James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:43 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Happy Friday. Okay, so we have two special guests with us today. Joining us are Deputy National Security Advisors Anne Neuberger and Daleep Singh.
By way of a quick introduction, Anne is Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology. Previously, she served as the National Security Agency’s Director of Cybersecurity, where she led the NSA’s cybersecurity mission.
Prior to this role, Anne led NSA’s election security effort and served as Assistant Deputy Director of NSA’s Operations Directorate, overseeing foreign intelligence and cybersecurity operations.
Daleep is Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy Director of the National Economic Council. He coordinates the administration’s policymaking process for a range of issues at the intersection of economic policy and national security.
Previously, he was the Executive Vice President and Head of the Markets Group at the New York Federal Reserve, where he led the implementation for most of the Fed’s emergency facilities launched during the pandemic.
He served as an Acting Assistant Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department during the Obama-Biden administration, as well as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs.
They will each give brief remarks, and then we’ll take some questions. Your introduction won’t be as fancy the second time you come, but —
So, I think Anne is starting, right?
MS. NEUBERGER: Thank you very much, Jen. Good afternoon. It’s good to see you all.
Over the last decade, Russia has used cyber as a major part of its military activity beyond its borders, including to undermine, coerce, and destabilize Ukraine. For that reason, and at the President’s direction, we’ve been working to prepare for potential cyberattacks since November. We’ve been focused on doing so in three ways:
First, we’ve continued our urgent work to shore up our cyber defenses at home. Second, we’ve boosted our efforts providing support to Ukraine. And third, we’ve worked closely with partners and Allies to defend against and disrupt malicious cyber activity.
I’ll expand on each of these three areas.
First, we’re shoring up our defenses at home. While there are currently no specific or credible cyber threats to the homeland, the U.S. government has been preparing for potential geopolitical contingencies since before Thanksgiving.
The White House has coordinated extensive outreach by agencies with the private sector, specifically private sector owners and operators of critical infrastructure.
In that outreach, departments and agencies have gone to unprecedented and extraordinary lengths to share sensitive information and, most importantly, to outline specific steps companies can take to make their systems more secure.
As one example of those specific steps, the Department of Energy shared technical indicators of techniques used by Russian cyber actors to conduct cyberattacks against Ukrainian electricity systems during prior crises in Ukraine.
We’re also using the authorities we have to require companies to put in place the cyber defenses needed. For example, TSA issued directives that require oil and gas pipelines to report cyber incidents, conduct vulnerability assessments, and exercise their incident response plans. TSA is now working to expand that to both the aviation and railroad sectors.
As many of you know, the government doesn’t own or operate critical infrastructure that provides critical services to our citizens — for example, our water systems and power systems. I cannot stress this enough: We urge our private sector partners to exercise incident response plans and put in place the cybersecurity defenses, like encryption and multifactor authentication, that make cyberattacks harder for even sophisticated cyber actors.
Second, we continue to support Ukraine as it works to shore up its cyber defenses.
The U.S. government believes that Russian cyber actors likely have targeted the U- — the Ukrainian government, including military and critical infrastructure networks, to collect intelligence and pre-position to conduct disruptive cyber activities. These disruptive cyber operations could be leveraged if Russia takes further military action against Ukraine.
We’ve seen troubling signs of malicious cyber activity in the last month. Earlier this week, we saw a kind of cyberattack known as a DDoS attack that overloads online services at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and state-owned banks. There were also text messages sent to bank customers telling them that ATM services were unavailable.
Russia likes to move in the shadows and counts on a long process of attribution so it can continue its malicious behavior against Ukraine in cyberspace, including pre-positioning for its potential invasion. In light of that, we’re moving quickly to attribute the DDoS attacks.
We believe that the Russian government is responsible for wide-scale cyberattacks on Ukrainian banks this week. We have technical information that links Russian — the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, as known GRU infrastructure was seen transmitting high volumes of communications to Ukraine-based IP addresses and domains.
We’ve shared the underlying intelligence with Ukraine and with our European partners.
While of limited impact, this recent spate of cyberattacks in Ukraine are consistent with what a Russian effort could look like in laying the groundwork for more disruptive cyberattacks accompanying a potential further invasion of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
We’ve been preparing for this possibility. Since November, we further intensified our support to the government of Ukraine, specifically to network defenders, working to help them respond to and recover from cyber incidents as well as strengthen the resilience of cyber critical infrastructure.
Finally, we’re cooperating with Allies and partners to disrupt and respond to malicious cyber activity. That includes work to share intelligence regarding malicious cyber techniques and ensure the global community is ready to rapidly call out malicious cyber activity as appropriate.
Members of the administration have met with leaders across the region to discuss cyber resilience, deterrence of cyberattacks, and to ensure we’re prepared to address any cyber contingencies.
We’ve met with our Polish and Baltic counterparts; our NATO Allies; and our European partners, including France and Germany.
The global community must be prepared to shine a light on malicious cyber activity and hold actors accountable for any and all disruptive or destructive cyber activity.
And as the President said earlier this week: If Russia attacks the United States or our Allies through asymmetric activities, like disruptive cyberattacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond.
MR. SINGH: Good afternoon, everybody. As President Biden has said: If Russia attacks Ukraine, we will respond decisively and forcefully to impose costs on Russia, alongside our Allies and partners.
The cost to Russia would be immense, both to its economy and its strategic position in the world. Our financial sanctions have been designed to impose overwhelming and immediate costs to the largest financial institutions and state-owned enterprises in Russia. They’ve been calibrated to maximize alignment with our Allies and partners. They’re flexible to allow for further escalation or de-escalation, depending on how Putin responds. And they’re responsible to avoid targeting the Russian people and to limit unwanted spillovers to the U.S. and global economy.
