U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
For Immediate Release November 8, 2022
Special Online Briefing
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
The Brussels Hub
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I would like to welcome everyone joining us today for this virtual press briefing. We are very honored to be joined by Assistant Secretary Karen Donfried from the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. With that, let’s get started. Assistant Secretary Donfried, thank you so much for joining us today. I will turn it over to you for opening remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Thank you so much for the warm welcome, John. It’s really great to have the opportunity to be with the Brussels Media Hub. And apologies to those of you who I kept waiting a little bit. I am particularly happy to have the opportunity to provide a readout of my trip to Ukraine. Let me just start off with a few prepared comments, and then, of course, I’m very much looking forward to questions from all of you on the line.
So I spent two days last week in Ukraine, and I have to tell you that I came away inspired yet again by the courage and resilience of the people of Ukraine, who are so committed to defending their country and its freedom in the face of what is truly a brutal war of aggression by Russia. I had the opportunity to meet with members of Ukraine’s presidential administration, with foreign ministry officials, with members of President Zelenskyy’s cabinet, and we talked about our ongoing efforts to provide security assistance and energy support to help Ukraine’s reform and reconstruction efforts. And I saw firsthand the damage that Russia’s attacks on critical infrastructure are having. And it seems clear that Russia’s aim here is to leave Ukraine cold and dark this winter. I also met with civil society to discuss how we and our partners can help the Ukrainian people achieve their aspirations.
On the issue of supporting Ukraine, as with many other issues from energy security and food security to the very foundation of our shared values in promoting democracy, human rights, and independent media, there is no daylight between the United States and our European allies and partners, especially the European Union.
The EU is a partner of first resort in addressing our shared global challenges. The United States is deeply committed to strengthening the transatlantic relationship and working with our NATO Allies and European partners. We cannot successfully address global challenges and opportunities without each other.
And in talking about global challenges, let me move a little bit beyond the prism of Ukraine to just look forward to several high-level engagements with the EU that are coming up.
We will have a U.S.-EU High-Level Dialogue on China; we’ll also have Indo-Pacific consultations; the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council will meet; and there are a whole range of other consultations on everything from arms control to energy security to human rights to migration and climate change. I also expect more meetings of the newly established U.S.-EU Task Force on the Inflation Reduction Act. So you see the breadth of this relationship that we have across the Atlantic.
With that, let me turn it over to all of you. I am happy to answer your questions about my trip to Ukraine, about the transatlantic partnership, about the U.S.-EU relationship. So over to you. Thanks so much.
MODERATOR: Thanks very much, Assistant Secretary. We have a couple of hands raised. Why don’t I go to Alex Raufoglu first.
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, John, and thank you, Madam Assistant Secretary, for making yourself available for us today. Busy day indeed from midterms in the U.S. and the latest reports about U.S. talks with Russia. Both trigger understandable concerns in Ukraine. Ukraine made it clear that Putin is a war criminal, and they will not deal with him. Can I get your on-the-record reassuring that the U.S. will support Ukraine with weapons and money until every last Russian soldier had been forced out of every inch of Ukrainian territory? Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: I am happy to go on the record about this, but even better, President Biden has gone on the record about this. President Biden has been clear that we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. We are very clear that Ukraine did nothing to provoke Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. This is a clear case of what is right and what is wrong, and Ukraine is in the right – the fundamental principles the UN Charter is based on, that the United States believes in, about respect for sovereignty, respect for territorial integrity, might does not make right.
Countries deserve to choose their own foreign and security policies. These are the principles that are at stake here in Ukraine. And of course, for Ukraine, this is an existential struggle. My boss, the Secretary of State, has this phrase where he says: if Russia stops fighting, the war ends; if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends. And this is why we are so committed to supporting Ukraine. The military assistance we give is so that when Ukraine does get to the negotiating table, it is in the strongest possible position, that military support, our economic support, our humanitarian support, our political support will continue. Thanks so much for that question.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. I’m going to go to a question submitted that was upvoted from Henry Foy from The Financial Times. “The EU has pledged to send 9 billion to Ukraine this year, but so far has only sent 4.2 with 3 billion more promised by the end of 2022. As Ukraine looks to secure critical macroeconomic funding for 2023, are you confident that the EU is both committed and organized enough to provide the funding in time?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, thanks so much for that question. I think it highlights that the support we are providing to Ukraine – and by “we,” I mean a collective we, Americans and Europeans – flows across many sectors. And certainly the assistance we are giving on the economic front is as important as the assistance we’re giving on the security front, on the governance front, on the humanitarian front.
So I just want to remind folks of the assistance the U.S. is giving, because it is quite substantial. We have given over 33 billion in assistance since 2014, and we are building on that every day with our ongoing assistance. And when we think about how we are helping Ukraine, the assistance that the European Union is giving is a key part of our equation. As folks on the call will know, Secretary of State Blinken was in Germany on Friday for the G7 meeting. And the Secretary said there, when it comes to cooperation and coordination, it could not be stronger. He was talking about transatlantic cooperation and coordination. And what he said – and this is a direct quote – the EU “has been one of Ukraine’s largest donors, including lethal security assistance.” It has played a hugely important humanitarian role, hosting more than a million Ukrainian refugees. It’s played a vital role over – I’m sorry, this is now a comment specifically about Germany. I was thinking about – it was about transatlantic cooperation broadly. He was highlighting here Germany’s role.
