James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
5:35 P.M. EST
MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, back by popular demand. If he decides he’s not going to be an economic expert anymore, he might have a future in our business or in our — in the press office.
So back — Daleep is back. He’s going to give some brief comments at the top, take a few questions. Then we’ll do some briefing after then.
And I’ll just say at the top: For anyone who needs to leave for TV, feel free to go. It’s all fine.
I will turn it over to Daleep now.
MR. SINGH: Thank you, Jen. Good to see all of you again, but this a briefing I never wanted to give.
I’d like to start by saying: The prayers of the entire world are with the people of Ukraine today as they suffer an unjustified, unprovoked, and premeditated attack by the Russian military forces.
President Biden has said from the start of this crisis: If Putin chooses to invade, the cost to Russia will be immediate and profound — to its financial system, to its economy, to its technology base, and to its strategic position in the world.
As the world has now witnessed, Putin has made his choice. He rejected diplomacy and chose war. And today, the President has announced our response.
Because of Putin’s choices, his flagrant violation of international law, and his utter disregard for the principles that underpin peace and security across the world, we will now ensure his decision is remembered as a strategic failure.
Today, we imposed an unprecedented package of financial sanctions and export restrictions in lockstep with our Allies and partners that will isolate Russia from the global financial system, shut down its access to cutting-edge technology, and undercut Putin’s strategic ambitions to diversify and modernize his economy.
Let me walk you through a few specifics, then I’ll be happy to take questions.
On financial sanctions: I stood at this podium on Tuesday and said we would impose the most severe sanctions ever levied on Russia if Putin proceeded with the invasion. Today, we’re following through. We will impose sanctions on Russia’s two largest financial institutions — Sberbank and VTB — which together hold more than half of the Russian banking system’s assets — over $750 billion in total.
For VTB, we will freeze all of its assets touching the U.S. financial system and prohibit U.S. persons from doing any business with the bank. For Sberbank, we will sever its access to the U.S. financial system. We’ll also freeze the assets of and prohibit any business dealings with three additional Russian banks with combined assets of over $70 billion.
We’ll also restrict U.S. investors from providing debt or equity financing for 13 of the most critical Russian state-owned enterprises, which combined have estimated assets nearing $1.5 trillion.
And finally, we’ll also impose sanctions on the executives at these state-owned institutions, as well as additional Russian elites who are complicit in Putin’s kleptocracy and their family members.
Those who’ve shared in the Kremlin’s corrupt gains and stored their wealth in yachts and luxury condos and fancy cars will now share in the pain of these measures.
In terms of the financial impact, as I said, these are the most impactful and significant sanctions the U.S. has ever taken. But financial sanctions are just one part of our response.
We’re also unveiling today an expansive and unprecedented set of export restrictions developed in historically close coordination with the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Taiwan.
These new measures include sweeping restrictions on Russian military end users to impair Putin’s military capabilities and will also deny exports across Russia to sensitive, cutting-edge technology, primarily targeting Russia’s defense, aerospace, and maritime sectors.
In total, the United States and our partners will effectively be cutting off more than half of all high-tech imports going into Russia. This includes curbing Russia’s access to advance semiconductors and other foundational technologies that Russia needs to diversify and modernize its economy.
Working in tandem, these financial sanctions and the export controls will undercut Putin’s aspirations to project power on the world stage. And those impacts intensified dramatically just today.
The Russian stock market plunged over 30 percent at one point before being halted by local regulators. Russia’s currency, the Ruble, weakened to its weakest value on record against the Dollar before the Central Bank intervened. And the price the market is charging the Russian government to borrow is now above 15 percent.
These impacts over time will translate into higher inflation, higher interest rates, lower purchasing power, lower investment, lower productive capacity, lower growth, and lower living standards in Russia.
To be clear: This is not the outcome we wanted. It’s both a tragedy for the people of Ukraine and a very raw deal for the Russian people. But Putin’s war of choice has required that we do what we said and to ensure this will be a strategic failure.