We’re also prepared to impose powerful export controls as part of our response package. Both financial sanctions and export controls deny something to Russia that it needs and can’t get from anywhere other than the United States or our Allies and partners. Financial sanctions deny foreign capital to Russia, and export controls deny critical technological inputs that Russia needs to diversify its economy and to deliver on Putin’s strategic ambitions in aerospace, defense, and high-tech.
Working in tandem, financial sanctions and export controls are embedded in a broader strategy that would undercut Putin’s aspirations to project power and exert influence on the world stage.
If Russia invades Ukraine, it would become a pariah to the international community, it would become isolated from global financial markets, and it would be deprived of the most sophisticated technological inputs.
Russia would face the prospect of intense capital outflows, mounting pressure on its currency, surging inflation, higher borrowing costs, economic contraction, and the erosion of its productive capacity.
Taken together, Russia would become more dependent on countries that cannot compensate for its losses. This would be a strategic defeat for Russia, pure and simple.
Meanwhile, the West and international community would emerge more united and determined to defend shared values and core principles than at any point in the post-Cold War era.
We’re ready to impose costs in lockstep with our Allies and partners because we share the belief that Russia has no right to redraw its neighbors’ borders by force and that countries have the freedom to set their own course and to choose their own destiny.
To be clear: The test of unity with our Allies and partners is not whether our actions are matched to the letter or whether our implementation mechanics are identical. The test of unity is whether we share a recognition of the core principles that are at stake, whether we share the resolve to defend those principles by imposing severe costs on Russia for its actions, and whether we’re willing to do all we can to support each other in managing the consequences.
I can tell you with confidence that we’ve met the test. And on this last point, since I know many of you have asked, let me say that we are in active engagement with major energy consumers and major energy producers to coordinate potential actions, to stabilize energy markets, and all of our tools are on the table.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Steve.
Q Daleep, are you still discussing elements of the sanctions package among yourselves, or is the package ready to go as soon as the invasion begins?
MR. SINGH: You know, I would say, at this point, we are — we are converging on the final package. And anybody who has worked on sanctions in the EU or the U.S. or any of our other Allies and partners would say that the unity and coordination that we’ve seen in the past few months is unlike anything we’ve experienced. And that’s the reason I say that the West is likely to emerge more unified and determined coming out of this episode than any point in the post-Cold War era.
Q And could you talk a little bit about the export control measures? How would they impact Russian electronics?
MR. SINGH: Yeah, so the reality is that the West and open societies — this is where innovation and entrepreneurship flourish. We produce the most sophisticated technological inputs across a range of foundational technologies — AI, quantum, biotech, hypersonic flight, robotics.
As we and our partners move in lockstep to deny these critical technology inputs to Russia’s economy, Putin’s desire to diversify outside of oil and gas — which is two thirds of his export revenue, half of his budget revenues — that will be denied.
He’s spoken many times about a desire for an aerospace sector, a defense sector, an IT sector. Without these critical technology inputs, there is no path to realizing those ambitions.
MS. PSAKI: Kristen.
Q Thank you so much. Anne, this is a follow-up for you, if I can. It sounds like — and just to put a finer point on this — you have assessed now that Russia was behind the cyberattacks against the Defense Ministry and the banks in Ukraine. Can you tell us, specifically, when you assessed that, how extensive it was?
And obviously, you’ve been warning for days that that type of an action could be a precursor to a Russian invasion. Have you been able to determine whether those actions were taken to send a signal that, yes, we are going to invade?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, yes, we — we have assessed that Russia was responsible for the distributed denial-of-service attacks that occurred earlier this week. And I will note that the speed with which we made that attribution, as you note, is very unusual. And we’ve done so because of a need to call out the behavior quickly as part of holding nations accountable when they conduct disruptive or destabilizing cyber activity.
You asked how extensive that activity was. It was of limited impact because Ukrainian cyber defenders rapidly brought back the — both the state-owned banks and the Ministry of Defense networks. And indeed, we have provided support to our — those Ukrainian network defenders to ensure that they are prepared for even more potentially extensive behaviors or activities.
And then finally, we do believe, as I noted, that Russia does use cyber as part of its projecting force, whether that is influencing, coercing, or destabilizing. So we do expect that should Russia decide to proceed with a further invasion of Ukraine, we may see further destabilizing or destructive cyber activity. And we’ve been working closely with Allies and partners to ensure we’re prepared to call out that behavior and respond when needed.
Q One quick follow, if I can. You talked about the extensive steps that you have taken and that you have tried to encourage the private sector to take as well to be prepared for potential cyberattacks. Are you confident — is the private sector prepared? Is the U.S. government prepared for a Russian cyberattack? Can Americans feel as though their money is safe and that U.S. entities are safe?
MS. NEUBERGER: We are confident that we have worked closely with the private sector to press critical infrastructure owners and operators in the private sector to take the necessary steps to deploy cyber defenses.
We’ve shared sensitive information. We’ve shared, most importantly, the specific steps. And we’ve exercised the maximum of government authorities to mandate those steps as needed. We know that should anything occur, we’ll work closely with the private sector to rapidly respond and recover.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Kayla.
Q Thank you so much. I have a question for each of you, but I’ll ask Daleep first. The administration and other world leaders have said now for months that sanctions will be swift and severe, and they will be the most powerful deterrent to an invasion. But now, with all of these signs that an invasion is going to come in the next few days or is likely, is that a sign that Vladimir Putin has calculated that the cost is bearable for Russia?
