest 2 percent of our GDP in defense. It is critical that we have the means to replenish stockpiles, to increase the readiness of our forces, to meet force generation commitments for NATO missions and operations, to keep pace with 21st century challenges.
We’re developing new partnerships, including in the Indo-Pacific. At this ministerial, we welcomed the participation of Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, who share our vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region but also recognize that many of the challenges that we face are interconnected and global in nature.
And of course, the Alliance remains relentlessly focused on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The NATO-Ukraine Commission met for the first time in five years, with Foreign Minister Kuleba’s participation, to talk about ways that we can continue to help Ukraine in the weeks, the months, and indeed the years ahead.
When the NATO foreign ministers last convened back in November of last year, President Putin was pursuing his new strategy to win his brutal war against Ukraine. Having suffered devastating setbacks on the battlefield, he tried to bomb and freeze Ukraine’s civilian population into submission. He accelerated his campaign to weaponize energy against Ukraine’s European partners so that they would decide that the cost of supporting the country were too high. And he continued to try to raise food and energy prices in some of the poorest countries in the world to manufacture a false choice between supporting Ukraine and making ends meet for their people.
President Putin has failed. Thanks to the remarkable courage and bravery of the Ukrainian people and unprecedented support from Ukraine’s partners, Ukraine endures. More than 50 countries have been providing security assistance. Dozens of countries jumped in to help Ukraine defend and repair its energy grid in the face of Russia’s onslaught. We sustained and increased the pressure on Russia with unprecedented sanctions and export controls, which are having a dramatic and growing impact. The Kremlin’s usable financial reserves are plummeting. Its budget revenues from oil and gas have been cut in half since last year. Hundreds, even more than a thousand, companies have fled the country and aren’t coming back. Hundreds of thousands of young people have fled Russia – literally Russia’s future.
We’ve demonstrated again our unity of purpose and our unity of action. And after this ministerial, I am confident that that will endure for as long as it takes for Ukraine to defend its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its independence.
Yesterday, the United States announced our 35th drawdown of arms and equipment. That includes more ammunition for HIMARS, air defense interceptors and artillery rounds, as well as antiarmor systems, small arms, heavy equipment transport vehicles, and maintenance support. These contributions will continue to enable Ukraine to protect civilian infrastructure from missile and drone attacks and to hold and retake Ukraine’s territory.
The United States and Ukraine’s partners support meaningful diplomatic efforts that can achieve a peace, but not just any kind of peace. It has to be a just peace that upholds the principles of the UN Charter – sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence – and it has to be an durable peace that ensures that Russia can’t simply rest and refit its troops and then relaunch the war at a time of its choosing. That’s the kind of peace, a just and durable one, that 141 countries at the United Nations General Assembly endorsed just a few weeks ago.
Until that peace is achieved, the United States, together with allies and partners from around the world, will continue to provide the assistance that Ukraine needs to defend its territory and defend its people.
The story of NATO over the last year has been one of unity and resolve. Amid new challenges to our values, to a rules-based order, to our collective security, our Alliance has emerged stronger than ever and now larger than ever. As we prepare for Vilnius and beyond, I’m confident that we’ll continue to meet the challenges of this moment and the time to come.
So with that, happy to take some questions.
MR PATEL: We’ll first go to Vivian Salama with The Wall Street Journal.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Vivian.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thanks, Mr. Secretary. I want to ask you about my colleague, Evan Gershkovich, who as of today has been detained in Russia for the last year – for the last week, sorry. Do you – it feels like a year. Do you anticipate that you will approve a designation of wrongfully detained for Evan, or do you need to wait however long it will take for the Russians to agree to grant him consular access for that to even happen?
And secondly, prisoner swaps have occurred in recent years to bring a number of detained Americans home. Is there anyone that the Russians want or would be willing to exchange either for Evan or for Paul Whelan, who is also being held on espionage charges? And more broadly, are you concerned that there is a precedent being set now by our adversaries who are detaining Americans in the hope that maybe they would be some sort of prisoner swap in return? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks very much, Vivian. First – and you’ve heard me say this before – from my perspective, from the department’s perspective, there is no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens around the world, and that includes those who may be wrongfully detained, held hostage, otherwise kept from coming home, being with their families.
In Evan’s case, we are working through the determination on wrongful detention, and there’s a process to do that and it’s something that we’re working through very deliberately but expeditiously as well. And I’ll let that process play out. In my own mind, there’s no doubt that he’s being wrongfully detained by Russia, which is exactly what I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov when I spoke to him over the weekend and insisted that Evan be released immediately. But I want to make sure that – as always, because there is a formal process – that we go through it, and we will, and I expect that to be completed soon.