Finally, let me just say a few words about the impact of Russia’s choices on the U.S. We’ve intentionally scoped our sanctions to deliver severe impact on the Russian economy while minimizing the cost to the U.S., as well as our Allies and partners.
To be clear: Our sanctions are not designed to cause any disruption to the current flow of energy from Russia to the world. We’ve carved out energy payments on a time-bound basis to allow for an orderly transition of these flows away from sanctioned institutions, and we’ve provided other licenses to provide for an orderly winddown of business.
Let me just stop there and take your questions.
Q Real quick, I guess that —
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible.)
Q I just had a real quick question. You said it would take some time before it affects the economy and inflation. What’s the timetable? How long do you think it will take until you have demonstrable results?
MR. SINGH: Well, look, these are — these are costs that build over time. And as I mentioned, I think, last Friday, any leader, whether you’re an autocrat or a small-“d” democrat, has to pay attention to the living standards of your country. And already, we’re seeing the effects of these measures in the signaling that we provided over the last three months.
Before these sanctions were implemented, inflation in Russia was 8.7 percent, the government’s borrowing costs had spiked above 10 percent, the Ruble had lost almost 15 percent of its value. And today, those costs escalated dramatically.
Now, it’s going to be up to President Putin to decide, ultimately, how much cost he’s willing to bear. What we control is to make sure this will be a strategic failure — not just because of the sanctions but also because of the export controls; because of Europe’s accelerated diversification away from Russia, in terms of its energy supply; due to our fortification of NATO’s eastern flank; and due to the renewed energy and unity and determination by the West to stand up for our values and advance our principles.
Q But to confirm: You’re in it for the long haul, right? That’s — I mean, your — until you see the results that you want?
MR. SINGH: We understand that these costs will accumulate over time.
MS. PSAKI: Memoli.
Q Thank you. You’ve just laid out all of the actions that the U.S. and our Allies have taken at this point. As you understand, the questions, though, at this point, are about the actions you have not yet chosen to take at this point, specifically the SWIFT system and sanctioning President Putin specifically himself.
What are the triggers at this point? Are there actions that President Putin might still take that you’re expecting that would trigger those sanctions? Or what are the potential complications, especially about sanctioning Putin personally?
MR. SINGH: So, I m- — I understand there are a lot of questions about SWIFT and about sanctioning President Putin and lots of other measures that could be mentioned. But let me — let me say this: I think today was a demonstration that we mean what we say. We delivered on what we said we would do, in terms of imposing costs. So when we say all options are on the table and that we’re prepared to continue to ratchet costs higher, it would be a mistake to doubt that resolve.
But let me — let me also step back and say that when we consider which sanctions to apply, we’re not cowboys and cowgirls pressing a button to impose costs; we follow a set of principles. We want the sanctions to be impactful enough to demonstrate our resolve and to show that we have the capacity to deliver overwhelming costs to Russia. That’s one.
Number two, we want them to be responsible, to avoid even the perception of targeting the average Russian civilian and, of course, unwanted spillovers back to the U.S. or the global economy.
Number three, we want to stay coordinated. And so, we calibrate our sanctions to maximize the chance that we move in lockstep with our Allies and partners.
Number four, they should be flexible so that we can escalate or de-escalate depending on facts on the ground.
And lastly, as I mentioned before, they have to be sustainable. These sanctions work over the long term. That’s what will guide our design.
MS. PSAKI: MJ.
Q In light of the sanctions that were announced against individuals and entities in Belarus, can you tell us whether there are sanctions against any other countries that are being seriously considered at the moment? And what is the line that a nation would need to cross in this conflict for them to recei- — be on the receiving end of sanctions from the U.S.?
MR. SINGH: Well, the Belarus measures were about delivering costs to a country that aided and abetted what we saw yesterday and overnight. But I have nothing else for you in terms of other countries being targeted.
MS. PSAKI: JJ.
Oh, did you have a question?
Q Oh, yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Yeah, definitely. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t (inaudible) — I was confusing the arms here. (Laughter.) (Inaudible.)
