Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics and Deputy NEC Director Daleep Singh, February 22, 2022
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
5:23 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Good evening. Okay, well, back by popular demand, just a few days after his first engagement with us, Daleep is here. He is going to give some brief remarks at the top about the sanctions announcement today.
He has a hard out, so he’s only going to be — be able to take a few questions today, but we’re grateful to have you here. So I’ll kick it over to you.
MR. SINGH: Russia’s long-previewed invasion of Ukraine has begun and so, too, has our response. Today, the President responded swiftly and in lockstep with Allies and partners. The speed and coordination was historic. In previous sanctions regimes, it took weeks and months to mount a decisive response. This time, we announced our first tranche of sanctions in less than a day and in lockstep with Allies and partners in the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia.
Let me say a few words about the details of the package.
(A cellphone disrupts the briefing.)
MS. PSAKI: Hi. (Laughter.)
MR. SINGH: Hello. There’s no easy segue from that. (Laughter.)
Q The sanctions —
MR. SINGH: (Laughs.) Close your ears.
First, after consultations overnight with Germany, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline will not become operational. That’s an $11 billion investment in a prized gas pipeline controlled by Russia that will now go to waste, and it sacrifices what would have been a cash cow for Russia’s coffers.
But it’s not just about the money. This decision will relieve Russia’s geostrategic chokehold over Europe through its supply of gas, and it’s a major turning point in the world’s energy independence from Russia.
Second, we’ve demonstrated the potency of our financial sanctions. And make — make no mistake: This is only the sharp edge of the pain we can inflict.
In lockstep with our Allies, we’re fully blocking from the global financial system the fifth-largest Russian financial institution, V.E.B. This is a glorified piggybank for the Kremlin that holds more than $50 billion in assets.
We’re also fully blocking Promsvyazbank. This is a bank that holds $35 billion in assets that finances the activities of the Russian military.
In plain English, full — full block means these banks can no longer make any transactions with the U.S. nor with Europe, as Europe matched our actions, and their assets in our respective financial systems will be frozen.
And let me be totally clear: No Russian financial institution is safe if the invasion proceeds. We are ready to press a button to take action on the two largest Russian financial institutions, which collectively hold almost $750 billion in assets — or more than half of the total in the Russian banking system.
Third, together with our Allies, we’ve also cut off the Russian government, the Russian Central Bank, and Russian sovereign wealth funds from new financing from the U.S. and Europe. The Kremlin can no longer raise money from the U.S. or Europe, and its new debt can no longer trade on U.S. or European financial markets.
Fourth, we have fully sanctioned a group of Russian elites and their family members. These individuals share in the corrupt gains of the Kremlin, and they will now share in the pain. Other Russian elites and their family members are now on notice that additional actions could be taken on them as well.
I also want to take a minute to address a key part of the President’s speech on energy markets. We were deliberate to direct the pain of our sanctions towards the Russian economy, not ours. None of our measures are designed to disrupt the flow of energy to global markets. And we are now executing a plan in coordination with major oil producers and major oil consumers to secure the stability of global energy supplies.
Let me just end where I started: This was the beginning of an invasion, and this is the beginning of our response. The actions we took today were only the first tranche.
If Putin escalates further, we will escalate further using financial sanctions and export controls, which we’ve yet to unveil but which are fully prepared to implement with Allies and partners across the world.
Lastly, make no mistake: Our response goes well beyond sanctions and export controls. We’re continuing to fortify NATO’s eastern flank to reinforce our sacred Article 5 commitment to defend every inch of NATO territory.
Just today, the President announced that additional troops and equipment will be shifted within Europe to the Baltics. We’ll continue to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.
Already, over the past year, we’ve provided $650
billion [million] to this effect — the most of any year. And we’ll continue to work with Allies and partners to provide economic assistance to Ukraine with the ide- — idea being: We want to create a successful alternative in Ukraine to Russian-style kleptocracy, which may be Putin’s greatest fear of all.
MS. PSAKI: Josh.
MR. SINGH: Thank you.
Q Hi. Thank you. Can you speak a little bit more about the energy component? What tools do you have in the tool chest, given that there’s been an effort ongoing now for several months to control the price increases that we’re seeing for gasoline in particular? What can you do to help energy prices not spike the way that President Biden appears to worry that will?
MR. SINGH: Yeah. So this is an ongoing effort and a sensitive effort. I can give you a bit — a bit of detail on what that involves.
Number one, it involves coordinating our actions with major energy
producers [consumers]. We all have reserves at our disposal, and those reserves could help support the supply of energy worldwide.
Number two, we’re working closely with major energy producers. Many of them have — several of them have the spare capacity to provide supply to global energy markets and to balance the market in the event of any supply disruption.
Number three, we can work with energy companies to surge their capacity to supply energy to the market, particularly as prices rise.
And number four, we can be very clear that if President Putin weaponizes energy supply, it will be met with massive consequences and it will only accelerate the diversification of Europe and the world away from Russian energy.
Q And can you speak, quickly, to the decision to what seems to be delinking the sanctions? Initially, the President was signaling if there is an invasion or a further invasion that the sanctions would come full stop, one swoop. Now we’re seeing, sort of, more of a tit-for-tat approach. You’re warning here today that if President Putin goes further, so will the sanctions.
Can you walk us through that process at all? It seems like the U.S. is now breaking its sanction package into chunks, whereas the expectation had been that it would come all at once.
