AMBASSADOR LOGSDON: All right. So, Secretary Blinken, welcome back to Chisinau. We’re glad to have you here. You all know the Secretary has had multiple positions at the Department of State, and we’re glad to have him back this time at the helm of the Department of State. It’s very great.
I’m here to introduce him to you, but I also want to introduce you to him. This is an amazing team. The last time a secretary of state visited us was 2013, so we’ve been waiting a while – no pressure – and it’s also one month from today that Michelle and I arrived. So thanks for dropping in to celebrate our one-month anniversary. I appreciate that. (Applause.)
We have another VIP visitor here today, Carol Spahn, the acting director of the Peace Corps. Very happy to have you. (Applause.) Peace Corps Moldova is one of the most successful Peace Corps programs I think in the world, and we’re eager to have the volunteers back, so no pressure, Carol. (Laughter.)
February 18th, we celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations between the Republic of Moldova and the United States. It was an exciting time. Obviously, we didn’t get a lot of time to celebrate it because of everything that’s been happening in the region, but it was a really important 30 years and we have another 30 years ahead. It’s a historic moment, historic opportunity, and we’re really glad to have the Secretary here to celebrate it with us.
That said, I’d have to take a moment and talk about COVID. This community has really dealt with a very difficult past two years, especially under Chargé Laura Hruby’s leadership. Well, we’ve lost people, lost people in our community, and we know that. It’s been really tough. So we want to go forward, but we also know that it’s been a tough time.
One more important aspect of this community I want to highlight, Mr. Secretary, is what this community has done to be part of the community here in Moldova, in Chisinau, taking care of the literally hundreds of thousands now of refugees from Ukraine who’ve crossed the border into Moldova over the last week. This community organized, they jumped up, they said what can we do to help. They connected with a former Peace Corps volunteer and his local business partner at a restaurant here, and they started collecting. They started collecting everything you need – blankets, sheets, baby goods, food. It’s been amazing, and I have to take just a minute and highlight Hannah Gardi for the work she’s done as really our (inaudible). (Applause.) So Hannah, thank you for your leadership.
Mr. Secretary, thank you again for coming back to Moldova. All of us here in the room, on the screen, we appreciate what you’re doing, what you’ve done for us, and we look forward to welcoming you back again very soon.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It is wonderful to see you all in this room. So now I think I have a new way of saying this. I used to say it’s great to meet mask to mask; now it’s great to meet at least face to mask, and we’re getting there. By the way, back in Washington at Main State, following the rules of the District of Columbia, we’ve once again taken our masks off, and hopefully that will last. The State Department is coming back piece by piece, bit by bit to where it needs to be – cafeteria reopening, various other important landmarks like the sort of Starbucks hopefully coming back online.
But I’m really here for a couple of reasons. The main reason, and I’ll come to that, is simply to say thank you, thank you to each and every one of you for the remarkable service that you’re performing for our country and for this relationship between the United States and the Republic of Moldova. Kent, it seems like a month ago – and it was – that we were sending you off, and things were a little bit different then, so I guess timing in life is everything. You can decide whether the timing was good or something else, but in all seriousness, it is so great to have both of you here representing the country, leading this mission. It’s making a huge difference at a time when that could not be more important.
And Laura, thank you so much for your extraordinary leadership here as well. I’ll come back to that in a minute too, but this has been in so many ways a challenging time for missions around the world and certainly here as well. And Carol, it’s great to be with you today. I second what Kent said. No pressure, but I definitely second that.
And to everyone here in the room, our family members and other colleagues who are there with us virtually, it is great to be back. I was here I think almost exactly seven years ago, and some things have changed, other things haven’t. It was particularly meaningful to me to see one of my favorite landmarks, the Malldova. (Laughter.) So whoever came up with that gets big points in my book.
But in all seriousness, why are we here right now? We’re here first and foremost because we are dealing with an egregious aggression by Russia against Ukraine, but an aggression that, of course, is having a horrific impact on the Ukrainian people – men, women, children – many of whom we saw just yesterday in Poland at the border, many of whom you’re seeing every single day here in Moldova, who’ve been forced to flee the violence; but also an impact on the very international order that we have worked so hard over so many decades to try to maintain, as imperfectly as we do it.
What Russia is doing, what Vladimir Putin is doing, is not only terrible violence to men, women, and children. He’s doing terrible violence to the very principles that lie beneath that order and are working to keep peace and security around the world. And, simply put, we can’t let either of those things go forward with impunity, because if we do, it opens a Pandora’s box that we will deeply, deeply regret not just in Europe but potentially around the world.
It’s basic principles that underlie the order, include the proposition that countries are entitled to sovereignty, to decide for themselves what their policies will be, with whom they’ll associate, to have their – the integrity of their borders respected, to basically allow their own people to decide their own future. And all of that is on the line with this aggression.