Q Thank you. Thank you, Daleep.
MS. PSAKI: We’ll come back to you.
Q I wanted to ask you about the — some of the carve-outs. There are general licenses for more than a dozen areas — agriculture, energy — and you just said that the importance is to limit the impact on Americans. But I was hoping that you could say — is there a percentage that you could share of the number of exemptions that make up the overall transactions? So, the general licenses, how many — how many tran- — what percentage of the transactions are under those licenses?
MR. SINGH: I would refer you to Treasury and OFAC for the — for the details on what exactly is being exempted and the percentage of business that would be included.
Q I mean, could you say — is it a third? Is it a half? I mean, is it a small percentage? Is it a high percentage?
MR. SINGH: I would go back to the principles of our design. The measures themselves and the exemptions are balanced so that we can deliver overwhelming costs while not having unintended consequences. And so, that’s the — that’s the principle.
But as to the specifics, I’d refer you to Treasury.
Q But wouldn’t the — wouldn’t the oil be a large percentage, I mean, considering how important it is to — to Russia’s bottom line?
MR. SINGH: Well, look, where we have an asymmetric advantage is in foreign capital and cutting-edge technology. So that’s where we’re — that’s where we’re delivering the most concentrated impact.
When it comes to energy: This is the one area — this is the one area where Russia has systemic importance in the global economy. We know it’s the second-largest natural gas producer in the world. It’s also the second-largest crude oil producer in the world.
That’s not to say that we have a dependence on Russia; Russia depends on those revenues just as much as the world needs its energy. But we’re not going to — we’re not going to do anything which causes an unintended disruption to the flow of energy, as the global economic recovery is still underway.
MS. PSAKI: (Inaudible.)
Q Thanks. Two quick questions, Daleep. One, if Putin takes Kyiv, does that trigger additional sanctions — specifically that scenario?
MR. SINGH: I’m not going to speculate on particular hypotheticals.
Q Okay. And you mentioned the timeline — you’ve been asked about the timeline. The President said, in one of the answers to his questions today, said, “Let’s have a conversation in [a] month” to see if these sanctions are working. But my question is: What happens in the meantime? Russia is taking over parts of Ukraine — major parts of Ukraine as we speak. So the world just sits back and watches that happen until these sanctions take effect?
MR. SINGH: Look, we can’t dictate Putin’s actions. What we can do is what’s within our control and to make sure this is going to be a strategic failure for Russia.
And so, over the course of the next month, what you can expect is that we’ll see an intensifying negative feedback loop in Russian markets — and I’ve described the elements of that. You’ll see record capital outflight — capital — record capital outflows. You’ll see a weaker currency. You’ll see higher inflation. You’ll see lower purchasing power. You’ll see lower investment.
And that negative feedback loop — the velocity of it — is going to be determined by Putin’s own actions. And so, that’s what you should expect on the financial sanctions front.
On export controls, what you can see is that, over time, this is going to atrophy Russia’s capacity to diversify outside of just oil and gas, and to modernize the strategic sectors that Putin himself has said he wants to develop: aerospace, defense, IT, lasers, sensors.
These sectors all depend on foundational technologies designed and produced by the West. You will begin to see a chilling effect take hold in Russia as those inputs are denied.
MS. PSAKI: Weijia.
Q Thank you. For weeks now, administration officials have repeatedly said — yourself included — that these sanctions are meant to deter and prevent Putin from moving forward, from acting. Can you help us understand why the President said today that no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening?
And then secondly, a quick one on Putin sanctions: Without talking about when you might trigger them, can you help us understand what harm they would do to him personally if you were to sanction Putin?
MR. SINGH: Look, on your first question, we don’t usually engage in hypotheticals up here at this podium, but let’s play this out. Had we — had we unleashed our entire package of financial sanctions preemptively, I think a couple things might have happened.
Number one, President Putin might have said, “Look, these people are not serious about diplomacy. They’re not engaging in a good-faith effort to promote peace. Instead, they’re escalating.” And that could provide a justification for him to escalate and invade.