MR. SINGH: You know, look, I know there’s a lot of talk about whether Russia has a sanctions-proof economy, and there really is no such thing as a sanctions-proof economy.
If you — if you think about the term “sanctions-proof,” it means that a country is deciding to deintegrate from the global financial system. That means less foreign capital, higher borrowing costs, less investment, and lower growth.
And look, whether you’re an autocrat or small-“d” democrat, every leader cares about your economic conditions. It’s part of the social contract you have with your people. And let’s think about the baseline in Russia.
Right now, Russia has an inflation rate of 8.7 percent. The Central Bank of Russia has raised interest rates eight times over the past year to 9.5 percent. The ruble is the worst performer among any emerging market currency. That’s before — that’s before any sanctions have been imposed.
And if we impose these sanctions, which are the most severe measures we’ve ever contemplated against Russia, you don’t have to take my word for what would happen; look back to 2014 with a much less severe package. We saw record capital outflows. We saw a weakening of the ruble by up to 50 percent. We saw Russia spend 25 percent of its foreign reserves in a futile attempt to defend the ruble. We saw interest rates spike to 17 percent. We saw inflation spike to 17 percent. And the economy fell into recession. And the vicious feedback loop we saw in 2014 was determined by Putin’s own choices, not prescribed in advance by us. The more he escalates, the more pain he feels.
So, look, there’s no question in my mind that Putin is not playing a winning — winning hand. And it’s not just sanctions. The export controls deny him the critical technologies he needs to develop his economy over time. If he invades, Europe is going to accelerate its diversification away from Russian energy supplies; we’ll fortify NATO’s eastern flank.
All of these actions, not just sanctions, deal Putin a very weak strategic hand.
Q Thank you. And, Anne, you said that if Russia targets companies or institutions here, and I’m wondering what intelligence the U.S. has that it can share about how that may figure into Russia’s campaign.
MS. NEUBERGER: So, as I said, there are no specific or credible cyber threats against the homeland. But we’re making clear that we’re preparing for that in case of any contingencies.
MS. PSAKI: Ed? Go ahead.
Q Yeah. But on that note, what’s your level of concern that there could be an online or cyberattack against, say, the banking system in the U.S. should Russia decide to invade?
MS. NEUBERGER: As we know — you know, as a society, we’re a very connected and digitized society, and that as a society, we don’t have the level of cyber resilience that we wish to.
Since the beginning of the administration, President Biden has made both domestic and physical resilience a priority, and we’ve urgently taken significant steps, whether they are new authorities, the President’s executive order, working closely with the private sector in unprecedented ways. Those serve as a foundation for a far stronger domestic cyber resilience we have today than at the beginning of the administration.
But on the other hand, one should always prepare for any contingencies, and we’ve been doing so — sharing sensitive information, encouraging private sector owners and operators to do the work they need to do to lock their digital doors and, essentially, do the equivalent of putting on an alarm so one can rapidly identify if there is an intruder and quickly contain and respond.
Q Have you already seen that probing from Russia?
MS. NEUBERGER: We consistently see probing activity. I think the Department of Defense talks about the millions of probes it receives consistently from criminal and nation-state attackers. We see that regularly.
The key is to have the resilience to be able to detect and rapidly recover from any destructive or destabilizing activity.
MS. PSAKI: Phil?
Q So, usually those sanctions affect the ordinary people. We’ve seen them in Africa and the other countries. Are you concerned that the sanctions that you may impose on Russia may end up affecting ordinary people and not Putin himself?
MR. SINGH: Yeah, I mentioned some of the — we have a set of guiding principles that drive our design of sanctions. They need to be strong enough to demonstrate our resolve. We calibrate them to maximize the chance of coordinating with allies and partners.
They’re also responsible. We target them carefully to avoid even the appearance of targeting the average Russian civilian. And where you’ll see these sanctions applied is on the commanding heights of the Russian economy and the Russian state. That’s where they’re designed.
And so, where you see most of the force of sanctions back in 2014 and where you’ll see them again now is through the financial sector and in areas where Putin needs critical technologies to develop an industrial base.
That’s where these measures are concentrated. And it’s meant to be responsible, not to have contagion to the average Russian civilian.
MS. PSAKI: Phil.
Q And then you just returned from West Africa. You went in DRC. And we see in Africa — we have coups in Africa — people (inaudible) an attempted coup. Is there anything the U.S. can do — maybe relocating Africans from Germany to Africa?
MR. SINGH: Well, our efforts in Africa and across the developing world are to give countries a better choice than they’ve been receiving. So we are — we’re on the road offering infrastructure finance that expresses our values — so, finance that is transparent, that’s inclusive, that’s sustainable; infrastructure financing that has high labor standards, high environmental standards; and infrastructure finance that mobilizes our private sector, which is our key competitive advantage.
For too long, countries have not had a choice. They’ve had an opaque course of — an extractive model of infrastructure finance, and that’s why we’re out to compete: because we think we have a better product.
MS. PSAKI: Phil.
Q But can you say why the launch has been delayed though by — Daleep —
MS. PSAKI: If we can just try to — because we’re going to get through as many people as possible, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.
Okay. Go ahead, Phil.
Q One for each of you if you don’t mind. Anne, you alluded to this, but the U.S. has assessed that the Russians likely have a foothold into critical Ukrainian infrastructure on the cyberspace right now. Is it the expectation or is it a likelihood that they will once again try and shut down Ukrainian power? And if so, is that considered a red line for the U.S. in terms of a cyber operation response?