MR. SINGH: Yeah. Well, look, today’s package is a severe action — I walked through the elements of it — with Nord Stream, the financial sanctions, sovereign debt, and the elites.
Number two, it’s just the beginning. This was the beginning of an invasion; this is just the beginning of our response.
But number three — and this really gets to your question, I think, most fundamentally: No one should think that it’s our goal to max out on sanctions. Sanctions are not an end to themselves. They serve a higher purpose. And that purpose is to deter and prevent.
They’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv. They’re meant to prevent large-scale human suffering that could involve tens of thousands of casualties in a conflict. And they’re meant to prevent the installation of a puppet government, controlled by Moscow, that subjugates the will of Ukraine and prevents the people of Ukraine from choosing their own destiny and setting their own course. That’s what this is all about.
MS. PSAKI: Cecilia.
Q What’s it going to take to target Putin directly?
MR. SINGH: I’m not going to —
Q Why not do that today?
MR. SINGH: I’m not going to telegraph exactly what it would take and under what circumstances that would occur. But no option is off the table, as the President said.
Q But the EU President said today “this is the most dangerous moment in European security in a generation.” So if not today, when? What?
MR. SINGH: Look, as I say, we mounted a very significant response today; we can escalate that response further. There are a number of actions we can take using financial sanctions, export controls, fortifying our eastern flank, helping Ukraine defend itself, helping each other deal with the costs and consequences of Russia’s invasion, and, most importantly, having a shared confidence among Allies in our way of life, our economic model, our political model.
If Russia wants to sequester itself from Western technology, the Western economy, and from Western financial markets, that is a bad strategic choice for Russia. But we’re going to step up in solidarity to advance our values and principles.
MS. PSAKI: Zeke.
Q Thanks. You mentioned that sanctions are meant to deter and prevent, but the fact of the matter is the sanctions you’re announcing today and announced last night did not deter or prevent Russia’s actions yesterday and over the weekend. What gives you any confidence that the remaining sanctions that haven’t been imposed yet can deter or prevent a further Russian invasion and aggression in Ukraine?
MR. SINGH: Well, look, it’s — it’s day one. And President Putin has choices to make; we have choices to make. Our job is to manage risks and to impose consequences for a further escalation of this conflict by President Putin.
We can do that through financial sanctions. We can do that through export controls. We can do that through fortifying NATO’s eastern flank. We can do that through providing defensive assistance to Ukraine. We can do that by being prepared for any energy market impact that occurs from Russia’s choices. Those are the choices that are within our disposal.
And let me just take a step back and talk about sanctions. You know, we have principles that matter in terms of how we design a sanctions package. They need to be powerful enough to demonstrate our resolve and the capacity to impose overwhelming costs. They should be calibrated such that we can maximize coordination with our Allies and partners. They should maintain flexibility so we can escalate or deescalate depending on what Putin does. They should be responsible so that we avoid unwanted spillovers to the U.S. and global economy. And they need to be sustainable. They work over time, not on day one.
MS. PSAKI: Weijia is going to have to be the last one.
Q Mr. Singh, can you tell us why Putin himself was not sanctioned?
Q Okay. Thank you. So just to follow up —
MS. PSAKI: I think —
Q I mean, I know you’re trying to explain —
MS. PSAKI: Weijia is going to ask a question. Simon, you got —
Q — because when you are doing it by —
MS. PSAKI: Simon, you got a question last week. So we’re just trying to diversify it a little bit.
Q Yeah, I just wanted to —
Q Can we have an answer to that one, though?
MS. PSAKI: Simon, can you let Weijia ask a question? Thank you. Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you. I know that you just talked about all the actions that you’re taking to counter any oil shortages that might drive up gas prices. But today, the President himself was very blunt about how they could impact Americans. So can you just give us a sense of when Americans might feel a difference when they fill up their gas tanks?
And then, secondly, to follow up on what Zeke was just asking, both you and the President said today that these sanctions will be in response, will be — if Putin escalates, you will escalate. So that sounds like they are going to be in response now and not meant to deter. So do you still view them as being a deterrence, or are they just a punishment at this point?
MR. SINGH: Yeah. So the first question on energy markets and the impact of our actions and when they’ll take effect in markets: Look, again, I — I don’t want to go into specifics, but there are actions that energy consumers can take with their strategic reserves. There are actions that energy producers can take in terms of their spare capacity. There are actions that energy producers can undertake to increase their production of energy in the current circumstance.
And I’m not going to give you a timeline, but the collective power of those actions and all the other tools and authorities that are at our disposal, plus diplomatic maneuvers that are at — that are at our disposal — collectively, we think, will be effective in bringing down the price of gas and the price of oil.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you, Daleep. Thank you so much for joining us. He will come back, I promise. And I promised he would not be too late for his meeting. So thank you so much for joining us.
Okay. I apologize to those of you who did not get questions from Daleep. We will have him back, and we will make him available in other capacities as well to all of you.
I have one very unrelated no- — but still very important item for you at the top, and then we’ll get back to our discussion.
Today in Arizona, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the Interior Department’s plan to fulfill settlements of Indian water rights claims using historic funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The Infrastructure Law provides $2.5 billion to implement the Indian Water Rights Settlement Completion Fund, which will help deliver long-promised water resources to Tribes and a foundation for future economic development for entire communities dependent on common water resources.