Secondly, he could look at it as a sunk cost. In other words, President Putin could think, “I’ve already paid the price. Why don’t I actually take what I paid for, which is Ukraine’s freedom?”
So that’s — that’s what we wanted to avoid.
Look, ultimately — ultimately, the goal of our sanctions is to make this a strategic failure for Russia. And let’s define a little bit of what that means.
Strategic success in the 21st century is not about a physical land grab of territory. That’s what Putin has done.
In this century, power — strategic power is increasingly measured and exercised by economic strength, by technological sophistication, and your story — who you are, what your values are, can you attract ideas and talent and goodwill. On each of those measures, this would be a failure for Russia.
Q But — but —
Q Mr. Singh, I keep asking —
Q No, I —
Q — you these same questions.
Q I’m sorry, I didn’t —
MS. PSAKI: Simon, she’s not done yet.
Q Excuse me.
MS. PSAKI: Let Weijia finish. Go ahead.
MR. SINGH: On President Putin.
Q But did you — but is it fair to say no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything? You certainly expected that, right?
MR. SINGH: Look, we — we signaled as clearly as we could what was coming if Russia proceeded with an invasion. You know, as I mentioned before, economic costs of this severity generally matter to any leader because of the effect it has on — on his people’s living standards.
In this case, Putin made the wrong choice.
MS. PSAKI: JJ.
Q Mr. Singh, (inaudible).
MS. PSAKI: JJ.
Q I keep asking you the same question.
MS. PSAKI: Let’s get — JJ is asking a question, Simon.
Go ahead, JJ.
Q One more on SWIFT, please.
Q How do we assure that these sanctions don’t really affect ordinary — ordinary people in Russia?
Q The UK has been pressuring Allies to still reject Russia from the SWIFT system. Can you say if the U.S. is still intensely working to pressure Allies to do the same? How intensely are you guys pursuing that?
MR. SINGH: I can’t comment on what the UK’s position is. I’m not — I’m not going to speak to that. But what I’ll say is the sanctions measures we imposed today, I think, without question, were the most consequential ever levied on Russia and arguably the most consequential ever levied in history, if you look at the aggregate financial impact on Russia.
So, that’s why we took the measures that we did. And we did so because we could move in lockstep with our Allies and partners. And because we think the spillover effects will be manageable.
Q What I’m still — I’m trying to figure out — if this is still a realistic live round, is the U.S. really still making an intense effort for this? Or is it essentially —
MR. SINGH: “This” being SWIFT?
Q SWIFT, right.
MR. SINGH: Well, look, again, I’m just going to repeat: All options are on the table, and we’re — we’re prepared to ratchet costs higher at a time and place of our choosing. And, you know, President Putin should take that seriously after what he saw today.
MS. PSAKI: Michael.
Q Mr. Singh, how do you ensure that these sanctions don’t really affect ordinary people in Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Simon — Simon — Michael — let Michael ask his question.
Go ahead, Michael.
Q I keep asking the same question, Jen.
Q Just two questions. First, if you were to sanction Vladimir Putin, do you know where his money is?
MR. SINGH: Not going to comment on that.
Q And, secondly, if — what is the message to Russia at this point on what it would take to roll back — relieve some of the sanctions that you’ve put in place today?
MR. SINGH: Look, the road to diplomacy is always open. Diplomacy is never dead. But in the current circumstance, in the immediate aftermath of an invasion, that — that option is not available. Right now, we’re imposing severe consequences on Russia for its decisions.
If there were to be a shift in Russia’s strategic choices that upheld core principles of respecting your neighbors’ borders, respecting your neighbors’ sovereignty, allowing countries to have the freedom to set their own course and their own destiny, that would be a different situation, but that’s not where we are.
MS. PSAKI: Tyler.
Q You suggested that there are things that still remain on the table, but as you walked through the hypothetical scenarios of trying to keep diplomacy open, you said that they have now crossed the line.