MS. NEUBERGER: So, Russia has used offensive cyber activity to coerce and disrupt critical infrastructure in Ukraine during a prior crisis. So we would expect, based on prior activity, that should Russia decide to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine — and I want to be clear that our priority, as the President has noted, is really exercising every diplomatic option possible to avoid that — we are prepared for and have been working with Ukrainians and our European allies and partners to help the Ukrainians prepare for potential destructive or destabilizing activity.
Q And would that be a red line for the — like, for the U.S. in terms of its cyber response?
MS. NEUBERGER: I think as the President has made clear, disruptive or destructive attacks against the U.S. or allies is of significant concern. It’s outside the boundaries of international norms, particularly attacks against critical infrastructure.
Q But Ukraine isn’t an ally. Does that mean you —
MS. PSAKI: Guys, if you could — we’re going to get to as many as possible.
Q Daleep — Daleep —
MS. PSAKI: It doesn’t help to scream over each other.
Q Daleep, real quick — and I think you alluded to this at the end of your opening statement — but we just heard from the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi, say that “sanctions should be focused on [a] limited number of sectors…without including energy.” Do you view that as a one-off? How do you address the fact that the different countries, particularly in Europe, have different equities here to try and actually stay unified as, you say, the West is right now?
MR. SINGH: Look, I’ll speak to the energy question. First of all, our measures are not designed to reduce or impair Russia’s ability to supply energy to the world.
Number two, we think it would be a strategic mistake for Putin to weaponize his energy supply. Two thirds of Russia’s exports and half of its budget revenues come from oil and gas. And if Putin were to weaponize his energy supply, it would only accelerate the diversification of the world away from Russian energy consumption.
Number three, we’re prepared for anything. So, if — if Russia decides to weaponize its energy supply, we’re ready. We’ve been taking steps, as I mentioned in my statement, to coordinate with major energy consumers, major energy producers to ensure that we have steady energy supplies and we have stable energy markets.
On natural gas, we’ve been working with Europe in lockstep to surge natural gas to Europe from North Africa, from the Middle East, from other parts of Europe, from the U.S., and from Asia. And we’ve succeeded in largely compensating for any shortfall that could unfold if gas that flows to Ukraine is cut.
But the last point I’ll make — it’s maybe the most fundamental one: Policy involves trade-offs. And the President said this week he’s not going to pretend that this is all painless.
But think of the counterfactual. Think if Russia’s aggression in the heart of Europe went unchecked. Possibly the largest land invasion in the post-Cold War era. Think of the uncertainties that would cause. Think of the chilling effect that would cause across the European continent. Think of the questions that will be asked about which other countries could be bullied by an autocrat looking to exert a sphere of influence. Those are costs we’re not willing to tolerate.
MS. PSAKI: Rachel.
Q Just a quick follow-up to some of the intelligence that you mentioned. I know you said right now the administration is confident that there is no threat level to the United States, but how quickly do you expect that to change if there is an invasion and if and when sanctions are imposed?
MS. NEUBERGER: I won’t get into the hypotheticals. What I will say is that we’ve focused on maximum preparedness across government systems, across private sectors, critical infrastructure, both in the United States and working closely with our Allies and partners.
MS. PSAKI: Weijia.
Q Thank you. Anne, can you talk about what companies in the private sector are the most vulnerable? Obviously, you’ve talked about banking. You’ve talked a little bit about the water systems. But what other ones do you consider to be most at-risk right now? And then I have a question for Daleep too.
MS. NEUBERGER: Absolutely. So, generally, as we look at ourselves as a society, we know that critical infrastructure is our focus — to rapidly improve our domestic resilience because of the degree to which critical services like power and water touch citizens across the United States.
And that’s why some of the most urgent and innovative efforts that the President has initiated this year have focused on those sectors — from the Industrial Control Systems effort, to TSA’s first exercise of its emergency authorities, to NERC issuing an alert earlier this week for the utility sector as well.
So that is really the critical infrastructure. Particularly, power, communications and water have been a clear focus because of the fact that they touch Americans lives and because of the need to address the fact that these sectors digitized quickly, and we need to catch up from a security and resilience, which we have made significant progress on in this first year.
Q Thank you. And, Daleep, a quick question on the export tool: What technologies and products can the U.S. and Allies withhold from Putin that he can’t get elsewhere — for example, from China?
MR. SINGH: We think we have an asymmetric advantage when it comes to the foundational technologies of our time. So, think of AI, semiconductors, quantum, robotics, hypersonic flight. These are products that, in almost every case, are designed and produced in the West and in open societies. We define the productive frontier. So, there really is no ability for Russia to replace or compensate for the denial of these inputs from anywhere else, including China.
MS. PSAKI: Patsy.
Q Yeah, actually, just to follow up on the China question — I mean, as we’re dealing with the threats of Russia, we know that you’ve also been doing these tours to Africa and South America, in terms of promoting the Build Back Better World to counter the Belt and Road Initiative. Can you share a little bit — the level of interest to this program from the countries that you visited? And why has there been a holdup? Because the promise was that it will be launched earlier — early this week — this year.
MR. SINGH: Yeah, I’ll say there’s been enormous enthusiasm in every country we visited: Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Ghana, Senegal, the DRC, parts of the Middle East, Indonesia, Thailand, and other parts of the world. And the reason there’s so much enthusiasm is that countries do want a choice.
For a long time, China has been the only game in town for many of these countries. And in many cases, they have buyers regret. The loans that have been made to these countries have often been very opaque. They have non-disclosure agreements. They have termination clauses. They have confiscatory collateral arrangements. They’re extractive, in many cases — in the DRC, for example. This is a country that’s rich in minerals — over $20 trillion in critical minerals — but they’ve not seen the schools, the roads, the hospitals, the bridges they were promised.
