James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:33 P.M. EST

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  Happy Wednesday.  Are we Wednesday?  Yes.  Okay.  We have a graphic here today because it’s been awhile since we’ve had a graphic, so I wanted to deliver on that. 

So, as you all know, we announced our first tranche of sanctions in less — less than a day after the beginning of the invasion, with Allies and partners from the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Australia.

And what I — we wanted to provide to all of you today is an overview of what we’re seeing as an impact on the Russian economy.  Obviously, the bite of these sanctions has not taken place yet, so this is largely in anticipation. 

So, let me just go through a couple of these points:

Borrowing costs for the Russian government has spiked to almost 11 percent — highest since 2015.

Foreign investors are fleeing Russia.

The Ruble is trading at its weakest level since November 2020 — one of the weakest currencies in the world.

In response to inflation risk, the Russian Central Bank has hiked rates eight times in the past year to 9.5 percent.

And Bloomberg reported — just going to cite Bloomberg there — that “The fortunes of Russia’s super-rich have tumbled $32 billion this year, with the escalating conflict in Ukraine poised to make that wealth destruction much larger.”

So, as I started off saying, this is before the bite even takes place.  And this is just after the beginning.  I mean, we’ve only had, obviously, a first tranche here.  But it’s — this is a vicious feedback loop that will get more severe if Putin doesn’t escalate [deescalate]. 

So, as he’s looking at the impact on his own economy, on his rich and wealthy oligarch friends, and on the people of Russia, these are the facts, regardless of what you’re hearing from the Kremlin, about the impact.

Also, I just wanted to note, because I know that we put out these sanctions when a lot was happening yesterday — just wanted to give you a little bit more detail of them.  Obviously, you, hopefully, have seen the announcement and the statement from the President about Nord Stream 2.  We can come back to that, but that is an additional step today. 

And also, on banks and the announcement we made yesterday, what we did was we used our most powerful sanctions tool to target two major state-owned Russian banks for the first time; that is the significance.  These banks can no longer — what it means is they can no longer make any transactions with the United States or Europe, and their assets in the financial system will be frozen. 

They are the glorified piggybanks — some of the glorified piggybanks for the Kremlin, including one of them which is a key financial institution where — where support — military finances has been held.  And this will have a significant impact on Russian leadership and the inner circle because they’re state-owned control — banks controlled by them. 

We also were clear yesterday — but again, there was a lot going on, so I just wanted to touch on this — on this lightly — that no financial institution is safe.  And the authority that was announced yesterday means that we can expand this to other financial institutions in Russia.  And we have every capability and capacity to do that. 

Second, we made an announcement about sovereign debt.  And essentially, this means — I know there’s been a lot of — some commentary out there — some from Russia, of course — that they have a rainy-day fund.  A rainy-day fund is limited.  A rainy-day funds mean you can only tap into it until the rainy-day fund is done. 

The ability to purchase sovereign debt means that you can gain access to additional funding.  And what we are essentially doing is cutting off their ability to — to tap into that from the United States and Europe. 

Finally, on elites, what is significant about this — and somebody asked me this question about what’s different.  So, some of the people who were sanctioned yesterday are repeat people that we have sanctioned in the past.  But the additional step we took was that we sanctioned family members, because what we’ve seen in terms of tactics that they’ve used in the past, is they have moved — they’re very sophisticated, some of these oligarchs; no surprise — they’ve moved money around to children, to family members so they could still have access to it.  And we wanted to reduce the likelihood of that.  So that is an additional step we took.  So I just wanted to cover that.

One other note: Today also marks 100 days since the President signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  Time flies.  It’s also day 400 of the administration.  In the past 100 days, we’ve hit the ground running, rolling out nearly $100 billion worth of programs and funding to state and local governments.

This funding will help rebuild crumbling road and bridges, replace lead pipes, help provide high-speed Internet to every family in America, and produce concrete results that change people’s lives for the better.

To continue this momentum, today, the Department of Transportation announced nearly $450 million available to strengthen port infrastructure and supply chain resiliency.  And, obviously, there is more to come. 

Chris, your first day in the AP seat. 

Q    Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  Welcome to the front of the room.  No pressure.

Q    Thank you very much.  So a few questions about Ukraine.  First, you talked about the impact of the economy on Russia.  Ukraine is also feeling a lot of economic pain right now.  What more is the White House prepared to do to shore up their economy, provide them with financial assistance?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we have provided them an extensive amount of financial assistance, including recently announcing $1 billion in sovereign — I mean in loan guarantees.  And that is something we are open to building upon. 

And we are going to continue to assess what the impact is on the Ukrainian economy, what is needed on the ground.  That applies to both access to — to, you know, economic assistance, as well as humanitarian assistance. 

So, I don’t have anything to announce today, but we will continue to be a large provider and supporter of financial and economic assistance to Ukraine.

Q    A new AP poll found that only 26 percent of Americans want the U.S. to play a major role in this — in this crisis.  Given that this could increase costs on Americans — gas prices, other economic ripples — has the White House done enough to prepare Americans for what the U.S. role could be and what impact it could be on their lives?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, this is very important to the President personally.  It’s why he gave remarks — delivered the remarks he did last week and why he has spoken several times to provide updates to the American people over the last couple of days.

Two pieces I would note that I think are very important as Americans are tuning in and learning more about this conf- — this potential conflict — this conflict that’s underway, I guess I should say, between Russia and Ukraine:

One, the President has no intention of sending U.S. military or U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine.  It is hard to know — because I don’t think it was in your poll — how people assess what “major involvement” means.  But that has not changed in terms of the President’s view and his approach. 

Second is he is going to do everything he can to reduce the impact on energy costs for the American people.  And that means engaging closely with partners around the world.  It means considering a range of options that are all on the table to reduce the market — the impact on the oil markets, and that is what would impact energy costs. 