But all of that equally applies here to the Republic of Moldova, and just as we’re standing strongly for Ukraine, for its territorial integrity, its independence, its sovereignty, so too do we stand with Moldova and any other country that may be threatened in the same way. And that’s very much the message that I brought to the president, the prime minister, the foreign minister today. It’s important that our friends here in Moldova understand that we and the world are with them too.
And I hope that at the very least one of the things that President Putin has seen in the unprecedented response to the aggression in Ukraine from virtually the entirety of the international community, starting with the United States and European allies and partners through NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the G7, but also most of the international community – 141 countries at the United Nations standing up and saying we condemn this aggression and we stand with Ukraine – I hope that message is not lost on him, because it applies not just to Ukraine. It would apply everywhere that we might face such aggression, including here.
What you’re doing every day, before this episode, now during it, and after it, is extraordinary because it’s supporting a relationship with an extraordinary country. I have to tell you – and I suspect many of you feel the same way – it’s inspiring to see the work that our friends here are doing. At a time in the world when over the last decade or 15 years we’ve seen in many places democratic backsliding, in country after country – we’ve had our own challenges – here in Moldova, we see a country with extraordinary leaders trying to move forward, to strengthen their democracy, to build it, and in so doing, of course, benefit the people of Moldova, but also set an example for the world. So it’s a small country, but it is setting a very big example.
And you are a critical part of making that happen, because the work that you’re doing, the support you’re providing, the guidance you’re giving, all of that I think is essential to the success of this project. And I just want to thank you for doing it.
I also know that under normal times, a visit by me or by someone from Washington puts a little extra burden on an embassy. This is not an ordinary time. I know people have been driving back and forth, three hours each way, to the border, including to help bring some of our folks back and forth. Some of you will be doing that in just a short while. At the same time, helping the refugees who are coming in, helping our Moldovan friends help them, and that support is extraordinary, and I really want to thank you as well because I know we’ve added to the burden.
And I know that some people in particular have been doing exceptional things. Is Valeriu Cernea here? Maybe on the screen? I wanted to single out Valeriu and also Sam Ludwig – anywhere here today? Thank you. (Applause.)
We have alumni from our exchange programs who are helping refugees as we speak. They are part of a community. Even after the exchange programs, their participation ends, it carries on. They’re out there doing it. We have, I know, family members who are with us on the screen who, as Kent said, have been delivering blankets, food, baby clothes to refugee centers. We have the lifeblood of this and any embassy, our locally employed staff, opening their homes to refugees from Ukraine. All of that is extraordinary even as it may seem ordinary to you because it’s just what you do.
And then, as Kent said, I know that the last two years have been difficult – more than difficult – because of COVID, and you’ve experienced loss. You’ve managed despite that to carry on with incredible resilience, looking out for each other, having each other’s backs, delivering hundreds of thousands of COVID vaccines here to our friends in Moldova, working with civil society and the new government on all of the work they’re doing to tackle corruption, leading efforts to support an independent media throughout Moldova, and again, doing that at a time of personal challenge as well as professional challenge.
And I took note of some of the things that people have been doing, and again, they may seem small, but they have a big impact: providing groceries, providing child care when someone got sick as a result of COVID, keeping in touch through WhatsApp, finding some ways even in the midst of this to have fun, virtual wine tastings – I’m not quite sure how that works. (Laughter.) Chili cookoffs; something that I’d appreciate learning, how to make (inaudible) workshops – all of these things make a huge difference, because it creates a sense of community, it creates a sense of camaraderie, it creates a sense of caring for each other, and especially in challenging times that makes all the difference in the world.
So let me conclude by saying this: As the ambassador said, we are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations with Moldova last month. And as I mentioned a moment ago, we have local staff who’ve been serving with us since 1993. Think about that. That’s pretty extraordinary. And let me see if any of them are actually in the room with us today.
Nicolai Jomiru – here, or maybe on the screen? I’m just going to read off a couple names I really want to acknowledge because of this extraordinary service. Constantin Mutaf, anywhere with us today? I’m going to – we’re going to applaud all of them. Vlad Cojuhari? Here? No? All right. Eduard Pirlea. Dorin Trestianu. All right. Finally we got one. (Applause.) Aurel Veiru. Yes. (Applause.) Please accept those applause on behalf of your other colleagues as well. (Laughter.) I’m glad. I was getting worried.
But seriously, I really can’t thank each of you and each of your other colleagues who’ve been with us so long – I can’t find the words to express how much that means. We’re so grateful for this partnership, for this service. It makes all the difference in the world. And let me just say to everyone here, whether you are local staff or whether you’re family, whether you’re an FSO, a civil servant; whether you’re State, Defense, USAID, Peace Corps, thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)