And so, we’re offering a different way with, as I say, high standards for transparency; inclusivity; development impact — local development impact; and very, very strong attention to the labor market impacts and environmental standards.
And, you know, so we’re mobilizing along with our G7 partners, and we are going to launch early this year. You should see very soon a list of flagship projects that will exemplify exactly what Build Back Better World is all about.
MS. PSAKI: Jacqui.
Q Thank you. Can you clarify: Is removing Russia from the SWIFT international banking system part of the financial sanctions package?
MR. SINGH: Well, all options remain on the table. But it’s probably not going to be the case that you’ll see SWIFT in the initial rollout package. We have other severe measures we can take that our Allies and partners are ready to take in lockstep with us, and that don’t have the same spillover effects. But we always will monitor these options, and we’ll — we’ll revise our judgments as time goes on.
Q I thought you guys had said you were going to start at the maximum — that it wouldn’t be like a — you know, a ramping up of sanctions.
MR. SINGH: I can assure you the measures that we have prepared — the severity of those measures, and the institutions that we would impose them upon, and the immediacy of those sanctions — are among the most severe financial sanctions that have ever been contemplated.
MS. PSAKI: Josh. It’s going to be the last one.
Q On the sanctions: If they’re severe as you say, how do you protect against the risks that Russia’s economy becomes stitched even tighter with China or others who might be able to avoid what the U.S. is doing?
MR. SINGH: So, you can look at this question from both perspectives. From Russia’s perspective, if it wants to sequester itself from Western economies, Western technology, and Western capital markets, and try to substitute China for all that we provide, that’s a very bad miscalculation. The G7 alone represents more than 50 percent of the global economy. China is 15 percent.
If you look at the Dollar, the Euro, the British Pound, and the Yen — these are the dominant reserve currencies of the world. It’s how the world makes payments. It’s how it saves money. It’s how the world borrows money. The Renminbi here on these metrics is in the low single digits.
And if you think about the foundational technologies of our time, they are, in almost all cases, designed or produced by the West and open societies where innovation and entrepreneurship flourish.
So, there is I don’t think any question that China could not be a substitute for all the West provides.
Now, for China’s part, if it decides to give tacit or explicit accommodation to the invasion of the sovereign nation in the heart of Europe, that would be a very bad signal for its vision of the world. The reputational effects that would have in Europe would be profound. The signals it would send all across the world about its willingness to accommodate coercion and force and aggression would have very long-lasting effects.
And let’s be real: The Russian economy is one tenth the size of the EU — one fifteenth the size of the U.S. economy.
So, China may want Russia as its junior partner for cheap gas or cheap oil, but let’s not pretend it’s anything else.
Q Can I do a follow-up question, as well?
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, both, so much. I appreciate it. I think we have to wrap it up because they have to head back and do some work. Thank you both so much for joining us.
MR. SINGH: Thank you.
MS. NEUBERGER: Thank you.
Q Thanks so much.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Okay, I just have one item for all of you at the top — a week ahead.
This weekend, including Presidents’ Day on Monday, the President will remain in D.C. throughout — obviously at the White House — throughout next week, the President will continue close coordination with our Allies and partners on Russia’s potential further invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, the President will host an event announcing progress on reshoring critical supply chains, powering clean energy manufacturing, and creating good-paying jobs.
And on Thursday, the President will participate in a virtual G7 leaders meeting to discuss the ongoing situation with regard to Russia and Ukraine and priorities of the German G7 presidency this year.
With that, I will try to jump around as much as I can.
Josh, do you want to kick us off, though?
Q Great. Thanks, Jen. Two questions. The first one: Has the President read the Russian response on Ukraine, and is he giving any consideration to mobilizing additional troops in Europe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, on the first part, I know that, as you all know, our Secretary of State has accepted the invitation to have a meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov — or engage with him, next Wednesday, and certainly we are continuing to review.
In terms of the President’s status or process there, I don’t have anything to update you on. We have always said from the beginning that we are open to sending more troops should that be needed. But I don’t have any update on that front. I would point to the Department of Defense.
Q And then, secondly, real quick: Separatists in Ukraine are evacuating civilians to Russia. Secretary Blinken warned about this as a type of false-flag operation. Now that you’re seeing these operations, does that mean a further invasion is forthcoming, if not inevitable?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that we believe — we continue to believe, as you heard our Secretary of State say yesterday, that Russia is positioned to attack Ukraine in the coming days. And that remains the case — just what the Secretary said yesterday. Obviously, the President will be speaking shortly to all of you.
At the same time, the door to diplomacy remains open and it will continue to remain open. And, again, we — as is evidenced by the fact that our Secretary of State is planning to engage with the foreign minister.
But in terms of — in terms of these reports, yes, it is a good example of what we’re seeing — or what we have long anticipated and long predicted for all of you: that the Russians would take part in pretexts or steps that would lay a predicate for either war or to create confusion or spread misinformation on the ground about what’s actually happening on the ground.
I think, again, it’s important to remember that they have been — we would consider eastern Ukraine — that the war began in eastern Ukraine back in 2014. We’re not waiting. It’s already began, back in 2014. There have been Russian separatists there. There have been efforts to spread misinformation and to create these pretexts for some time now. But certainly, we continue to watch closely.
Q Is it wise for President Zelenskyy to leave Ukraine to attend the Munich Conference?
MS. PSAKI: That is a decision for him to make. But regardless of what decision he makes, he will find a strong partner in the United States.
Q And what does the President want to hear from the transatlantic? I think the call is going on right now. What — what — is he going to talk about sanctions? What are they going to talk about?