But the last thing I would say is that the President and the White House — you know, we make national security decisions based on what’s best for our country’s national security, not on the latest polling.  And if you step back, what, hopefully, the American people will see and have seen is that while Russia has sought to divide our allies and the American people, the President has sought to revitalize our partnerships and alliances and unite our country.  He’s standing up for our national security interests and bedrock democratic values against the aggression of a dictator threatening to further invade a sovereign country. 

That’s why he’s doing what he’s doing.  So, we’re less focused on the politics of Ukraine and more focused on preventing a war.

Q    The other question —

MS. PSAKI:  Oh, go ahead.

Q    — I have was: Yesterday, the administration said the goal of the sanctions is to “prevent and deter” a wider invasion of Ukraine.  If Russia does attack, as U.S. officials are warning that they’re imminently prepared to do, does that mean that strategy has failed?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say as we look at it, we’re focused on accomplishing two things.  One is implementing serious costs for the actions that have already been taken — so, the actions in the Donbas.  And we’ve taken steps beyond what we did in 2014, which, obviously, I just outlined at the beginning of the briefing. 

Second, yes, deterrence is part of our objective.  If he goes further, we will go further.  We have a range of tools at our disposal.  I mentioned some of the potential financial step — or steps we could take that could impact financial institutions.  That is — is very significant and could have a very significant impact, but we have far more options beyond that, including export controls. 

And what export control steps would mean — you know, Russia — as President Putin looks to the future of Russia, there is a lot of access to different industries, technologies that he needs and would rely on in order for the economy to grow and flourish in the future, whether it’s AI, whether it’s other technological sectors, biotech, semiconductors — a term we’ve used a lot in here.  And what this would do, would essentially cut off access to that; that would also be a significant step. 

So, point is: We have more steps we can take, and we’re going to continue to apply those if he escalates.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Given the possibility of an attack seems particularly high today, can you walk us through how the President is spending his day, how his security team is spending the day, if they’re doing anything in these — what could be these final hours before an attack, if that’s the case?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I — I’ve seen the reporting on this.  But let me — let me be very clear: We have been saying for days that Russian military forces are in an attack position; that has not changed.  They are capable of operationalizing at any point in time.  We are in constant contact with the Ukrainians about their positioning, about their capacity and capabilities.  We’re not predicting a day, a moment, or an hour.  That has been our assessment and the — what we’ve been communicating with the Ukrainians for some time now.

Let me tell you, though, something else that we’re also seeing or assessing right now: We believe — obviously, we’ve laid out a game plan that we believe that President Putin has been implementing over the course of the last several weeks, if not longer. 

It’s clear — and what our assessment is, is that President Putin did not expect the United States to have the level of information that we have, did not expect us to put out this amount of information that we have put out, did not expect the global community to be as unified, including in the — how unified the global community was in putting out the sanctions yesterday.  And what we’re seeing now — our assessment is that he is improvising, adapting, and we’re having to respond and adapt his own actions to — as we are even — as we are responding to him. 

So, we don’t have a new assessment.  I will tell you that what the President is doing is what he has been doing for several days now, which is continuing to meet and engage with his national security team. 

Obviously, he had a PDB this morning, and he will receive regular updates from his team.  He will continue to engaze [sic] clo- — engage closely with partners and Allies, some things that he — something that he has been doing for several days now.  But that is cont- — the continuation of what our engagement has been.

Q    So, given that we could be looking at an imminent attack, is there anything this White House, this President believes he can do to stop it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think — what I — I think what’s important to note here is we have been saying “imminent” for days now.  And what I’m conveying to you is that we’re also seeing adjustments by President Putin or the need to adapt in response to what our actions and what our response has been. 

So, what the President has been doing has cont- — has been continuing to work with partners and Allies to ensure we remain united, to leave the door open to diplomacy, but to make very clear to President Putin and to our partners around the world that there will be significant consequences beyond what we have done already should he invade further.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q    Jen, what’s the next trigger point for new sanctions?  Obviously, yesterday’s was the start of the invasion. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm. 

Q    What does Putin have to do next to see another wave?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not — I’m not going to give you a detailed, “If he does this, we will do that.”  I would only just reiterate what I said a little bit earlier, which is that we have the specific authority, based on the announcement made yesterday, to take additional steps as it relates to financial institutions in Russia.  There’s additional enormous financial institutions — the two largest banks, for example — which were not a part of the announcement made — we made yesterday.  There’s additional steps we’ve expressed an openness to, including taking steps as it relates to export controls. 

So, this — these are assessments we will continue to make internally.  And we have a range of tools that we are prepared to — steps we are prepared to take should he further escalate.

Q    On Monday, when President Putin made clear that he was sending troops into those two breakaway regions, the White House initially said that does not constitute an invasion because Russia already has troops there; this is just “more overt.”  The next day, President Biden came out and said, “This is the start of invasion.”  What happened overnight?  What changed to lead to that change in rhetoric?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I talked about this a little bit yesterday, but what we looked at and what we assessed were a range of steps.  I’m not, obviously, going to get into military assessments or movements today, just like I didn’t yesterday.  But we looked at a couple of steps, including President Putin taking steps, as it relates to the Duma, to ask for authority to take additional military action beyond that region.  We looked at his recognition.  We looked at the position — positioning of troops and military.  And we looked at the range of steps over that period of time to assess and make that decision. 

I would also note that our Deputy National Security Advisor was on TV conveying that that morning as well.

Q    All right.  And just lastly on this: The President of Russia, President Putin, said on Monday that he felt the West was going to impose sanctions basically regardless of what they did.  Given that, you’re obviously trying and effectively putting a lot of pain on the Russian economy.  Do you think these sanctions will actually be a deterrent?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think that is a decision for President Putin to make.  I mean, there are statements he has conveyed, in terms of what he wants to achieve here, right?  The division of NATO; the opposite is happening.  Right?  He wanted to see Nord Stream 2 move forward — a key prize for him; that is obviously not happening.  He wants to have a flourishing economy for the Russian people; just even without the bite of our sanctions, that is clearly not happening. 