Following feedback from the Tribal consul- — from Tribal consultations, the Department will allocate $1.7 billion this year alone from the Infrastructure Law to enact — to enacted settlements that have outstanding federal payments necessary to complete their terms.
With that, Zeke, why don’t you kick us off. And we will get around to as many people as possible, and I realize it’s already late. Go ahead.
MS. PSAKI: Thanks, Jen. If you could walk through the events of the last 24 hours. Last night, a senior administration official on a background call with reporters briefed — a briefing on the administration’s response and said that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014 and that Russian troops moving into the Donbas would not in and of — would not — it would not itself be a new step and didn’t use the word “invasion.”
This morning, the Deputy National Security Advisor said “invasion,” and the President is using “invasion.”
What changed in the last 24 hours? What did you see on the ground that changed the U.S. government’s assessment of what is actually happening in eastern Ukraine?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. Well, I’m not going — I know this isn’t exactly what you’re asking. But just to set the precedent here, I’m not going to be confirming military movements from the podium now or at any point probably. But what I can tell you is what we looked at is the events of the last less than 24 hours, Zeke. Right? And what we have seen is President Putin setting up a rationale to take more territory by force.
What we’re basing that on — including the comments of the Deputy National Security Advisor this morning and then the President’s comments later in the afternoon — is a couple of things: One, Vladimir Putin announced yesterday that he was basically planning to carve out a chunk of Ukraine by recognizing two regions of Ukraine as independent. He brazenly asserted these regions are no longer part of Ukrainian sovereign territory. Last night, he authorized Russian forces to deploy into these regions. Today, he sought authorizations — authorization from the Duma for the Russian military to use force outside of Russian territory. And today, he asserted that these regions actually extend deeper into Ukraine, claiming larger areas currently under jurisdiction of the Ukrainian government.
So, what we’re seeing there — and as for anybody who read or paid attention to his lengthy speech last night — is the rationale to go much further. That is what we are also watching very closely.
And this com- — for this combination of reasons, we see this as the beginning of a further invasion of Ukraine. But we look at and we assess over the course of a short period of time.
Q And — but right now, could you say whether or not the U.S. government believes that there’s been additional deployments of Russian forces — active forces — across the border into Ukraine? They’ve been there for years, but additional forces.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into military assessments of military movements from here.
Q And then on a separate topic, the President — Daleep talked to this as well — warned Americans over the last several weeks that they have to — they should be prepared to bear the cost of standing up for Ukraine’s sovereignty. And, you know, there’s been a lot of conversation about this. And I was hoping you could maybe speak to — clarify this a little bit: Why should Americans, you know, feel that they have to — you know, that is a cost that they should have to bear and that should affect their lives? And how much should they be prepared for this, you know, geopolitical crisis to impact their day-to-day living?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what, hopefully, the American people who are tuning into this or have been tuning into this will see is that the President of the United States and his entire national security apparatus have been rallying the world and standing up against the efforts of Russia to invade and take — and carve out a chunk of another country for their own. And that is — the world is standing with the United States against the actions of President Putin.
Now, why does that matter? I realize that’s what you’re asking me. Why does that matter to the American people? That should matter because that is a fundamental value that we, as a country, stand up for, and we stand up against that type of action. That goes back to World War Two. And we have repeatedly throughout history been leaders in the world in rallying support
for [against] any efforts to seize territory from another country.
What the — when the President spoke to the American people last week, it was very important to him to be very direct and clear and straightforward with them about what this could mean as we looked to what the impact of an invasion could mean and also what the impact of sanctions could mean, and the fact that standing up for values is not without cost, including in this case — including, potentially, in this scenario.
Now, as Daleep just conveyed, what the President has said to his national security team is he wants to leave no stone unturned. He wants them to take every step possible to tap into the resources of global suppliers, to present to him any option that will reduce the impact on the American people. And even as he’s looking at sanctions, he is taking that into account.
But this is about standing up for American values and making — and he wanted to make clear to them what impact that could have.
Q Thank you, Jen. Given what Secretary Blinken just announced about his meeting with Lavrov on Thursday, is a summit between the President and Putin out of the question now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’re never going to completely close the door to diplomacy, and I don’t think the Secretary of State did that either.
But just to build on what he just said, diplomacy can’t succeed unless Russia changes course. And as he said, it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to have a meeting with his counterpart at this point in time — Foreign Minister Lavrov. And it was always intended that any engagement with President Putin would follow that.
So, at this point, that is certainly not in the plans.
Q And what would — what would it take to get that conversation back to the table — to reconsider a meeting between the two leaders?
MS. PSAKI: Well, de-escalation.
Q Which —
MS. PSAKI: That’s what it would take.
Q Which — which — how do you define that?
MS. PSAKI: “De-escalation” means moving troops. It means de-escalating from what the steps they continue to take on a daily basis appear to be.
Q And then a second topic, quickly.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q How many Supreme Court nominees has the President interviewed by this point?
MS. PSAKI: (Winks at the press.) (Laughter.) That was a wink.
I appreciate your question.
Q Does that mean three?
MS. PSAKI: I understand, Weijia, why you’re asking. We are, of course, a very short period of time away from the end of the month of February. The President has not made a decision about who he is going to nominate, but I’m not — still not going to get into details about the internal process.