But if you’re saying there is still more on the table, do expect things to get worse in the coming days, that Russia will continue to move forward? Is that the intelligence? I know you guys have been quite transparent about the intelligence you have. Are you keeping things back because you think the situation is going to get worse?
MR. SINGH: Well, I think we’ve — we’ve been transparent in — to a remarkable degree. And one aspect of that transparency is by saying we can’t get into President Putin’s head. And so, your question requires me to speculate on — on how he’s thinking about next steps. And I simply can’t do that.
Q But just in terms of U.S. intelligence and the way that you are planning out the different sanctions you have and keeping things on the table, is that a sense that it will get worse, because you want to hold things back?
MR. SINGH: Look, our job is to be prepared and manage risks — all manner of risks. And that’s what we’ve been doing over the past three months as this crisis intensified. We’ll continue doing that.
MS. PSAKI: Last one, from Steve. Go ahead.
Q Just to follow up — follow up from Franco, the — targeting the Russian energy industry is totally off the table. Is that what you’re saying, Daleep?
MR. SINGH: What I’m saying is that our measures were not designed to disrupt in any way the current flow of energy from Russia to the world.
Now, we have also said we are going to cut off Russia’s access to cutting-edge technology. That technology can be used across many sectors. And so, as it relates to Russia’s long-term productive capacity, we are seeking to degrade that capacity, but nothing — nothing in the short term, as it relates to energy.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you so much, Daleep.
MR. SINGH: Thank you. Thank you, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.
Okay, I know it’s late, but we will get to as many people as possible.
I just wanted to note a couple of things at the top for all of you.
One, USAID put out an announcement that they’ve deployed a DART, or Disaster Assistance Response Team, to respond to humanitarian needs in Ukraine. This DART team, which is currently based in Poland, is working closely with European Allies and partners who will be on the frontlines of their response. The team will lead the U.S. government’s humanitarian response to help address critical needs caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The DART comprises 17 disaster experts from USAID who are assessing the situation, identifying priority needs to scale up assistance inside Ukraine, and working with partners to provide rapidly needed assistance to communities affected by the conflict.
MS. PSAKI: I know a number of you have also asked me and we’ve tried to provide as much detail as possible about how the President has spent his time over the last period since last evening. I think we put out a few details, but just to reiterate for all of you:
He closely monitored the events on the ground from both the Oval Office and then back in the Residence over the course of last evening.
We put out a few details last night, including the fact that he spoke repeatedly with his National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan. He also spoke with his U.S. U.N. Ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, before she gave that powerful speech at the U.N. last night. He received a briefing from Secretary Austin, Chairman Milley, Secretary Blinken, and his National Security Advisor around 11:00 p.m., approximately, last evening, as well. And as you know, he also spoke with President Zelenskyy. He continued to monitor closely into the wee hours last night.
This morning, as you all know, he engaged — or he met for just about an hour with his national security team, which included both a full table in the room and full members from the Cabinet, from the national security team on the screen.
During that meeting, as is standard, he received an update from, of course, Defense, intel, his diplomatic team about the status on the ground. And he has, of course, remained closely engaged with them through the course of the day.
As you know, he also had a G7 meeting that lasted a couple of hours this morning. And he also spent an hour this afternoon on the phone with the leaders — leaders in Congress — Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, briefing them on the situation on a secure call, briefing them on the situation on the ground, answering questions they had as well.
So that has been his day to date. And he is continuing, of course, to focus on other priorities as President.
But why don’t we go to you, Zeke?
Q Thanks, Jen. Just picking up on that, has the President made any additional foreign leader calls today? Has he spoken to President Zelenskyy since their call late last evening?
MS. PSAKI: There has not been another call to President Zelenskyy. I expect, as you have seen over the past several days, he will continue to have calls with leaders. We will keep you abreast as those happen.
Q And with the U.S. government saying that it believes that the Russian objective right now is to, quote, “decapitate” the Ukrainian government, does — does the U.S. believe that President Zelenskyy, at this moment, is safe?