So, this is an assessment he’s going to have to make, and we expect he’ll hear from people around him who are being impacted and other people in Russia about the impact of these sanctions.

Go ahead.

Q    Does the White House share the assessment of the Australian Prime Minister today that an attack is likely within 24 hours? 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to give an additional timeline to it.  We’ve been saying it could happen at any time.  And they are in attack position for some time now, but I’m not going to give you an additional day, hour, moment.

Q    Well, just to follow up on that, you have been saying that it’s imminent for some time.  You guys stopped for a little bit —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — and then you went back to it.  Has there been a new warning to the Ukrainians in the last 24 hours or so?  Because it seems that CNN and others are reporting that they have shared new intelligence about the threat of just how quickly an attack could happen.

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t know what that’s based on.  We have been conveying — in close touch with the Ukrainians, we have been conveying that they are capable of operationalizing at any time.  That has been the case. 

I’d also note that, obviously, our preference would be that President Putin doesn’t further invade.  And as I said a few minutes ago, what we’re also assessing is that he has had to adjust, adapt to the strength of the unity of the global community, to what our reaction has been.  And he has been forced to need to respond and adapt his own actions. 

We will see.  We still very much anticipate and predict that he will invade further.  But, again, we’re also seeing an impact on how he’s behaving. 

Q    And on Nord Stream 2: Last month, the White House opposed an effort on Capitol Hill to put sanctions on this pipeline.  Last year, of course, President Biden waived the sanctions on that.  And now, today, he is imposing the sanctions on it, which is a pretty big shift.  So, can you just explain the changes —

MS. PSAKI:  We don’t —

Q    — and where you stand on that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we don’t see it as a shift at all.  We’ve never supported the pipeline.  It was 98 percent built when the President took office.  We’ve always spoken out against the pipeline.  The question was: What was the most effective step in order to have the result that we have now over the last 24 hours? 

And there were calls by some in Congress to do preemptive sanctions on — or earlier sanctions — or take earlier steps, I should say, on Nord Stream 2.  We disagreed with that strategy.  We worked through a diplomatic path with the Germans.  You saw the German Chancellor make the announcement yesterday, and the announcement today was complementary to that.

Q    So the change is just because you were waiting on the Germans to take the first step here.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, actually, it was that we felt a diplomatic approach would be the most effective pro- — approach, and we have succeeded in our efforts.  And we didn’t think the alternative approach was the right one.

Q    My last question: A French official recently told the Wall Street Journal that during his last visit, the French President found Putin was “more rigid, isolated, and had basically gone into a sort of ideological and security-minded drift.”  The President recently spent about an hour on the phone with him.  Obviously, he knows Putin pretty well.  I wonder if he has seen a change in the Russian leader.

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any personal observations by President Biden about President Putin to read out.  But I think we all watched, including the President, the speech — or read it — from the other night and saw a leader who was outlining a case for a war to his public — one that was based on revisionist history.  And whether that’s based on isolation or not, we’ll leave that to others to assess.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  So you’ve said many times today that you — that there is not a new assessment.  But yesterday, the President clearly chose his words carefully when he said the world was watching the start of an invasion, which is very different from the U.S. warning today that a full-scale Russian invasion is imminent.  So, are you saying that nothing has changed between when we heard from the President yesterday and today? 

MS. PSAKI:  I’m saying I don’t have — we have been saying for days that there has been — that they are prepared to launch a full-scale invasion.  We saw the beginning of that yesterday.  So, nothing has changed in that assessment.

Q    What about the figure of 80 percent of Russian troops are now in the forward attack position?  Was that also the case yesterday? 

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t — I’m not going to be in a position to give you move- — troop assessments or movements.  But as I said just a few minutes ago, we — they are in an attack position.  That remains the case. 

Q    Okay.  And then to follow up on something I asked Daleep yesterday, he said that the administration would not give a timeframe for when Americans might feel the impact of this conflict.  Why not?  I mean, the President has said we need to be honest about the cost of fighting for democracy.  Can you share anything about a timeframe, a range?  Should people be saving money? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, Weijia, there’s been a little confusion about this because, one, the announ- — the sanctions that we announced yesterday will not have an impact on the American people.  They will have an impact on the Russian elite, on financial institutions, on individuals who are trying to use those institutions to engage in — with Western banks, including President Putin and his inner circle. 

What we’re seeing in the market is an anticipation of a further invasion by President Putin.  And what we’re trying to do and focus on is take every step we can, working around the world with our counterparts and partners, to minimize the impact on the global energy market. 

So that’s what we’re working on.  We’re working on minimizing that, but there is not an impact from the sanctions we’ve announced on the American public.  It really depends, in part, on what President Putin does in many regards. 

Q    And finally, is one of those options looking at releasing more oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve? 

MS. PSAKI:  That is certainly an option on the table.

Q    Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead, Peter.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  Following up on Weijia’s question —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    A lot of focus on the economic pain in Russia, potentially, from these sanctions, but what about the economic pain here?  The Russians are saying they think gas prices in Europe are going to double.  How high could they get here? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think, again, Peter, as I said to Weijia, I mean, some of this depends on what President Putin does.  So as he’s suggesting what the impact will be around the world, it’s all based on what his actions are, just to be very clear about it. 

What the President is focused on and is working on is taking every step we can to communicate with, coordinate with, engage with big global suppliers around the world to minimize the impact on the energy markets.

Q    But even without all this going on, gas in California is almost $5 a gallon.  Should people across the country expect to see that kind of a number when they go to gas up their car — $5, $6? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I think as you heard the President say last week, standing up for our values is not without cost.  What we’re trying to do is minimize that cost.  So, I don’t have a prediction of it right now because we’re trying to minimize the impact on the global energy markets. 