Q Okay. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: More to tell soon.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Thank you, Jen. The President said in the spring that Pentagon generals had briefed him that the greatest threat facing America is global warming. Is that still the assessment now that we are facing down a potential cyber war with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I — let me first say: There is no — while we are always prepared for any threat that any outside entity or country poses to the United States as it relates to cyber or anything else, there is no current pending threat on — as it relates to cyber.
In terms of the threats you’re — you’re touching on, that was a briefing from the military, so I’d point you to them.
Q And so, as far as anybody watching who’s seen the coverage, it’s very — at times, distressing images of Russian military movements — the number-one threat facing the country right now remains global warming?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Peter, I think it’s important, as we’re all educating the public here, to convey and reiterate: The President has no intention of sending U.S. troops into Ukraine to fight in Ukraine. What we are doing is we are abiding by our obligations to our NATO Allies and partners to ensure that they have the support and the resources that they need. And that is our right and our obligation as the United States.
Q Okay. And why do you guys think that sanctions are going to stop Putin if his goal ultimately is to redraw the map so it looks like it did 70 or 80 years ago? What sanction is going to stop him from doing that?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, just to kind of reiterate maybe something you touched on there — for anyone who watched his speech last night, what he made clear in that speech is that he doesn’t even necessarily — or doesn’t recognize the independence of Ukraine as a country. And that certainly gives us an indication of where his intentions are at this point in time.
Sanctions can be a powerful tool. They have been in a lot of moments throughout history. And what we view them as — or how we’re viewing them as we’re starting high, as Daleep just conveyed here, in terms of the significance and the severity of the sanctions that were announced today — yes, our intention is to have a deterrent effect. And there are — while what they have done to date is completely unacceptable, there are certainly far worse that could happen. What we want to do is prevent a large-scale invasion — death and destruction across Ukraine, devastation to the Ukrainian people.
And that what happens with the sanctions is they work over time. They’re not an end. They’re not intended to max out at the beginning. They’re long-lasting and sustainable, and they’re intended to squeeze.
But if you look at what is happening now, what President Putin has stated as his intention is he wants to divide NATO. The opposite of that has happened, Peter. He also wanted to — a geopolitical project, Nord Stream 2, to go forward; that has not happened. He wants to make sure there is a vibrant economy for the Russian people; they’re not on that track.
So, his intentions and his objectives are not playing out.
Q But so, I guess, to follow up on that: The President said before he got here that “Putin knows, if I am President of the United States, his days of tyranny and trying to intimidate the United States and those in Eastern Europe are over.” It’s two and a half years later. He is intimidating the United States and those in Eastern Europe. What happened?
MS. PSAKI: I’d hardly put it that way. I would look at it, actually, from the prism of: The United States and President Biden has rallied the world, rallied Europe to stand up against the efforts and the actions of President Putin.
Q You don’t think people who are totally strapped for cash —
MS. PSAKI: And we — we’ve laid out very clearly exactly —
Q — right now are intimidated by $4 gas, $5 gas, however high you guys think it’s going to go? Something like that is not intimidating?
MS. PSAKI: You asked me if we were intimidated by President Putin, and I think the evidence of that doesn’t exist.
Go ahead, Kristen.
Q Thank you, Jen. If I can try one more time —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — on sanctions.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q The President of Ukraine on Saturday urged — called on the United States and its Allies to impose the toughest sanctions. And as all of these questions suggest, President Putin doesn’t seem to be deterred at this point. Why not choke him — Russia — out financially right now as a way to try to stop him?
MS. PSAKI: Well, here’s how we and our national security team looks at sanctions — it’s a very good question; I think it’s actually a different one than what was asked — is we look at them through a couple of — for a couple of purposes.
One, not that they are going to be an end on their own. Just the announcement of sanctions is not — is not going to have the immediate impact. They’re not intended to work that way.
They’re not — we’re not — they’re not intended to max out at the beginning. This is why we’ve always intended to have a range of sanctions, steps that we could plus-up to or escalate to if his behavior and his actions continue to be escalatory.
And also, if we do all the sanctions now, what is the deterrent effect or impact of preventing him to take further action? That is what — the conversation we’ve been in with the global community, and that is how we’ve been approaching it to date.
Q Senator Lindsey Graham says President Biden is “missing the moment.” Does he run the risk of being too cautious here with this tranche approach?
MS. PSAKI: We — in what capacity is he missing the moment? What did Senator Graham say?
Q Lindsey Gra- — I’ll read you the entire —
MS. PSAKI: Okay, go ahead.
Q — quote. “This is a critical moment in history…. President Biden is NOT seizing the moment. The sanctions outlined are woefully inadequate to deter Putin’s” —
MS. PSAKI: Did he say that before or after we announced the sanctions?
Q He’s been saying this consistently.
MS. PSAKI: Well, look, I think it’s an important question because what we — what the President announced was the sanctioning of two enormous financial system — institutions that is essentially going to make it more difficult for people close to President Putin and in the Russian elite to do business. And this is just the beginning.
Q When do you think they’ll start to feel the impact? When will they feel the bite?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’re going to be imp- — they’re going to be implemented immediately. So, obviously, it takes some time, but our effort and our focus is on implementing them immediately.
Q And going back to President Biden’s statement that he wants to mitigate the impact on Americans: Can you tell Americans how much pain will they feel with this first tranche?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what we’re looking at here, Kristen is, of course, the impact on natural gas
producers [consumers] primarily is in Europe, and we’re working to help them too, but also on the oil markets.