But that comment about the EU being one of Ukraine’s largest donors is key to the specific point that Henry Foy asked about, which is that economic assistance, the direct budgetary support that’s been pledged, our understanding, too, is that the remaining 3 billion will flow this year, and I was heartened by the comments of President von der Leyen where she made a commitment to provide Ukraine with €1.5 billion for each month of next year. So I do believe the European Union is committed to this economic assistance to Ukraine. We very much welcome that and see it as a key part of the overall assistance flowing to Ukraine. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go back to live questions now. Can we ask Erisa Zykaj to ask her question?
QUESTION: Yes. Do you hear me? Yes? Hello?
MODERATOR: We hear you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: I can hear you.
QUESTION: Yeah, okay.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: I’m sorry. I missed – I did miss your name, though.
QUESTION: Okay. Erisa Zykaj for ABC Tv. Thank you for taking my question, Madam Assistant. I have a question of the potential that the Russian aggression in Ukraine might have in the Western Balkan countries. You know there is a tense situation in the northern of Kosovo. I would like firstly to have your – the U.S. position in the – on the situation in the northern Kosovo. And secondly, Gabriel Escobar said in October that he is hoping for a quick solution to long-lasting tensions between Serbia and Kosovo. Is that possible, or it’s still a long way to run? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So thanks so much for that question. And we are spending a lot of time and attention on the Western Balkans as well and specifically the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo. And you asked specifically about the north of Kosovo. The United States agrees with the European Union that the recent developments are a real cause for concern and are putting important progress achieved in the EU-facilitated dialogue at risk.
The Kosovan Serbs’ withdrawal from Kosovan institutions is not a solution to the current disputes and has the potential to further escalate the tensions on the ground. We believe that all parties must take steps to reduce tensions and ensure peace and stability. Actions and rhetoric that increase the possibility of violence place innocent lives and those of international peacekeepers on the ground at unnecessary risk.
Both Kosovo and Serbia should implement the agreements they have already signed onto through the dialogue process, including by starting negotiations to establish the Association of Serb-majority Municipalities. We believe the dialogue has proven itself to be an important and flexible mechanism for dispute settlement. We urge the parties to take full advantage of it. And the United States is fully committed to supporting that EU-facilitated dialogue. So let me stop with that. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. We’ll go to another live question, Suzanne Lynch. Could you please tell us your outlet as well?
QUESTION: Hi. Suzanne Lynch from Politico here in Brussels. Thank you very much for doing this call. You spoke there about your belief that the European Union is committed to economic assistance to Ukraine, but looking the other way across the Atlantic, I mean, what can you say to Europeans about the U.S.’s commitment to continue to help Ukraine on this day of the midterm elections and when we have heard some of the Republican leadership say – question the continuity of that support if there is a change of control on Capitol Hill? What would you say to Europeans at this moment of political change in Washington?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: So it’s a great question because it is the day of the midterm elections, and there’s been a lot of speculation about the outcome of those elections and what it will mean for ongoing U.S. support for Ukraine. And I will tell you, speaking as an American living in a country that is quite polarized, I have been struck positively by the depth and breadth of bipartisan support for Ukraine over the course of this conflict.
We in the administration are confident that U.S. support for Ukraine is going to continue to be unwavering and unflinching. You will have heard Jake Sullivan say the very same thing while he was in Kyiv on Friday, and he reiterated that the United States will continue to support Ukraine across all sectors – security assistance, economic assistance, humanitarian assistance. And yes, we’ve had certain voices suggesting – certain congressional voices offering other views, but Congress represents many, many different opinions, and I think we have seen the vast majority of members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have been clear about their, about our enduring support for Ukraine. I think under any scenario, you are going to see that President Biden is committed to continuing to work in a bipartisan fashion as he has done to date to support Ukraine.
So on this I do believe our commitment will continue to be ironclad. Thanks so much.
MODERATOR: Thanks, ma’am. We’ll go to one more live question: Linda Karadaku, please, and your outlet, please. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: We hear you, yes.
QUESTION: Yeah, good. Actually I’ll go back to the Balkans. We are definitely so interested on what’s going to happen with Kosovo and what’s going on in (inaudible) there. But my question is, it seems so far that there have been attempts to keep the situation under control, but sometimes we have the impression that it is getting out of control. Do you have any plan B on what can be done if Kosovo and Serbia just move ahead with what’s going on right now and we do not have steps back, such as the postponing the implementation of this decision about car plates or Serbia backing off with some of its positions and statements? So, in short, is there a plan B on what can be done to keep the situation under control? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Yes. Well, thanks so much for that question. And I had a little bit of a challenge understanding everything you said, but I do think I got the main gist of it. And first I want to underscore again that the United States is deeply engaged on these issues, and the earlier question about the Western Balkans referenced my colleague Gabe Escobar, and I do want to give a shout-out to Gabe, who 24/7 is working on these issues. Also, we have the Counselor of the State Department Derek Chollet who has devoted a great deal of time to these issues, and the Secretary himself has made a good number of calls.