Q    Okay.  Something that you said — two different things that you’ve said so far today: You said you think right now Putin is improvising and adapting.  But you’ve also said that you very much anticipate and predict that he’s going to invade further. 

So, which is it: Is he adapting, or is he still invading?

MS. PSAKI:  Think big here, Peter.  He can still be preparing to invade — which we’ve said, and that continues to be the case — while making adaptations on when, if, how to, what his strategy is.  That’s what we’re seeing.  Both are true. 

Q    But — so if that’s what you’re seeing — he announced sanctions yesterday —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Did any Russian military units turn around and head back towards Russia? 

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to get into assessments from here of movements of any military.  But also, what we’re trying to do is prevent a war, prevent devastation on the Ukrainian people.  And we’re already seeing the impact on the economy in Russia.  We’re going to continue to make clear that there are much — that as — if he continues to escalate, we will as well.

Q    And as we wait to see if or how Russia might retaliate against the U.S., the FBI is reportedly warning businesses about cybersecurity risks.  So why did you say there is no current threat as it relates to cyber here?

MS. PSAKI:  There is no current threat as it relates to cyber here.  The FBI and all of the agencies in the government always provide regular updates on what businesses and entities should do to prepare for the potential for.  There is still no immediate specific threat.

Q    But on Friday, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber came in here to say, “We don’t have the level of cyber resilience that we wish.”  Why would somebody come to the White House briefing room and talk about that if there is no threat? 

MS. PSAKI:  Because we anticipate that there could be continuing threats in the future, and what we need private sector companies to do is harden their cybersecurity capabilities now.  Now is the time to do it. 

Q    Okay.  And then, finally, the State Department spokesman today said you guys are doing everything you reasonably can to prevent human rights abuses, atrocities, and potential war crimes in Ukraine.  How can you say that if all that you’re announcing is financial punishment?

MS. PSAKI:  That isn’t all we’re announcing.  We have provided a range of assistance to Ukraine — humanitarian assistance, security assistance — the most of any year in history.  We will continue to build on all of this assistance.  We are plussing-up support for our partners and Allies in the region to ensure they know we have our ba- — their backs and we are abiding by our NATO obligations. 

And we continue to also provide — I think what he was referring to is a range of public information as well — to make clear what the intentions are of the Russians, to call them out for the type of actions we could see them taking in the future.

Go ahead.

Q    Jen, if I can ask you about Nord Stream 2 to have a little better understanding of this right now.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  Yeah.

Q    Can you say — we’ve seen the sanctions.  Can you say declaratively that this pipeline will never be operational, that this is effectively dead? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we — not only did the Chancellor of Germany announce it’s not moving forward, we also announced additional sanctions today.  And it is not moving forward right now, no. 

Q    So would you say — but just for clarity, you say it’s not moving forward right now.  But there have been some concern among some critics that though he did announce the suspension, that, at a later date, that Chancellor Scholz could say, “Yes, we are going to begin the process again.” 

So, when you say “right now,” that means right now; that doesn’t mean for perpetuity?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s currently dead at the bottom of the sea, Peter.  I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.  It is not happening.  It’s not moving forward.  It hasn’t been operational for some time. 

So, that is where it stands.  And this is all the result of diplomatic engagement and leadership by the President and his engagement with Chancellor Scholz. 

Q    Let me ask you about some other security issues as best you’re able to detail.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I know there’s some things you can’t discuss.  So, without detailing specifics that you can’t discuss, what role is the U.S. playing in securing President Zelenskyy’s safety?  And does the U.S. bear some responsibility in making sure that he is safe?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to detail our conversations or engagements about security with the President of Ukraine, who remains in Kyiv and is continuing to lead the country.

Q    Do we bear some responsibility, though, for making sure — without detailing what you’re doing, do we bear some responsibility for making sure that he is safe?

MS. PSAKI:  We are going to continue to engage with him privately.  I’m not going to detail or speak to it further from here.

Q    If I could ask you just a last quick question.

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    Is there any circumstance — obviously, we’re focusing so much on Ukraine, as evidenced by these questions.  Is there any circumstance in which the President would hold his announcement of a Supreme Court pick after February?

MS. PSAKI:  No. 

Q    Declaratively, it’ll happen before then. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yes.

Q    Has he made a decision yet?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t have any updates on that. 

Go ahead.

Q    Since it’s been asked a few different times, but just to clarify: You and other officials have said that the purpose of withholding additional and harsher sanctions is so that they have a deterrent effect. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    But at the same time, you’re saying that a broader invasion is likely. 

So how are both of those true, if the idea is that they would have a deterrent effect?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’re trying to prevent that from happening, and we are making very clear what — how impactful and serious what we’re considering, in terms of additional sanctions, could be.

Q    And are — is inflation playing a role at all in deciding, you know, what gets sanctioned, what — how you’re thinking about the sanctions package?

MS. PSAKI:  Inflation in the United States, I assume you’re referring to?

Q    Global inflation.

MS. PSAKI:  Look, I think we look at a range of factors.  And I’ll use the energy markets as an example, because I know that was a question that was asked yesterday.  It’s a good one. 

You know, as we look at what sectors we’re going to sanction, one of the factors we look at is what can have the biggest impact, of course, on Russian leadership, people around President Putin, on the Russian economy.  What we’re trying to minimize is what impact there’s going to be on the United States and global markets, in a lot of ways. 

And if you look at energy — the energy sector as an example, sanctioning them further could also mean that President Putin and people around him get richer.

So we look at a range of factors and, certainly, the impact on the global economy is a factor as we consider options. 

Go ahead.

Q    If Russia does launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, should we expect to hear from the President, as we have in the last few days?

MS. PSAKI:  I would expect you would, yes.

Q    And he would address the nation in some televised fashion?