And, obviously, there are many additional steps that President Putin could take, and what we’re seeing is that he has every intention of taking. So, I can’t give you a projection of that. Some of it depends on what the actions are.
Q But do you think Americans will feel the impact in the coming weeks of these round — this round of sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: Again, it really depends on what the steps are. What — what was announced today was significant sanctions on Russian elite and on financial institutions there.
The people who will be largely impacted are in Russia on those.
Q If I could just try one more. SWIFT — not in this initial rollout.
MS. PSAKI: In the ini- — not in the initial tranche, but remains on the table.
Q Will it be in the next rollout if there needs to be another rollout?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t give you a prediction of that. But again, we have a range of options that remain on the table significant — that would have a significant and devastating impact on the Russian economy.
We’ve already seen, in the Russian economy, the impact on inflation there and on the markets there of the expectation of these — of these sanctions, but all of those options remain on the table, and I can’t make a prediction of what’s next.
Q Jen, the President today used words like “bizarre” and “twisted” to describe Putin’s remarks. Does the administration believe — on what they saw in his speech yesterday or in the last 24 hours, if you will — that Putin has shown some kind of change in his state of mind, in his demeanor?
MS. PSAKI: I wouldn’t say we’d characterize it that way, Cecilia. I mean, if you — for those of you who read or watched his speech last night — which was rife with historical inaccuracy, of course — he made clear that he does not view Ukraine — not just the areas he recognized yesterday, but the totality of Ukraine — as an independent country.
And he did — and he conveyed that by providing a lot of revisionist history details that are not aligned with what has happened over the last few decades.
Now, we’ve seen some of that rhetoric, if you look back — back to 2008, and even before then. But it is indicative of, you know, of his own belief that he has the right as — of Russia — and he has the right to take the territory, to claim territory from another country. And we just don’t agree with that, obviously.
Q And if sanctions don’t work, then what? What else is in the toolbelt at the President’s disposal at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Well, sanctions can take a number of formats. Right? Export controls is certainly one of them. There’s many more sanctions that we have at our disposal.
SWIFT — the SWIFT system is obviously significant and not in the first tranche. But there’s a range of options that remain on the table for sanctions.
And again, as Daleep conveyed, but I think this is an important component for — to — to know is that they’re not intended to have an impact on the fir- — the harshest impact on the first day. They’re attempted — they’re planned or they’re designed to have a squeezing impact over the course of time. And we have many more escalatory steps that we could take.
Q Jen, do you have specific agreements with countries, exporters to ensure Europe has a steady supply of gas? Or is that still a work in progress?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand your question. As Daleep said, it’s a very — at a very sensitive time in the process right now. But what we’re doing right now is talking both to major natural gas producers to understand their capacity and willingness to surge nat- — natural gas output, which of course is a regional issue that would have an impact in Europe, and also talking, as he said, to a range of producers to — to help assess — or help reduce the market impact and the impact on the American public. But I just can’t outline any more details on it from here.
Q When you talk about the American — the impact that you’re — on the American public, you mean, specifically, Americans should expect higher gasoline prices.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, energy prices. Exactly.
MS. PSAKI: That’s — that’s what we want the American public to be aware is a possibility.
Q And are you announcing more oligarchs tomorrow? Is that the plan?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time. But I can certainly check if there’s another tranche coming tomorrow. Absolutely.
Q Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Jen, given that the President stressed today that diplomacy is still available but now the Blinken-Lavrov meeting is off, you just said, this future summit between the President and Putin is not in the plans anymore — can you help paint a picture of what exactly diplomacy looks like in terms of dealing with Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first, we still — the door to diplomacy still remains open. And it just — as I think our foreign — our Secretary of State conveyed, it isn’t the appropriate time, as Russia is taking escalatory steps and preparing to invade, for him to meet with the foreign minister.
And it had always been the intention that any engagement with President Putin would be discussed there and potentially (inaudible) there. But there were never any specific plans or timeline, really, in the works for that. So, it was really going to be discussed at that meeting.
What diplomacy looks like: One, we’re going to continue to engage with our European partners, of course, and we will continue to remain open to — to having diplomatic conversations once — if and when they de-escalate.
Q Diplomatic conversations — so, certainly between President Biden and President Putin in the future?
MS. PSAKI: Well, of course, that remains an option. And as we’ve said, I think, over the course of the last few days, he’s always going to be open to having leader-to-leader conversations, but this isn’t the time to do it when — and we said this at the time as well — when they are — when President Putin is overseeing the invasion of a sovereign country.
Q And just quickly, what is the U.S. assessment right now of Russian invasion into Kyiv? Is that considered an immediate danger right now?
MS. PSAKI: It con- — it is considered — I’m not going to give you a timeline, but it’s considered a real possibility, yes.
Q For weeks, Jake Sullivan and other top officials have said that the administration and the White House has learned the lessons of 2014, and you will enact — in sanctions, you will enact “start high and stay high,” rather than gradually escalate.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
Q As you talk about the chunks and different trenches, it seems you are doing the opposite. Why is that the approach that you’re taking —
MS. PSAKI: Not true, actually. We actually didn’t sanction these type of financial institutions back in 2014.
Q Right. But just more of the broad —
MS. PSAKI: And it took several weeks to sanction these types of institutions.