MS. PSAKI: I think you have all seen the President engage quite a bit — extensively, I should say — in conversations, video conferences, calls with his counterparts around the world to ensure that we remain lockstep and coordinated and united. And that doesn’t happen on its own. It happens through a lot of work and effort and a lot of direction by the President of the United States.
So this is an effort to have a conversation with his counterparts about what we’re seeing, where things stand, and continue that close coordination that has been ongoing for months now.
Q Just one question. There was a readout from Brett and Amos’s meeting —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — in the Middle East. And in that readout, it says they discussed with the Saudis a “collaborative approach to managing potential market pressures” if Russia invades. Can you give any details? Was anything concrete agreed to? Were there any promises made? What does the “collaborative approach” mean when it comes to the Saudis and the U.S.?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say a “collaborative approach” means trying to prevent impacts on the energy markets if there is a shortage as a result of an invasion. There are lots of ways to achieve that, and that was certainly part of the discussion. But I don’t have any more details beyond what was in the readout.
I would also note that in the readout, they also conveyed that a big part of their discussion was also related to Yemen, also related to Iran. So there are a range of topics that were discussed.
Q And just to clarify: Is this the beginning of that discussion about a potential collaborative approach midway through or close to a final agreement?
MS. PSAKI: I expect — we expect certainly our conversations with the Saudis will be ongoing. And the effort will be focused on ensuring that we’re in full coordination to handle any energy market pressures that could arise.
Q Thank you, Jen. When we heard from President Biden yesterday, he had not yet read the written response from the Russians. Assuming that he has now, has that changed his assessment at all about the possibility of diplomacy?
MS. PSAKI: I think Josh asked a similar question, but I would just say I don’t have an update on the internal discussions about the Russian response other than to convey that, as our Secretary of State noted yesterday, he has accepted the offer to — or he is — he will be engaging, I should say, with his counterpart, his Russian counterpart, on Wednesday, unless, of course, they invade. And there will continue to be a range of diplomatic discussions.
I think the Secretary of State was also very clear yesterday about the fact that we believe that Russia is positioned to attack Ukraine. They, of course, could change their mind, or they could decide not to, and we are going to remain — keep the door to diplomacy open, as we should.
But again, there’s no new assessment beyond what the Secretary of State said yesterday, which was quite forward-leaning, as I think you would all agree.
Q Thanks, Jen. Has the U.S. in any way conveyed to Ukraine that it should not respond to the provocations by Russia? We’re obviously seeing the increased shelling that’s happening right now.
MS. PSAKI: And they have not, I think as you have seen. You know, I think we are — have been speaking vocally and privately, of course, about our expectation of these types of provocations and what their intended purpose is and whether their intended purpose is to create confusion; whether it is to create, you know, irritation; whether it is to prompt a response. Obviously, that would not be a positive step at this point in time.
Q And so you have conveyed that privately to the Ukrainians or (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: We have — we have conveyed that, certainly, in a range of ways.
Q Okay. And let me just, if I could, go back to the meeting between the Secretary of State and Lavrov that may happen next week. What gives the administration hope that there’s still a path for diplomacy when the President has said that an invasion is all but certain to happen in the next few days?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we hope we’re wrong. You know, we hope that — if Russia doesn’t invade, we will be relieved. That would certainly be a good outcome. But at the same time, what’s the alternative? Us not to say we’ll — we will agree to diplomacy or diplomatic opportunities?
Q Have you gotten any assurances from Russian officials that they won’t invade until Lavrov meets with Secretary Blinken?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Kristen, I think, as we’ve said in the past, I mean, it’s not just about what is said — they’ve said that publicly; it’s about what they do. And so, we continue to believe that they are positioned to invade Ukraine. If they decide not to, that is certainly a positive step. And we have a responsibility to the global community, to Ukrainians to leave the door to diplomacy open.
Q If I could try one more time, on Zelenskyy. We do have reporting that a number of administration officials are concerned about him leaving at this critical moment. Obviously, he’s also scheduled to meet with the Vice President. Has anyone in this administration conveyed directly to Zelenskyy that there are concerns about him leaving right now?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail any private diplomatic conversations. But again, I’d reiterate it’s a decision that is up to him to make. That would — is what we convey privately as well. And regardless of what decision he makes, he will remain — he will have the support of the United States.
Q On the Blinken/Lavrov meeting, does the administration see this as a precursor to some kind of leaders summit, or perhaps a phone call between the President and Putin or a face-to-face meeting?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think where we are right now is that, you know, we are unclear — we’re ready to engage in diplomacy, but it’s unclear if the Russians are going to sit down in good faith. And, of course, if — while we are doing everything we can to prevent war, and including having the Secretary of State willing to engage further with his Russian counterpart, I don’t think we can get ahead of the process or ahead of where things stand, which is our continued belief that they’re positioned to attack Ukraine.
Q And President Bolsonaro of Brazil met with Putin this week in Moscow. He expressed solidarity with Russia. I know the State Department put something out. But did the President feel betrayed by President Bolsonaro’s comments? And does this affect U.S.-Brazilian relations at all?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve not discussed his comments with the President. But what I would say is that the vast majority of the global community is united in their view — a shared view that invading another country, attempting to take some of their land, terrorizing their people is certainly not aligned with global values. And so, I think Brazil may be on the other side of where the majority of the global community stands.
Q There’s a report in Foreign Policy magazine that Russia intends to target Ukrainian politicians and dissidents for assassination or arrest. Are you aware of any plans to provide security for President Zelenskyy or others?