MS. PSAKI:  I would expect you would hear from the President, as you have.

Q    And then, can you explain a little bit more for people who are trying to follow this continuing situation with Russia and Ukraine, why would the U.S. not directly sanction Putin at this time?

MS. PSAKI:  It remains an option on the table.  What I would say to people who are trying to understand why is that sanctions are designed to — we’ve always designed them to increase, be escalatory.  That would be an escalatory step, as would be sanctioning the largest banks — the very largest banks and additional components of the financial sector, as would taking export control steps be.  So, there’s a range of escalatory steps we have as options.

Go ahead.

Q    You mentioned the sanctions on oligarchs at the top, and the President was a little unclear in his wording yesterday.  He said that sanctions on Russian elites wouldn’t start until today; that was crossed out in the transcript to yesterday.  The reason I’m asking is, as part of the, sort of, first tranche —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — of sanctions, are we going to see more elites sanctioned, or would that only happen if Russia takes additional escalatory steps?

MS. PSAKI:  I can check if there are additional ones.  I’m not tracking additional ones that we’re holding for a rollout. 

I will note, on your first part of your question, that for the elites — individuals, if they were to have used their fi- — their bank card, I guess, to make a financial transaction, it wouldn’t have been working yesterday.

Q    There was a cyberattack on Ukrainian government websites today.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    I know the NSC has already said that it was sort of similar to the one that we saw on Ukrainian banks earlier and would be in keeping with what you expect from Russia.  But I’m wondering if, at this point, you’ve made a definitive determination if Russia was responsible, and, if so, if you have any sort of retaliation — or response to that announcement.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, we have not — we have not attributed today’s activity yet.  That would be very fast — even fast for us, as fast as last week was. 

We do consider it, as I think some of my NSC colleagues said, to be consistent with the type of activity Russia would carry out in a bid to destabilize Ukraine.  It’s consistent with what we saw last week, where we attributed similar incidents to the Russian government.  And we, of course, consider these further incidents to be consistent with a type of activity we’ve seen Russia take over the course of time.

We are in conversation with Ukraine regarding the cyber-related needs, including as recently as today.  And we’re going to move with urgency to assess the nature and extent of this, what steps needs to be taken, and, therefore, our response.

Q    And then the President has got a meeting — a virtual meeting with the G7 tomorrow morning. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Obviously, I think the topic is going to be Ukraine —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — but I was wondering if you could put any meat on the bone, in terms of what the President is trying to — what his objective is in that — in that meeting on what he’s looking to accomplish.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, one of the steps the President has been focused on is ensuring that we are coordinated with key allies and partners around the world, and certainly the G7 is an important entity to remain very closely engaged with. 

The G7 is 50 percent of the world’s economy and joined us — all of them — in this first tranche of sanctions announced yesterday. 

The President isn’t a believer that this level of coordination happens by accident; it happens through a lot of work and in close engagement.  We’re obviously at a pivotal point in this — in this process, and so he felt tomorrow was a time to discuss with them what we’re seeing, what it looks like, what’s next, and engage in this format.

Go ahead.

Q    So, a couple of questions.  On this first tranche of sanctions, have what’s going to be announced in that first batch been announced, or will we see more things today?

MS. PSAKI:  The first tranche has been announced.  And, obviously, the Nord Stream 2 announcement today is an additional part of that.  I can certainly check if there’s anything additional coming at this point beyond for the first tranche — not that I am aware of, but I will check and make sure that’s correct.

Q    And then, when you all talk about this first tranche of sanctions, can you give us a sense of, like, how many tranches — if that’s the right word — are in this toolbox that you have to apply?  You know, how many sets of sanctions are we talking about?

MS. PSAKI:  I understand the question.  It’s hard for me to give that assessment.  It really depends on what escalatory actions President Putin takes.  If he goes further, we will go further.  What that looks like, I can’t outline for you at this point in time.

I gave you the sense, a little bit, of what some additional options are — right? — export controls; sanctioning additional financial institutions, larger financial institutions.  Those are all on the table, as are other options.

But in terms of what the breakdown of tranches would look like, I can’t outline that from — for you at this point from here.

Q    And in terms of the cyberattack, which you just were asked about, does — will the U.S. or could we expect the U.S. to have some sort of retaliatory behavior towards Russia in response to this?

MS. PSAKI:  We always reserve that option and, obviously, we haven’t made an attribution for this recent DDoS attack.  As we go through the process of doing that, we’ll certainly consider what actions could be taken as well.

Q    Can I ask one final question, actually, on the JCPOA? 

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    There have been reports that the U.S., Iran is reaching, closing in on some sort of deal.  Would you all confirm that that is an accurate assessment — that you are inching towards a potential deal this week?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, what we’re seeing is there is significant progress being made, and we are close to a possible deal.  But there are a number of very difficult issues that remain unresolved.  And there’s very little time remaining to reach a deal given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances. 

Also, I would note that typically the most difficult components — the last mile — is where it — where there is the most difficult conversations and negotiations. 

So, yes, significant progress and we are close.  But there’s a lot that still needs to be worked out. 

It is true that Iran — we believe if Iran shows seriousness, we can and should reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA within — potentially within days.  But there is still more work that needs to be done.

Q    So you all are optimistic or — I mean, that’s a mixed (inaudible)?

MS. PSAKI:  We are — we are encouraged by the significant progress, but, having been through a few of these, I would note that, often, the most difficult negotiations happen in the — in the last portion.

Go ahead.  Go ahead, Zolan.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  So, following up on the Nord Stream, just — I’m wondering if anything happened. I understand you were saying that there was an intent to want to do this in a coordinated way with the Germans and, obviously, they made their action yesterday.  But was there anything else that happened on the ground in Ukraine yesterday that warranted the sanction happening today rather than yesterday?