Q But more in terms of the theory of the case — that instead of doing it in pieces, where you start and then continue to add on, the lessons that Jake and others have signaled was that you “start high and stay high,” instead of doing it more piecemeal.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s exactly what we’re doing. So, the announcement that was made today about these financial institutions is more significant that was — than what was done in 2014. And we would only build further from here. So, that is starting high and staying high.
Q What Russian actions would trigger the fullest extent of U.S. sanctions?
MS. PSAKI: I’m just not going to detail what exact reaction will be to each action. Obviously, we have a range of options at our disposal. They’re — all remain on the table, and our preference is, of course, de-escalation, not instituting more sanctions.
Q Is the administration confident that sanctions and export controls can or will be enough to turn to deter Putin?
And can you go into any more detail about what those export controls might look like?
MS. PSAKI: I can’t go into specific — more specifics. Just a range of options are on the table. And obviously, export control actions would have a significant additional impact on the economy there.
In terms of — tell me your first part of your question again?
Q Oh, yeah. Just is the administration confident that sanctions and export controls can deter Putin? Are they enough?
MS. PSAKI: Well, part of what sanctions are is — they’re intended to be a deterrent, but they’re also intended to have a squeezing, significant impact on the economy that is felt over a sustainable period of time that makes it more difficult to continue those behaviors and those actions.
They’re not — they’re not intended or designed to be an end when they’re initially announced. So that — those are the range of options we have at our disposal, and there will continue to be a growing impact.
Q Thanks. The President said last week that he was hoping to, maybe, work with Congress on some sort of proposal to address energy prices. Is that still on the table or is this focus now on sort of diplomacy with producers and consumers?
MS. PSAKI: All is on the table.
Q And what might that look like?
MS. PSAKI: Discussions with Congress?
Q Yeah. Would it be in the form of legislation to lower prices? I mean, what kind of policies is —
MS. PSAKI: That is an option, but I don’t have anything to detail for you at this point in time.
Q And then, on another subject, the U.S. and several countries are close to reaching a nuclear deal with Iran. What’s the likelihood of an agreement, you know, this week, in your view? And would the U.S. agree to a deal that does not include the release of U.S. and British prisoners held by Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me — let me start with your second question because this is a really important one. But the discussions on unjustly detained and innocent Americans remains separate from the JCPOA talks. Special Envoy Malley has reiterated, “…it’s very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal” — or agreeing to kind of a new iteration of the deal, to the point of your question — “while four innocent Americans” — and others — “are being held hostage by Iran.”
It’s really a matter of urgency to bring the detainees home, and we want it to be resolved immediately. But it is happening from a — through a separate channel — those conversations.
In terms of the status of the JCPOA talks, we have made substantial progress — or substantial progress has been made over the last week or so, and is continuing to be made. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And so, until then, I’m not going to give you a rosy assessment. But it is, of course, good that substantial progress has been made. If Iran shows seriousness, we believe we can and should reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA.
Q And just real quick, is the President concerned at all about the convoy of truckers that is making its way to Washington? And has he taken any sort of steps to protect the city?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, we’ve actually been monitoring this closely. The Department of Homeland Security and the administration are tracking reports of a potential convoy that may be planning to travel to several U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C.
We have been working, including from Dr. Liz Sherwood-Randall here, as well as our Homeland Security Department with — closely with our federal, state, and local partners to continuously assess the threat environment and keep our communities safe.
And our efforts include enhanced intelligence sharing, a Critical Incident Response Plan for the U.S. Capitol, a regional security assessment, and a simulation experiment that developed data-driven recommendations to bolster regional security.
So, we are closely monitoring, closely watching, and working with state and local authorities.
Q Great. First, I just want to thank everybody — I know it’s late — who is — we’re limiting our questions so that more people can —
MS. PSAKI: Yes, sure.
Q So, I appreciate that.
MS. PSAKI: And if anybody needs to go for a hit or anything, nobody will take it personally. I know some people have.
Q So, one question, of course, on Ukraine, first of all: Daleep said just now that today’s sanction package is, quote, “just the beginning of it.” Does that mean if nothing changes, you expect more sanctions? Or what does that mean “just the beginning of it”?
MS. PSAKI: It means we have a range of additional options that we have the ability to take. And if President Putin continues to escalate, so will we.
Q And then on — looking to the State of the Union, when was the last time President Biden spoke to a member of Congress about any item in the Build Back Better agenda?
MS. PSAKI: He has a range of conversations all the time, but I’m not going to detail the timeline of those for you.
Q Thanks, Jen. When can we expect a more detailed explanation from the White House about how it would plan to bring down energy prices?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, as Daleep just conveyed, a lot of what’s happening right now is sensitive. It includes conversations with foreign counterparts and other major large global suppliers. It also includes conversations we’re continuing to have with Congress and others about what steps may be at our disposal. And the President is continuing to consider options. So I expect we’ll have more to tell you when — if any decisions are made.
Q And given what we have heard publicly from the Russians in the last several days, what level of concern does the White House have that the conflict could spill over out of Ukraine and into some of the other nations that the U.S. has vowed to protect militarily and are part of NATO?
MS. PSAKI: Well, without making any prediction of that, what I can tell you is that one of the steps we’ve taken, including an announcement that the Department of Defense made today about a plussing-up of an additional 800 personnel to the Baltic region from Italy, is that we take our commitments to our NATO Allies and partners seriously, and we are going to continue to take steps to plus up their support and ensure that they know that they have the backing of the United States. But I’m not going to make any other predictions of that.