MS. PSAKI: We’re not going to get into security — security questions, but we are in touch with President Zelenskyy, and we are working to provide him a range of support.
Q And President Zelenskyy, in addition to calling for the West to impo- — to cut Russia off from SWIFT, also proposed or called for — demanded, I think, is the word he used in a tweet that the U.S. and its Allies impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.
I know the President has said that he won’t put U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine to fight Russia. Is — is Ukrainian airspa- — is Ukrainian airspace in play? Is that something that has — the subject of any discussions?
MS. PSAKI: We’ve certainly seen — I’ve seen — we’ve certainly seen his — his tweet — or his request via tweet. But I don’t have an update on that request.
Q But is that — that’s not off the table? A no-fly zone is not off the table?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have any update on it at this point in time or status of the discussions.
Q Thanks. Just a follow-up on troops, fast, and a few cyber questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q Do you expect NATO to call up a major response force? And how many U.S. troops could be called to help in that effort?
MS. PSAKI: That’s really up to NATO. As you know, we have a number of troops — thousands of troops that are on call. But that is a decision to be made by the NATO Alliance.
Q The President said if Putin pursues cyberattacks against our companies, our critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond.
So just clarifying: Does that, first, mean that there has not been any evidence of any cyberattack from Russia against any American companies at this point?
MS. PSAKI: Not that we have identified or attributed at this point in time.
Q And can you explain —
MS. PSAKI: I mean, aside from past ones that you are (inaudible) tracking.
Q Yeah, I guess I mean in the last —
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q — 24 hours.
MS. PSAKI: I understand.
Q Can you explain more of the White House’s thinking on, kind of, this debate in Washington about whether a cyberattack against a NATO Ally would trigger an Article 5 response — a response from the Alliance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that, again, is up to the NATO Alliance to determine, but, obviously, a cyberattack does constitute an attack, so that would certainly be a point of discussion among the NATO members.
Q Okay, one more really fast. On the US- — USAID disaster response that you just mentioned, a 17-person team — is that enough? I mean, we’re talking about — we’ve heard you guys talk about the potential of hundreds of thousands of refugees —
MS. PSAKI: You’re absolutely right. And I think that’s an important point. But what I — what we’re trying to do here is provide any incremental update on the status of what our work is.
And I’ll just note, and you may be fully aware of this — but in terms of humanitarian assistance, we have been the biggest provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine; we’ve provided over $52 million in humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the past year.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve committed additional funding and supplies to humanitarian organizations. There’s been a specific need and therefore a focus on support services, food, clean water, hygiene, shelter, trauma, primary healthcare. Our prepare — and we are prepared to certainly provide a significant amount more.
So, this is just one step — obviously, less than 24 hours after the events of last night, and we will continue to plus up from here.
Q Jen, there are a number of protests within Russia itself. Are you monitoring this? What’s your message to them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly are. And I know, with everything going on, this may not have caught everybody’s attention.
But let me just note that, you know, today we’re seeing Russian people in the streets, open letters from leading Russian journalists, cul- — and cultural figures denouncing President Putin’s war of choice, and reports of Russian mothers concerned about the reckless deployment of their sons to this fratricidal war.
I think it’s important to remember back in 2014 when they didn’t even acknowledge that they were sending Russian soldiers, they didn’t even acknowledge when there were body bags coming back from Ukraine into Russia. And there is an outcry in the streets by Russian people, by — by more Russian people than I think many would expect. So, despite Putin’s crackdown at home, dissenting views remain, and I think that’s important to note.
To publicly protest against President Putin and his war is a deeply courageous act. Their actions show the world that, despite the Kremlin’s propaganda, there are Russian people who profoundly disagree with what he is doing in Ukraine.
Q And then, one more. Speaker Pelosi is talking about sending $600 million in lethal aid to Ukraine. Is this something you support?