More broadly, when it comes, first of all, to Paul Whelan, as I’ve also said, there’s a proposal on the table that’s been on the table for some months. Again, with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I reiterated that Russia should move on that proposal so that we can bring Paul home. In any of these instances, there is a balance to be done between trying to bring home people who are being unjustly detained in one way or another and what it takes to do that. I believe that, as we’ve demonstrated in the past and as a result as well of legislation that we have and other tools that we have, that even as we engage in efforts to bring people home, we can also increase the pressure and increase the penalties on those who would engage in the practice of unlawful, arbitrary detention of American citizens. And that’s what we’ve been doing, including, for example, implementing the Robert Levinson Act and other tools that we have.
MR PATEL: We’ll next go to Vitaliy Syzov with Freedom TV.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have one question. Yesterday, after meeting with you, minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine said that he want to see some proposal from NATO during the Vilnius Summit. Today, minister of foreign affairs of Estonia said that Ukraine should be provided with a roadmap of accession to NATO. What are your thoughts about this process? Each proposal could expect to get Ukraine during Vilnius Summit.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Our focus right now is relentlessly on doing what needs to be done to help Ukraine defend itself against the Russian aggression and, indeed, to put it in a – help put it in a position to retake more of the territory that’s been seized from it by Russia. That’s our intense focus.
We’re also looking at what we can do over a longer period of time to build up Ukraine’s capacity to deter aggression, to defend against aggression, and, if necessary again in the future, to defeat aggression. And a big part of that is bringing Ukraine up to NATO standards and to NATO interoperability. And I suspect that you’ll see that focus continue at the Vilnius Summit. I don’t want to get ahead of the summit, but we are very focused on these very practical steps that can be taken and need to continue to be taken to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards.
Of course, NATO’s door remain open – remains open. There’s no change in that, but we have to be in this moment focused intensely on the weeks and months ahead, particularly as Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive, again, to try to retake more of its territory, as well as work that needs to be done to continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards and NATO interoperability.
MR PATEL: We’ll next go to Kylie Atwood with CNN.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Hi, Secretary. Thank you for doing this. It was a momentous week here, but there’s a lot going on at home, so I have a few questions for you. Bear with me. In terms of what happened here, obviously, you said that NATO has become stronger this week with Finland joining, but how tangibly will Ukraine benefit from Finland joining NATO?
And then my second two questions have to do with what is happening at home. First, President Tsai of Taiwan is meeting with Speaker McCarthy today in California. Do you support this meeting at this time? And how concerned are you about China already vowing that it will retaliate?
And then my second question has to do with politics at home. Yesterday, the world watched as former President Trump was arrested. He’s now the first current or former president to face criminal charges, and he’s running for re-election to be president. Have any of your allies asked you about this while you’ve been here at NATO? And what’s your response to revive concerns among Allies that many of us have heard about the long-term reliability of the United States given the polarized nature of politics at home? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Kylie, last question first. As you know well, I don’t do politics. I can tell you, though, that the question you raised about the proceedings in New York actually did not come up in my conversations with NATO colleagues, nor did I get questions about the durability of our approach. I think people are very focused on what we’re actually doing, and what we’re doing is a lot, including what I just went through in terms of the outcomes from this ministerial, the preparations for the leaders summit in Vilnius, the intense focus on everything we’re doing to support Ukraine, to implement the new Strategic Concept for NATO. That’s what everyone was talking about and focused on, and also, as I mentioned, the fact that we have the growing engagement between NATO and other partners, to include our partners from the Indo-Pacific, to include the European Union – its high representative was here as well today. That was the entirety of the conversation and our focus.
In terms of Finland’s membership in NATO and Ukraine, look, in the first instance, irrespective of the – of that question, as I’ve detailed at some length, a big focus of our meetings here over the last day and a half was on Ukraine and the support that virtually every NATO member is providing individually, as well as the support that NATO institutionally is providing, both in the immediate and also looking toward the Vilnius Summit. I mentioned a moment ago work that the Alliance looks to do to help continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards, NATO interoperability, and I think that’s something you’ll see featured at the at the leaders summit.