Q Thanks a lot. The NSC’s Brett McGurk–
(A noise interrupts the briefing.)
MS. PSAKI: That was a little scary.
Q The NSC’s Brett McGurk and the State Department’s Amos Hochstein — I hope I didn’t butcher it too much.
MS. PSAKI: Hochstein. But it’s okay. Yes.
Q Hochstein. Thank you. I just wanted to ask: What concrete assurances were they able to secure on managing potential market pressures from Saudi Arabia?
MS. PSAKI: I certainly understand the question. We did confirm that they went on a trip. And they discussed a range of issues, including Yemen, but also including steps to take to — steps we can all take to coordinate and reduce the impact on the global market on oil — of oil. But I can’t detail anything further from here.
Q If one of the objectives is not to disrupt global energy flows, and energy prices are high and rising, how can Russia’s bottom line really be hurt if you don’t disrupt global (inaudible) flows?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think Russia’s bottom line can be hurt in a lot of ways, including the range of sanctions we’ve already announced today and additional sets of sanctions that we have at our disposal should they choose, whether it’s sanctioning additional individuals or taking more significant steps that would real- — would impact their financial market.
So, there’s no question we have a range of tools that could continue to have crippling impacts on the Russian economy.
Q But so much of their revenue comes from oil and energy.
MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re saying. But we also have a range of tools that could impact a range of their financial mar- — have huge financial market impacts.
And the President is also looking at and we’re all assessing what steps we can take that will have a crippling impact on them while reducing the impact on the American public.
Q Thanks, Jen. I’m just trying to get a better idea of what the administration deems to be an “escalation” on the part of Russia. And, two — and what would prompt an additional tranche of sanctions? Would it only be the expansion of Russian forces to non-occupied republics or areas of Ukraine, or would it be the continued deployment of forces to the two separatist regions that were detailed yesterday?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think as we’ve seen — as you have seen, hopefully — as Russia has taken any escalatory steps, we have taken escalatory steps on our end in the form of sanctions. And so, I’m not going to outline for you, “If this, then then.”
But I think if — for those of you, again, who watched the speech last night, the President — President Putin direct — attacked Ukraine’s right to exist. He explicitly threatened war unless his extreme demands were met. He gave an entire speech selling a war to the Russian people.
Our expectation — and we hope we are wrong — is that he will continue to take escalatory actions and further invade the country, and we will take additional steps in response.
Q Is the administration preparing any sort of measures for Ukrainians already in the United States, such as TPS or any other sort of immigration protections, for those who might not want to go back (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I don’t — obviously those decisions or assessments are made by the Department of Homeland Security. I can’t make a prediction of that at this point in time.
Obviously, what we are doing on the ground is trying to provide a range of economic, humanitarian, and security assistance to the Ukrainian government.
I understand you’re asking about people who are here. And obviously we are preparing for the potential for major humanitarian outflows that could go into Europe and have a range of needs, and so that is also something we are closely tracking.
We are also pre- — poised to increase our support to the people of Ukraine should additional humanitarian needs arise. Our response would be based on assessment of the needs, our partners’ emergency appeals, in coordination with our European allies and partners.
But we are assessing the humanitarian assi- — situation on the ground very closely, and we’re going to continue engage with Allies and partners about any humanitarian needs that escalate and refugee outflows if they are to continue to occur.
Q Given we’re getting close to the deadline, just — are SCOTUS interviews done at this point? I know it’s all in process and it’s —
MS. PSAKI: I know.
Q But, you know, are they done at this point?
MS. PSAKI: The long national process will soon be over, Zolan. That’s the good news.
I’m not going to detail the status. But I can tell you that the President has not made a decision yet, but we remain on track for him to make a decision and make an announcement before the end of the month.
Q Thanks, Jen. I know you said you didn’t like military questions too much. But —
MS. PSAKI: No, I love military questions. I’m just not going to outline military movements from here.
Q Yeah. Okay. Okay. Okay, fine. Because, you know, one — one kind of salient aspect to this whole thing has been actually openness of the U.S. in giving military details about what the Russians are up to, so I’m wondering if you can go a little further with that.
It seems important — that people don’t really understand, like, these — you know, the so-called peacekeepers, like, how many are there? Are they in Donbas now? Is it a handful of people? Is it a few guys with, like, you know, jeeps, or is it tons of tanks, missiles? I don’t think Americans really have a good idea of what it is — what this invasion actually consists of right now.
MS. PSAKI: Sure. And I appreciate —
Q So if you can say anything on that.
And another question would be: There’s obviously no U.S. trainers in Ukraine anymore. Will this training — military training relationship continue in a third country?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. On the second, I would point to the Department of Defense, who’s best equipped to answer that question.
On the first: It’s a really important one. You know, I think it’s important for the American public, who may be just tuning in, to know that there has been a military — Russian military presence in Ukraine since back to 2014, which they never admitted, they never acknowledged. In some ways, they’ve only recently acknowledged.
Back in 2014 and in the years after, we called them “the little green men” because they were not in Russian military uniform. Now we know that they are all over eastern Ukraine. And they are — while not in uniform, they are behaving just like Russian military would be behaving.
So that is something — I can’t give you a number or specifics from here because I can’t get into intelligence.