MS. PSAKI: I’ve seen those reports — we’ve seen those reports, and I can’t, of course, speak to intelligence matters or hypotheticals. We would be very concerned about any actions that would target political critics or vulnerable populations, as I think is what that report is conveying, if I’m correct, such as religious and ethnic minorities or LGBTQ persons.
We have, in the past, seen Russia try to force acquiescence through intimidation and repression. But given it’s a hypothetical and I can’t speak to it further, I can’t give you any prediction of security assistance.
Q I want to ask you a question about gas prices specifically. Can you explain, if there is any, the reticence to embrace the calls for the gas tax holiday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve said every option is on the table, including that. But a decision has not been made.
Q Is there any reticence here to do that?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t know if that’s called reticence. It’s just that a decision hasn’t been made in the process yet.
Q Just checking.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. Just a quick follow-up on the Russian response. Has the President reviewed it yet?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any update on that. What I can tell you is that our efforts remain having continued diplomatic conversations with our counterparts in Russia, as is evidenced by the Secretary of State’s plans for next Wednesday — unless they, of course, invade — and the President’s engagements that he is a part of at this point in time.
But I think it’s important to note that, you know, when we look at how we’re going to engage in diplomacy, it’s also important that we look at how Russia is responding. Right? And Russia’s threats of war if their demands aren’t met are inconsistent with diplomacy.
So, we are going to leave the door open, but I think the Secretary of State’s commitment to — or openness to meeting — or to engaging with his counterpart is evidence of that.
Q And I know you got a question on the call that’s
happening as we speak, probably, with the transatlantic leaders. Just on the President’s framing of this: Does he see this as getting the Allies on the same page as a final check-in before an anticipated invasion, given that he said he’s expecting it within the next several days?
MS. PSAKI: It’s a part of our ongoing engagement, so I wouldn’t put it in those terms. He — the — or we are united; we are with our Allies. I think you will hear him convey that when he speaks to all of you shortly.
But it is also important to stay in close touch. I wouldn’t say this is the last time he’s going to talk with them or talk with these counterparts in the coming days at all. He’s been talking with his counterparts nearly every single day.
But the point we’re at right now is, of course, over the last few days, we’ve seen reports of rapid — a rapid uptick of violence; violations of the ceasefire agreement, including the shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten yesterday; more and more disinformation is being pushed out to the public. We know this is consistent with the playbook for invasion, and we believe they’re positioned to attack.
So, of course, it’s an important moment to have a conversation with his counterparts, but I would expect those to be ongoing.
Q Did you accidentally leave off of the week ahead the President’s interviews of Supreme Court — Supreme Court candidates? (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Very good. I was like, I may — I’m thinking, “Maybe I left something off.”
Well, I can tell you that February is not that much longer; it’s 10 days if my math is correct. And we remain on track to —
Q But that was like — that was going to be my —
MS. PSAKI: — to make an announcement about a Supreme Court — the President’s selection for a qualified and credible nominee to serve on the Supreme Court ju- — before the end of the month.
Q Okay. And then that was my following question, which is —
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q — which is that, given what’s go- —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — what seems poised to go on with Ukraine, is there any thought that if there is an invasion, the President would delay the announcement of the Supreme Court pick given, you know, what else could be going on at the time?
MS. PSAKI: Well, you know how I love hypotheticals, but what I will tell you is that he has every intention of making a decision this month. He’s on track to do so. That will mean he will have chosen a nominee faster than any Democratic President in decades.
And obviously, he’s somebody who has to, as leader of the free world and President of the United States, conduct business on a number of fronts at the same time.
Q Yes. Jumping off of that, actually: Yesterday in the briefing, it was mentioned that the President was planning to begin interviewing nominees as soon as this week. Given that we are on Friday, can you confirm if he did or did not interview anybody this week?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to provide you a day-to-day update, but I can tell you that this is not going to be that much longer lasting because we only have 10 more days left of the month. So that’s the good news.
And it is always a late part of the process — the interviews — but I’m not going to be able to give you an update on that from here.
Q One other thing. On COVID, I believe that only four, maybe five states still have indoor mask mandates as it holds right now. And I know that you all have been saying you’re going to follow the CDC’s guidance, but is there a point where the CDC’s guidance is out of step with a vast majority of what states across the country are doing? And how do you all reconcile that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can tell you is the CDC guidance follows data and science, and data and science moves at the speed of data and science.
You can speak to any local leaders about what their decision-making has been based on. And we certainly respect their right to do that and respect their role in making decisions about their communities.
But we’ve said that the CDC is reviewing the guidance. They have been doing that. And they’re going to base any recommendations they make on science.
Q Jen, is the assumption though that Democratic governors and Republican governors in all these states are not basing decisions on data and science?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t speak for how they’re making their decisions. I can speak for how we make our decisions from the federal government, which is to base it on data and science. And the CDC is the federal government’s entity where we — where we have all of our data and science housed.
Q Thanks, Jen. The former Minneapolis — or suburban Minneapolis Police officer who was convicted of fatally shooting Daunte Wright was sentenced to two years in prison today. Is the President keeping track of this? Is he aware of this sentence? And does he think that this was a sentence that was fitting for this crime?
MS. PSAKI: Well, what I can say is that Daunte Wright should be here with his family and loved ones, and his death was the tragic result of a law enforcement officer’s error.
We know we have a long way to go when it comes to criminal justice and racial equity in this country. That’s why we are committed to not only engaging in conversations about meaningful policing reform, but we will also continue to ensure that the law enforcement agencies have the resources they need to properly train and equip officers to protect our communities. But I’m not going to speak to the specifics of the sentencing outcome.
Q And then one more on the State of the Union, which is obviously right around the corner.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Can you talk a little bit about what specifically the President is doing to prepare for that, what tone he is hoping to set in that speech, what message he’s hoping to send to the country?