Finland’s membership in NATO does two things. It, as I’ve said, makes Finland safer because one of the things that resulted from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine was deep and growing concern among a number of countries that they could be next, and that created what I think is truly historic sea change in both Finland and Sweden, seeking membership in NATO, and thus seeking to benefit from its Article 5 guarantees. So Finland now benefits in that, but Finland also makes the Alliance as a whole stronger, and that’s important in and of itself. I think it may have some additional benefits in the sense that, to the extent Russia thinks about expanding or broadening its aggression, the deterrent that NATO poses to that has now become even stronger.
NATO is a defensive Alliance; it’s not seeking to engage in conflict with Russia. But it’s a defensive Alliance that has to have a strong deterrent, precisely because we want to make sure that countries think twice, think three times, and then don’t engage in aggression. And I think Finland will – its membership in the Alliance adds to NATO’s deterrence strength and, if necessary, its defensive strength.
With regard to President Tsai’s transit of the United States, I think the first thing to emphasize is that these transits by high-level Taiwanese authorities are nothing new. They’re private, they’re unofficial, but they’ve been going on for years, and President Tsai and her predecessors have done the same thing. In fact, every Taiwan president has transited the United States at one point or another. The meetings, the engagements that the president has also are very much in line with precedent. And similarly, our own approach to Taiwan has remained very consistent and unchanged, including our adherence to the “one China” policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Communiques, the Six Assurances, our opposition to any unilateral changes in the status quo by either side.
So it’s a long way of saying that, given that, Beijing should not use the transits as an excuse to take any actions to ratchet up tensions, to further push at changing the status quo. And our objective remains the same: to have peace, to have stability across the Taiwan Strait, and to ensure that any differences that exist between mainland and Taiwan are resolved peacefully.
MR PATEL: Final question, Rikhard Husu with – from YLE.
QUESTION: Thanks for taking my question. A follow-up on Finland: How do you see that Finland will strengthen the Alliance? And do you see that this decision to join can also strengthen the ties, bilateral ties between the U.S. and Finland, for instance in regard to a future defense cooperation agreement? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks very much. Well, the bilateral ties between the United States and Finland are already extraordinarily strong. But I think Finland’s membership in the Alliance can, if it does anything, will only strengthen those ties, as well as Finland’s ties to all the other members of NATO. But as I said before, what Finland brings to this enterprise is a country that has very strong military capacity, and equally important is a strong and vital democracy. And so both in terms of advancing the interests that bring NATO countries together and the values that we share, Finland is a very compelling member of the Alliance.
And I think what’s important, too, is that Finland and the NATO Alliance have been working closely together for years. What membership does now is it makes, in a sense, formal what’s in many ways been the case for a long time, but it also provides Finland with the commitment of every NATO Ally to Finland and its security and its defense as a member of NATO and as a beneficiary of Article 5. But I would anticipate that, across the board, this has the effect of just further strengthening, deepening relationships, not only between the United States and Finland but between Finland and all the other members of NATO.
We also have now even more increasing overlap between membership in the European Union and membership in NATO. And that too has the effect of creating even greater convergence between the United States and Europe than we’ve seen. In fact, I think in my experience now, doing this for 30 years in one way or another, there is more convergence than there’s ever been between the United States and Europe on the big challenges and questions of our time – dealing with the Russian aggression against Ukraine; meeting some of the challenges posed by China; looking at new things emerging from cyberspace, emerging technologies and their impact on our security and our interests – much greater convergence in how we approach each of these challenges than we’ve ever seen. And I think Finland’s membership in NATO is just one more expression of that, but it really is across the board, and it’s something that, from my perspective, puts us collectively in a much stronger position to deal effectively with all of these challenges.
We started with – this administration started with the basic proposition that American engagement, American leadership is important. It makes a difference because in its absence, some else may try to fill the gap and maybe not in ways that advance our interests and values, or no one does, and then you’ve got a vacuum that tends to be filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things. But the flip side of that coin, the importance of U.S. engagement, is that for virtually all of the challenges that we’re dealing with, no single country, even the United States, can really effectively address them alone. We’re much better off when we’re doing it in partnership, in alliance with other countries, and where we adopt a similar approach.
That’s been the story of these last two and a half years: the strengthening of our alliances; creating new partnerships to deal with some of these new challenges, fit for particular purposes; and, fundamentally, a much greater convergence than there’s ever been – between the United States and Europe, between the United States and Asia, Asia and Europe – on what we need to do to effectively deal with these challenges. And this ministerial just confirms that trend, confirms that convergence.
MR PATEL: Thanks, everybody. Thank you.