But it is important for the American people to know that — that regardless of whether they’re in uniform or not, they’ve been there since 2014. They are representing the Russian government. They are separatists who are — we probably should stop calling them “peacekeepers” because they are certainly not that — who are, you know, helping to lay the predicate for war. And that is what the purpose of a lot of them is there for.
Q Okay, but did anything change in the last 24 hours? I think that’s — that’s really the question.
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I’m not going to — I’m not going to be able to give you any additional assessment of that at this point in time from here. But I understand your question, and we’ll continue to work to give you more.
Q Thanks, Jen. Two quick questions on Nord Stream 2. The first is: The deputy director just said that stopping Nord Stream 2 relieved Europe of a “geostrategic chokehold” that Russia would have had on them. So, if Nord Stream 2 going online was such a threat, why, in May, did the President waive sanctions on the company and the chief executive behind it?
And my second question is: Is there a concern that Nord Stream 2 — if Russia were to make concessions or retreat in some way, that that might open up the door to Nord Stream 2 going back online? Or is it your understanding that it is dead no matter what Russia does?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would first say that, you know, the President has never been a supporter of Nord Stream 2. We’ve always criticized it as a — as a project that we didn’t support. We took a range of steps and sanctions — including sanctions, to make that very clear.
What — the announcement made by the German Chancellor today was not by accident; it was at the conclusion of a range of diplomatic engagements and efforts by the President and members of our national security team, in unity from the Europeans, about the fact that this could not move forward. We’ve never felt — the President didn’t feel that issuing pre-emptive sanctions on that was the right step to take.
But look where we are: Nord Stream 2 is not moving forward. And, by the way, it hasn’t been operational anyway. So, you know, that’s a fact; it’s not moving forward at this point in time.
In terms of the future, we’ve never felt it was a good project. We’ve been clear about that. And that assessment I don’t expect would change in the future.
Q Thank you, Jen. Does the White House any — have any reaction to former President Trump calling Putin’s move yesterday “genius” and “smart”?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as a matter of policy, we try not to take advice from anyone who praises President Putin and his military strategy, which I believe is what happened there; expresses an openness to lifting sanctions about the seizing of territory in Crimea; or, at any point in time, told leaders of the G7 that Crimea is a part of Russia, regardless if they are a former president.
So, there’s a bit of a different tactic, a bit of a different approach. And that’s probably why President Biden, and not his predecessor, was able to rally the world and the global community in taking steps against — against Russia’s aggression.
Q Is there any fear that statements like that could turn support for Ukraine into a more partisan issue among the U.S. public?
MS. PSAKI: By the former president?
MS. PSAKI: I — you know, I think that is up to members of the Republican Party to make the decision, to make the determination.
It has — there is a long history, decades of history — which President Biden was a part of when he was Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee — of standing up to the efforts of any country to seize the territory of another country, standing up for efforts by the United States to rally global support against — against inappropriate and illegal actions by another country.
There’s a long history of that — not in a partisan way, in a bipartisan way — and certainly that choice is up to Republicans to make — to determine.
Q Thank you, Jen. I’ve got two questions quickly. The administration rolled out a list of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and elites. My question is: Are any of them being sanctioned for the first time, or are these, sort of, repeat bad offenders?
MS. PSAKI: That’s a good question. I’m sure we can get you a breakdown of that. I believe some of them are new, and certainly the banks are new. But let us get you a more specific breakdown of that.
Q And then my second question is: The last time Jake Sullivan was here, he said that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would lead to U.S. sanctions, warning that that would necessarily make Moscow more beholden to Beijing. Obviously, both of those foreign powers aren’t exactly the most friendly to us. So, is the administration taking any steps or issuing any warnings to keep those geopolitical foes from, you know, aligning together and marching in lockstep?
MS. PSAKI: Well, long before the events of the last few months, we saw China and Russia moving closer together in some capacity. But, right now, as we’re looking at the actions of President Putin and the — as we’re preparing for him to further invade Ukraine, to unfortunately put forward death and destruction on the country and the people of Ukraine, it’s really a question for China on whether they look at that and think that’s acceptable behavior.
So, I think you saw that our Secretary of State had a conversation with his counterpart in the last 24, 48 hours. And we will certainly remain and continue to engage, but I think it’s about looking at where the global community is in this moment and determining where you want to stand.
La- — okay, go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jen. I wanted to ask about rapid COVID tests.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Do you have an update at this point on how many you’ve shipped and how many you have under contract?
MS. PSAKI: I believe we do, but I’m going to have to get that to you after the briefing. We have — let me get that to you after the briefing because I think we have some updated numbers on that.
I think we’re going to have to wrap up shortly here.
Q Can I ask you one more?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead, in the back.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Jen. I — I’m sorry. I had to step out —
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay.
Q — for a live shot for a moment. But — so if somebody asked this question, I’m sorry. But I would like to clarify what Daleep said at the beginning.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q He said that Nord Stream 2 will go to waste now. So, do you have assurance from Germany that it’s — the decision to cancel the project is final, or it’s still reversible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would really — I don’t have anything to build on beyond what — the strong statements and the strong comments of the Chancellor this morning and the President’s own statements about how it would not move forward.
Okay. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Q Thank you.
Q Thank you, Jen.
(Remote camera clicks repeatedly.) (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: There’s a ghost photographer in the walls. (Laughs.) Where is Doug Mills? Is he back there? (Laughter.)
6:13 P.M. EST