MS. PSAKI:  No, it — but it’s part of our first tranche of sanctions, so we would see it as a part of what was rolled out yesterday.

Q    And then, you were also telling — I think you told Kaitlan that you wanted this approach with Germany rather than an alternative.  Just looking at, you know, the President last year said, in Cincinnati, that construction is already kind of going at this point.  I believe the exact quote —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah, 90 percent of it.  Yeah. 

Q    Right.  Right.  He was saying 90 percent.  So why is this a better way, a more effective way than issuing sanctions unilaterally and then possibly pressuring the Germans to take action themselves?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, it hasn’t been operational, which is an important component, right?  It’s not like oil has been flowing through Nord Stream 2, which is a very important component here.  And we made the assessment — others can have different assessments — that this would be the way to achieve the outcome that we’ve now achieved.  Others can have different assessments.  There’s no proof or evidence that their approach would have worked.  Ours has worked.

Q    More so the question was: Why would not issuing sanctions last year, earlier — why wouldn’t have that been effective?  Why is this approach —

MS. PSAKI:  Because we felt working in coordination with our German counterparts through a diplomatic process would be the most effective way to approach it.

Q    And then a pivot — just two more.  Can you outline what exactly Doug Jones has been doing in terms of the SCOTUS process, who he’s been talking to on the Hill?

Lastly, the March 18th mask mandate for travel, just — is the administration considering extending that or is that seen as an expiration date?

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.  On the first, I’m sure once there is an announcement to be made, we will have more detail about all of the engagements that have led up to it.  But certainly, Senator Jones is playing an integral role engaging with senators, engaging with different stakeholders and individuals who want to — to give their view on where this should head.  I’m sure we’ll have more details once an announcement is made.

As it relates to the March 18th timeline, the CDC is in the process of reviewing their mask guidelines and their mask guidance.  We will let them make any announcements on that.  But I don’t have anything to predict at this point about March 18th and the — and where that stands on planes.

Go ahead.

Q    Yeah, thanks, Jen.  Earlier during today’s briefing, you said it’s the U.S.’s assessment that President Putin did not expect the U.S. to have this level of information that we have, did not expect us to put out the amount of information that we put out, and did not expect the global community to be as unified as it is.  What have you seen from Putin’s actions, from Russia’s actions that have led to that conclusion, that assessment?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think why I was conveying that is because what we’ve seen — and I don’t think I can give much more detail than that, other than to say what we’ve seen is him adjusting and adapting some of his actions and needing to respond to what our actions are. 

And we’ve obviously been making a — assessing that he is prepared to operationalize at any time.  That has not changed.  But, you know, we are also watching closely what he does.

Q    And what’s your response — the administration’s response to lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who say President Biden still hasn’t gone far enough with sanctions? 

Representative Adam Schiff yesterday said, quote, “…the administration must go further.” 

Today, Senator Graham called the administration’s initial response “inadequate,” and he said, “Let’s quickly up our game.”

So what is the strategy behind holding back some of these larger sanction possibilities that you’ve talked about?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, our strategy has been start high, which is certainly what we did.  We did not sanction a major bank or financial institution back in 2014.  This is a farther step than that. 

As I noted a little bit earlier, we also sanctioned not just oligarchs but also family members around them to cut off their ability to preserve their funding and financing.  And our approach and our strategy has been to preserve a range of sanctions and options that we can also escalate to, should we need to.

Obviously, our preference is that President Putin deescalates.

Q    But if Russia does invade further — as, you know, there are indications that it could — does that mean that those sanctions imposed yesterday, imposed today were a failure?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, part of them were a cost.  Part of them is an effort to prevent a war.  We’re doing that not alone but in coordination with our partners and Allies around the world.  That is the way to do it.  That is the strong way to do it.  That is the effective way to do it. 

There may be others who have different points of view.  They’re welcome.  It’s a free country.  They can have those points of view.

But our approach has been, to date, to respond with strong sanctions, to start high and build from there.  And that is what we will continue to do if he escalates.

Q    And then, lastly, on the Supreme Court nomination process, can you confirm that the interviews are now finished ahead of an announcement before the end of the month?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to confirm any details about the process.  I would note that we are five days away from the end of February, if my math is correct.  The interviews are typically late stage in the process.  So, we are getting close to an announcement.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  I want to ask about food prices.  But, first, a quick question about Ukraine.  Just a short while ago, separatists in eastern Ukraine formally asked President Putin for military help.  Is that a signal that the U.S. expects a broader invasion is about to begin?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think as we’ve said from the beginning, there are going to be a range of false-flag operations that we have expected to and laid out the playbook to see.  This is an example of it.  That is suggesting that they feel under threat.  By whom — the Ukrainians that the Russians are threatening to attack? 

So, we’ll continue to call out what we see as false-flag operations or efforts to spread disinformation about what the actual status is on the ground.

Q    And Americans, they just experienced their most expensive Thanksgiving.  This conflict will likely drive up food prices, grocery prices.  What does the White House minimizing the impact of even higher grocery prices actually look like?

MS. PSAKI:  I don’t think we’ve ever minimized the higher impact of the costs of food.  I would note —

Q    (Inaudible) but you’re going to minimize the impact.

MS. PSAKI:  I would note — let me finish.  Factually, I think the price of a turkey just a couple of months ago was about $1 more, if we just look back at the facts of what was actually happening at the time.  And we’ve talked a bit in here about our concerns about meat conglomerates jacking up the prices — if people go into the store and they try to buy a pound or two pounds of meat — what we’re seeing as the impact of not enough competition in the industry.

But the President has repeatedly expressed concern about costs for the American people.  That’s one of the reasons he continues to press for steps with Congress that will lower significant costs on people’s budgets, whether it’s childcare, healthcare, eldercare, whatever it may be.  That is a central part of his economic agenda.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  You’ve said and the President has said several times that, you know — to Americans — that the U.S. is not sending the military into Ukraine, not going to war with Russia.  And I just wanted to ask, given that your warning of a full-fledged invasion with potential attacks on Kyiv, how the administration is as confident as it is that that won’t become necessary at some point, that there won’t be any need down the road for military engagement with Russia?