MS. PSAKI: We are in conversations with Congress. And I mentioned the President spoke with leaders just earlier this afternoon. I don’t have an exact number, but those are ongoing conversations about what needs the Ukrainians have on the ground in a variety of categories: security, humanitarian, other economic assistance.
Q Thank you. Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Does the U.S. have any analysis to indicate that there is dissent or division within Putin’s government? Or is it your understanding that Putin’s government is united in this war?
MS. PSAKI: It’s an interesting question, MJ. And without getting into intelligence, which obviously we look at — I mentioned, obviously, Russians protesting in the streets. That’s not exactly what you asked about. But if you watched the meeting the Pres- — President Putin had with members of his national security team the other day, it was quite striking the back-and-forth he had with his intel chief in that meeting. And the analysis of that is — certainly can be done in an open-source manner, given it was quite public. But I will leave outside analysis to give further assessment of that.
Q And as you know, we are seeing Ukrainians start to flee the country.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is the U.S. prepared to accept Ukrainian refugees?
MS. PSAKI: We are, but we — we certainly expect that most, if not the majority, will want to go to Europe, in neighboring countries.
So, we are also working with European countries on what the needs are, where there is capacity — Poland, for example, where we are seeing a — an increasing flow of refugees over the last 24 hours — or through its flow of individuals, I should say — out of Ukraine, what their needs are. And we’ve been talking and engaging with Europeans about that for some time now.
Q So part of what you’re doing is to prepare for the United States to accept refugees?
MS. PSAKI: The President is certainly prepared for that. But I would just note that because there are a number of European countries neighboring Ukraine who have expressed an openness to it, we would anticipate many of them would want — would want to go to European countries.
Q And just one more —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — quick question. The President, of course, has repeatedly said that American troops will not enter Ukraine.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q Is there any scenario that has been discussed where that decision might be reconsidered?
MS. PSAKI: The President has no intention of sending U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine. That has not changed.
Q This was asked to the President earlier, but I don’t think we got a full answer. Yesterday, Vladimir Putin said that — he warned if others got involved, they’ll suffer “consequences that you have never encountered in your history.” Does the U.S. understand that as a threat of using nuclear weapons?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we can’t, obviously, get into the mind of President Putin as much as he said that, nor do we know all the specific details about his strategic posture, but we don’t see any increased threat in that regard at this point in time.
Q Just to follow up on some of the cyber questions.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I know that you and others have talked about how the government is on alert for the potential of a cyberattack. But can you share — like are there any specific steps that are being taken that you can share that the U.S. is doing to protect the infrastructure, power grid, U.S. banks?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say: One, we’ve been — there’s been efforts that have been ongoing for some time since the beginning of the administration to harden the private sector and work with the private sector in partnership to harden their cybersecurity protections.
We’ve actually seen a great deal of progress made in the financial sector. It’s one of the stronger sectors in terms of protections, from a cyber front, that we see out there.
So, it’s been ongoing for several months. Obviously, when there are moments like this where we continue to watch and look for what the potential is, we will — we continue to re- — to engage closely with a range of industries about what they need to do about the potential threats. And that’s something that happens, obviously, privately and through a range of agencies.
I can see if there’s anything more specific that we can read out to all of you.
Q Thanks. And just real — just, real quick, one follow-up. President Biden said they are — that the U.S. is prepared if an attack comes (inaudible). Would — pardon me — he said “prepared to respond.” Would that response be a —
MS. PSAKI: A cyberattack you’re talking about?
Q A cyberattack, yes.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Would that be an equivalent cyberattack against Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that the President reserves the option to respond in any manner of his choosing: overt or covert — “seen or unseen,” as we like to say in more available English. But I’m not going to get into specifics of what that looks like. He has a range of options.
Q Thanks. On oil prices and the SPR.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Does the administration have an oil price in mind that would trigger another release from the SPR?
MS. PSAKI: I think — not that we’re going to get into detail or — from here, JJ. I understand, certainly, the question.