So first I just want to underscore the importance we are giving to this, and I think that’s also part of finding a solution. I also want to give a shout-out to our colleagues in the European Union who have engaged deeply on these issues as well, and of course, the longer-term perspective for Serbia and for Kosovo is membership in these Euro-Atlantic institutions, and here, too, we’re talking about, of course, the European Union.
Now, your question about how do we move forward on this: We’ve talked in the previous question about some of the things that are playing out today in Kosovo. We talked about the north of Kosovo. We talked about Kosovan Serbs withdrawing from the institutions. We could also add here, as you mentioned, I believe, the license plates. We in the Biden administration have been seeking a full extension of the implementation period on those license plates, not a phased implementation or partial extension. And we will continue to closely monitor this situation. These discussions are ongoing, so I don’t want to preview specific actions and steps that we are discussing or planning, but we are very engaged in monitoring the situation.
Now, the way ahead is truly the EU-facilitated dialogue. Through the dialogue, Serbia and Kosovo should come to a comprehensive agreement centered on mutual recognition that opens the door to European integration. That’s why we fully support this dialogue. It’s important that both parties use those talks to demonstrate their commitment to a peaceful future for the region. And we have the French/German proposal on a way forward, which we also welcomed because we thought it was important to put the relationship between Kosovo and Serbia in that broader strategic frame rather than continuing to focus on these narrower issues of license plates.
So we will remain committed to this. We think there is opportunity for progress, but it’s hard. And we together with our European partners will stay committed to pushing forward. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Assistant Secretary. I think we have time for one more question. Can we go to Stephane Bussard, please?
QUESTION: Yes. Good evening and thank you, Madam Secretary, for holding this briefing. Stephane Bussard from Le Temps newspaper in Switzerland. My question is, I was wondering how confident are you that the Western alliance will hold despite the severe energy crisis that strongly impacts European countries? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: Well, it is a great question, and I don’t for a minute want to minimize the challenges that not only the Ukrainians are facing, but that really all of our partners in Europe are facing as we enter this winter. Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, I want to highlight the incredible cohesion we’ve seen among Europeans and across the Atlantic in managing and standing together as we face this crisis.
I mean, surely one thing that is clear to all of us in November of 2022 is that Russia is not a reliable supplier of energy, and we see a Europe that is committed to diversifying its energy supplies and committed to ensuring that Russia can never again use energy as a weapon against Europe. We’ve been working really closely with Europe to address the impacts of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, particularly as it affects energy supplies. As you know, so far this year over two-thirds of U.S. LNG exports have landed in Europe, and in the first seven months of 2022 U.S. LNG exports to Europe and the UK nearly tripled compared to the same period in 2021. In March – so in the wake of Russia’s brutal invasion – the administration launched the U.S.-EU Task Force on European Energy Security in partnership with Commission President von der Leyen to help reduce Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels, and we’ve seen the outcomes of that task force work as well and we’ll continue to engage in that.
So these are the ways we’ve been working closely with our European partners, and my takeaway from this is I think we should be seeing the glass as half full in terms of celebrating the incredible unity we’ve seen among Europeans.
So I do believe that European unity is going to remain strong throughout this winter. When I talk to – I have my official European contacts and I talk to them about this all the time. I also have a lot of European friends, and what they say to me is we are not going to give in to a bully. We are going to stand strong. And yes, we’ll turn our thermostats down. We’ll take measures on our own that we can take. And yes, energy prices have gone through the roof, but we are going to stand tall and defend the things we believe in.
So will it be a hard winter? Yes. I think we all need to acknowledge that. But I enter this winter feeling actually inspired by the level of unity that we are continuing to see across the transatlantic space. Thanks so much.
MODERATOR: Thanks very much for that, ma’am. Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have today. Thank you for your questions, and thank you, Assistant Secretary Donfried, for joining us.
Before we close the call, I’d like to see if you have any final remarks for the group.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY DONFRIED: I very much appreciate all of you taking the time to hear from me. And I will just say that I know many of you have had the chance to travel to Ukraine, but when you have the opportunity to have conversations with Ukrainians who are living in a very difficult reality every day, I just came away being inspired by their resilience. And we often say nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine, and that is something that is deeply felt in this administration – that we are here to support Ukraine, and we will continue to do that until this war is over. And I know that’s where we started the conversation – it is about what the first question was about – but I wanted to foot-stomp American and the administration’s staying power in this conflict.
So thanks so much for joining us, and I look forward to future engagements as well. Thanks, John.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Appreciate it. Shortly we will send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub, one word, @state.gov. Thanks again for your participation and we hope you can join us for another press briefing in the near future. This ends today’s briefing.