MS. PSAKI: I expect we will have more as we get a little bit closer. I will say that as the President is in Washington, D.C. this weekend, at the White House, he will, of course, be closely monitoring developments in Ukraine, but he will also be, you know, working toward making a — finalizing his decision-making process as it relates to a Supreme Court justice nominee, and certainly preparing for the State of the Union as well.
So I expect as we get a little bit closer to next week, we’ll have more to say.
Q Back on Russia-Ukraine, the U.S. language seems to have changed from “imminent” to “highly likely” back to “imminent” again. Is that because you’re trying to second guess Vladimir Putin all the time, or were you closer to the escalation at one point?
MS. PSAKI: I would say that, several weeks ago, I think for maybe a day, we used the word “imminent,” and we believe we sent the wrong message; that was not intended.
Our intended message we were sending at that time was that — was that he was — it was an option or he was prepared to.
Obviously, things have developed since then. We’ve seen a rapid uptick of violations of the ceasefire agreement. We’ve seen an increase in troops building at the border. And certainly, we’ve seen an esc- — escalatory actions. That’s why our Secretary of State went to the United Nations yesterday.
So, what we’re seeing is further progress for the regression over the last several days.
Q Two questions. One, back to Congress, as you know, Senate Republicans are blocking Federal Reserve nominees and other nominees. They argue that they don’t think those Federal Reserve delays have any actual effect. How do you respond to that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say: At a time where I think everyone — most people agree that inflation and costs are the top — if not one of the top — issues for every American in the country, the argument that it wouldn’t be best to have a fully confirmed full Federal Reserve Board just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Q And then on to — on Ukraine and the idea of cyberattacks on Ukraine, can you speak to the idea of those attacks; the effect they could have on neighboring NATO countries, like Poland; and whether that kind of effect could trigger Article 5 under NATO protections or not? Does a cyberattack affecting NATO countries include kind of — the kind of language we see in the NATO defense (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m just not going to get into a hypothetical on that front. Obviously, they have a range of capacities. We work in lockstep with our NATO partners, but I’m not going to get ahead of any intended actions.
Go ahead, Jacqui.
Q Thanks, Jen. On the attempted murder of a Louisville mayoral candidate, the man who was charged with this was released on bail a couple days after this happened with the assistance of a bail fund group. Knowing that the Vice President has in the past supported bail fund groups, what is the White House reaction to this case? And should there be restrictions on which cases these bail fund groups can help, given this is attempted murder?
MS. PSAKI: I would have to dig into this further, Jacqui, and I’m happy to do that after the briefing.
Q And on Ukraine, the sanctions, we’ve learned, don’t include SWIFT, they don’t target energy, so the impacts to other countries are mitigated. You guys have attributed this cyberattack to Russia, and you’re warning that the prospect of war is — or peace, rather, is pretty dim. So, at what point do you break away from the strategy and say it’s not working and do something else — impose some of these sanctions now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we’ve talked about a little bit in here, our collective view from our national security team is that sanctions are meant to be a deterrent. They are not — if you put all of the sanctions in place now, what is stopping them from invading?
Q But are they working?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, Jacqui, I think that’s our assessment from the national security team and — you know, that we will continue to implement that strategy.
Q So you’re waiting for people to die before implementing them in that case?
MS. PSAKI: I think, Jacqui, that’s in no way a fair statement — or accusation, I guess, if that’s what that is.
What we have done and what the President has done is unite hundr- — countries around the world on a strong package that will be crippling to the Russian economy. And we have done that in a way where we have stood up for the territorial integrity of — of Ukraine, and stood with our NATO partners and Allies.
It has always been up to President Putin and Russia to determine which path they were going to take. That has not changed.
But that leadership on the world stage is what has led to a united front and united opposition to these actions.
And I would also note that regardless of what decision President Putin decides to make, one of his intended objectives, I think, as we’ve seen out there, is to divide NATO — the opposite has happened; to divide, maybe, the United States and divide leadership in the United States — the opposite has happened.
So, if that was his objective, he’s already not achieving that.
Go ahead, Patsy.
Q A question on Iran. Earlier this week, more than 170 House Republicans wrote a letter to President Biden essentially saying that any new nuclear deals with Iran will meet the same fate as the 2015 JCPOA, meaning that the next Republican administration will just nullify it. Does the administration agree with this assessment? And are you concerned that this — this may create further complication in the talks in Vienna, which some are saying, optimistically, could wrap up in mere weeks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say, first, on the talks in Vienna, they are — continue to be in the eighth round. It’s a long round, I guess we could say.
We feel substantial progress has been made in the last week and is continuing to be made, but nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed.
If Iran shows seriousness, we can and should reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA within days. Anything much beyond that would put the possibility of return to the deal at grave risk.
While I’m not, certainly, going to predict — or — what it would look like in a future Republican administration, what I think is an important reminder to everyone, regardless of your political affiliation, is what happened over the last four years after the former president pulled out of the deal, which means — we — which we know what happened, which is we lost complete visibility into their capabilities. They made a significant amount of progress, leaving us at the point we are at today, and put us in a very difficult position in order — as we try to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
So regardless of your politics, hopefully people will factor that in. As we look ahead —
Q Is the President planning to respond to the letter?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any information on the letter.
Q Another follow-up on Afghanistan, just real quick, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q There’s continued fighting between the Taliban and the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which Russia has offered to mediate. Do you have any reaction on both the conflict as well as Moscow’s offer?
MS. PSAKI: I’ll check with our national security team and see if we can get more.
3:38 P.M. EST