MS. PSAKI:  That is not a decision the President is going to make.

Q    Based on?

MS. PSAKI:  We are not going to be in a war with Russia or putting military troops on the ground in Ukraine fighting Russia.

Q    So, ultimately, if Vladimir Putin takes all of Ukraine, that’s a situation that the administration is not — going to condemn, obviously; going to punish, economically — but that’s not something that will be engaged militarily.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, that is several steps down the road.  But what I will tell you is the President has been crystal clear and consistent: He is not sending U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine.  That has not changed.

Q    Has there been any discussion on the strategy of saying that, though, so publicly and potentially giving Putin an indication that the U.S. and NATO Allies are willing to cede that sphere of influence outside of NATO boundaries to him?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I don’t know how many more times I can say it: There’s no scenario — the President is not sending U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine against Russia.  We are taking a range of other steps, as you’ve touched on, but, I would say, they’re quite significant.

Not only are we the largest provider of security assistance, humanitarian assistance, and economic assistance to Ukraine, but we have also taken significant steps to plus up not only our NATO forces and our force posture but the force posture of our partners in Eastern Europe to make sure they know we have their backs and support them.

We will continue to plus this all up.  But the President is not sending U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine.  That hasn’t changed.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  This is a little bit related to Eli’s question.  So, it’s very clear what Russian escalation could be, right?  Go from today to, you know, the whole of Ukraine, or bombarding Kyiv, or — there’s a lot of things along the way.

You’ve laid out all sorts of different sanctions that are being considered. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    But what is the arc — because it’s very clear what the Russian arc could be, right?  It could ultimately go to whatever, you know, occupying the whole of Ukraine.  What is the arc of the U.S. response?  Like what’s — what’s the equivalent to, you know, smashing Kyiv to pieces?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I’m not going to outline “if this, then that” from here.  And I — unless you know something the rest of us don’t know, I don’t know that anyone knows exactly what the next step will be.

As much as we’re preparing, we’re seeing them positioning their military forces for attack.  Obviously, until they further invade, they haven’t further invaded, right?  If they do and take escalatory steps, we will take escalatory steps.  What those look like will depend a lot on what the actions are.

Q    Okay.  And one other question, please.  You’ve got the G7 virtual meeting tomorrow.  The President has made a lot of outreach to allies, obviously.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    Is any consideration whatsoever being given to some kind of last-ditch outreach to the Russians, either from the President or him encouraging the Europeans to have another go at it?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I’ve talked about this a little bit yesterday.  I mean, a couple of days ago, obviously, the President made clear — or we made clear on his behalf that if they didn’t invade, that he was open to ha- — engaging with President Putin, and that would follow a meeting or engagement between our Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Obviously, we’re in a different point at this point in time, and it doesn’t feel appropriate or the right step to have those diplomatic engagements right now.  We will always leave the door open.  If they de-escalate, we will certainly proceed with diplomatic engagement. 

But, no, we’re not considering a meeting with President Putin or engagement with him right now.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, I have a question on Mexico but, first, on Ukraine —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    On the sanctions on Nord Stream AG, can you confirm that they will only affect gas from and not the four European companies that are shareholders of the consortium?

MS. PSAKI:  I think we put out an extensive statement on this, as well as some details.  I can — let me see if I can just outline it all from you — from here, and we can get that to you after the briefing as well.

What was your other question?

Q    Yeah, on Mexico, the President of Mexico said today that the U.S. isn’t well informed about violence against journalists in Mexico and the recent impunity for those crimes.  Are you worried that he’s downplaying the risks that journalists face in that country?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say, first, we’ve seen, factually, the threats that have been posed to journalists in Mexico.  And we’ve seen the threats, we’ve seen — and that is a concern that I think the Secretary of State was expressing on behalf of the United States about those abuses.  So, I think he was speaking to facts we’ve seen on the ground.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, Jen.  A couple of domestic questions for you.  First, does the White House have any reaction to the order from Texas Governor Abbott calling for prosecutions of parents who move forward with gender-affirming treatments for their kids?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I spoke a little bit, unfortunately, to another law that we saw moving in Florida just last week.  And — but let me reiterate some of the points I made then.

There are efforts in some states — not just Texas, but also Florida and unfortunately others — designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most: LGBTQI+ students who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves.

This isn’t an isolated action, as is evidenced by multiple states pursuing this.  We’re seeing Republican leaders take actions to regulate what students can or cannot read, what they can or cannot learn, and, most troubling, who they can or cannot be.

You’ve heard the President — he also, I think, put out a tweet or — I think — or a statement to the Florida law.  And I would say we have the same concerns about these type of actions we’re seeing in Texas.

Q    And then, in Florida, Governor DeSantis’s administration is moving forward with the rule targeting shelters that house unaccompanied minors.  Does the Biden administration have any contingency plans for the unaccompanied minors who may be affected by that rule, in terms of their

housing?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think this is an important thing to call — to call out here, because what we’re talking about here is, one, it’s our view — it’s our responsibility, I should say, as an administration to responsibly and safely care for unaccompanied children.  We’re talking about minor kids here.

So HHS is currently examining all legal options available at its disposal to ensure that our shelters continue to provide services to the unaccompanied minor — minors in our care.

I would remind you all that there have been kids in Florida in these facilities since 2005 — I mean, these facilities have been open for 17 years now, being overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. 

So, we’re obviously looking at legal options here.  But I also would say this is — you know, really flies in the face of what should be a moral view of anyone that taking — caring for — the safe care for unaccompanied children should be a part of what we all want to be active participants in.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Jen.  So, the Justice Department today announced that they are ending the Trump administration’s 2018 China Initiative and replacing it with a broader approach towards, you know, more countries — Russia, Iran, North Korea.

I know that Justice officials have spoken about this, but if you can elaborate from this podium the reasoning behind that, and especially in addressing the complaints of discrimination from Asian Americans.

MS. PSAKI:  I would have to dig further into this, Patsy.  I’d really point you to the Department of Justice.  I’m not sure we have more to add from here.

Q    And then, just on the global pandemic response, can you confirm the amount of funding that the administration has requested from Congress?  We’re hearing this number of $5 billion that activists say is not nearly enough to help vaccinate the world, as well as to stop new variants from, you know, attacking the U.S. as well.

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I don’t — well, I don’t have any specific numbers; we’re still in conversation with the Hill at this point about funding and funding needs, both domestically and internationally.

We want to continue to be the provider of not just vaccines but vaccine know-how and assistance to the global community.  We don’t believe that COVI- — that the pandemic sees borders.  And we know that in order to continue to get it under control, we need to be the leader in the world on this effort.  But numbers are still being discussed with the Hill, so I don’t have any more specifics, unfortunately.

Q    And just really quickly on Ukraine: Are you, at this point, urging Americans to leave Russia?  I know that — I think, two days ago the embassy in Moscow is issuing an advisory saying — for Americans to have evacuation plans that do not rely on government assistance.  But are you actually telling Americans in Russia to leave Russia right now?

MS. PSAKI:  The State Department makes those assessments and recommendations, and they update them regularly, so I’d point to them for any updates.

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Jen.  A few on Ukraine.  First, the Kremlin has vowed countersanctions in response to the U.S.  We’ve not seen what those will look like, but it sounds like the U.S. has quite a bit of intelligence, so I’m wondering if you have any view on what the nature of those countersanctions could be, what impact they could have on consumers, and how the administration could offset that?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, we’ve seen those threats or those reports, but I don’t have anything to provide or assess from here.

Q    And then, yesterday, President Biden said, “Nothing in Putin’s lengthy remarks indicated any interest in pursuing real dialogue on European security in the year 2022.”

MS. PSAKI:  Mm-hmm.

Q    If that’s the case, what do you see as the endgame here?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, our hope is that Putin will decide to de-escalate: that he will feel the threat of the sanctions, what the impact will be on the Russian economy, on the Russian people, on the people who surround him — they are meant to have a deterrent impact; that he will feel the weight of being a pariah in the global community. 

It does not mean — we have never closed the door to diplomacy, and the President didn’t have that intention of conveying that yesterday either.  And, certainly, if it is an appropriate time, he will engage with President Putin again.  But now is not the appropriate time, where he’s continuing to invade a sovereign country.

Q    And, finally, the administration is working on putting its budget together.

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    How much humanitarian assistance for Ukraine is the administration prepared to support?

MS. PSAKI:  It’s a good question.  What we’re going to — and it’s hard for me to give you a number right now, because we’re going to continue to assess the needs on the — on the ground.  And we certainly are prepared for the potential for there to be major humanitarian — continued humanitarian needs on the ground.  Obviously, those existed — have existed since back to 2014.

But we want to continue to be the largest provider of humanitarian assistance.  This is something we will continue to discuss with colleagues in Congress as well. 

Q    Thanks, Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  All right.  Okay.  Thanks everyone.  We’ll do this again tomorrow. 

Q    Supreme Court, Jen?  Supreme Court, real fast, Jen?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, ma’am.

Q    And going back to what Peter asked —

MS. PSAKI:  Sure.

Q    This — this small window — and in the midst of this window, you have a lot going on with foreign policy.

MS. PSAKI:  We do.

Q    Yes.

MS. PSAKI:  It means you guys have a lot going on, too.  All of us. 

Q    Yes.  Right.  How about that? 

With that said, how is the President feeling in the midst of all this as it relates to this impending nomination — this historic nomination that he’s getting ready for make?

MS. PSAKI:  And tell me more about what you mean, “How is he feeling?” 

Q    How is he feeling?  I mean, he’s got all of this going on —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — with Ukraine and Russia.  And then he’s got this historic nomination of the first Black woman to potentially sit on the U.S. Supreme Court.  It’s history being made in the midst of looking at sanctions and other things that are happening overseas.  How’s he feeling about this piece over here?

MS. PSAKI:  Yes, I mean, I think the President is looking forward to announcing a historic, eminently qualified Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.  He has — feels there’s tremendous honor in that. 

He takes the role that every President has in selecting and nominating someone to the Supreme Court very seriously.  That’s why he has been spending time not just studying bios, but also reviewing cases and engaging very closely with an internal team on this process. 

But he is very much looking forward to making this announcement and getting this individual confirmed.

Q    How many nominees has he met with thus far?

MS. PSAKI:  I’m not going to get into further detail on that.  I expect once he makes an announcement, we’ll have more details to share.

Q    And lastly —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah

Q    — the administration has been fervrent — fervor — fervent — I can’t even get the word out — saying that they will — that you all will fight against anyone who tries to mar or ruin the reputation of any of these nominees. 

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah. 

Q    What are you willing to do in this fight to keep their reputations that they walked into this process with?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s a good question, April.  I think what we mean by that is: There are a range of eminently qualified Black women whose names have been out there as potential nominees — all of these women would make tremendous additions to the Supreme Court — and we have also seen efforts to mar their reputations. 

And what we mean by that is we are going to fight back — even before, obviously, the President has made a decision or made an announcement — against efforts to tar any of their reputations.  That means defending them publicly, standing up for them, providing information to — to, you know, debunk any information that’s being put out about them that’s inaccurate.  And hopefully they all feel that we have — we have delivered on that promise.  But that has been important to the President from the beginning. 

Q    Thank you. 

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, everyone.  See you tomorrow or whenever.

4:27 P.M. EST

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