What you heard the President talk about today, and I can just reiterate a little bit, is that what has been ongoing — both from the President, who has been very engaged in this, having conversations with leaders in the Middle East and other parts of the world, as well as many members of his national security team — taking whatever steps we can to mitigate the impact on the global oil markets. And, obviously, that means increasing supply. Obviously, a coordinated released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve would be part of that.
But in terms of what that looks like or the specifics, I’m just not in a position to get into more details at this point.
Q Thanks. If the worst happens and Russia either reduces the flow of natural gas or cuts off energy altogether to Europe, does the administration have a good idea for how long households in Europe could last under that kind of circumstance?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have an assessment of that from here. I can certainly check with our economic team.
One thing I will say — that one of the steps we’ve been taking — obviously, natural gas shortages and supply is a — it is an enormous regional issue, one that would hugely impact Europe more than here, of course. One of the steps we’ve been focused on and been taking is engaging with partners who have — who may have ex- — excess LNG supply, like countries in Europe — Japan, for example, where they had — where we would — were planning to give them some, and now they’re going to divert it to Europe. So, we’ve been working to help mitigate any impact of a further invasion and a shortage in Europe.
Q Some of the activity that we’ve seen today in Ukraine — some of the clashes have been in and around Chernobyl. Does the United States have an assessment of the risk of a radioactive release?
MS. PSAKI: So, I do have one actual update on that as well. There’s also been — there was also a report out — so let me speak to this first, just so I don’t forget — about hos- — hostages around there as well, so let me speak to that first.
We are outraged by credible reports that Russian soldiers are currently holding the staff of the Chernobyl facilities hostage. This unlawful and dangerous hostage-taking, which could upend the routine civil service efforts required to maintain and protect the nuclear waste facilities, is obviously incredibly alarming and greatly conserming [sic] — concerning. We condemn it, and we request their release.
In terms of a further assessment, I don’t have anything more on that from here.
Q And you gave a readout of how the President spent the past 24 hours or so. First, I wanted to ask about his call with President Zelenskyy. Did he indicate if he was still in Kyiv? Did he identify his location at this point?
MS. PSAKI: We are aware of where he is located. And we are in touch with him.
I would say on that call, what — what they discussed is President Zelenskyy’s request for the President to be — to condemn the actions of President Putin and the Russians and to engage with other global leaders about it. And that’s exactly what he’s done.
Q We’ve seen a number of statements today from former presidents — President Obama, President Bush — and also saw former President Trump on television talking about this. Has the President — you mentioned, during the Afghanistan drawdown, he had been in contact with his predecessors. Has he been in touch with any of his predecessors during this?
MS. PSAKI: He has not been today.
Q And then, in terms of another domestic priority that was potentially included in his meetings today, given the situation — his time and focus and attention on Supreme Court — excuse me, on Ukraine — will this affect the timing of his Supreme Court announcement?
MS. PSAKI: We — we are still on track to make an announcement before the end of the month. We have to do a lot of things around here at the same time.
Q Just to follow up on the cyberattacks and Article 5 question.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q I know you said that it’s up to NATO to decide, but from a U.S. perspective, would any cyberattack against a NATO Ally trigger Article 5 or would there be a measure for what counts?
MS. PSAKI: Again, this is the conversation we would have with our NATO Allies and partners. I don’t have more ad- — anything in addition to add to it.
Q Okay. And just to follow up on the Supreme Court: I know you said you’re on track, but has he made a final decision, given they are basically two days left before the end of the month?
MS. PSAKI: Not a — not a final final. No offer has been — no job offer has been made.
Q Thanks. Just a couple. Are there any concerns or indications at this point that Russia had prepared for the sanctions that you’re putting in place and developed, preemptively, ways to block that impact?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s an interesting question. And it’s — and some of it is hard because it’s hard to get into the minds of President Putin and the oligarchs around him.
One of the steps we tried to take is to — you know, as we were — as we were contemplating the individuals we were going to sanction, we — we sanctioned family members as well, because what we’ve seen — the tactics they’ve used in the past is they’ve moved money around and resources around to family members. And we’ve tried to address that on the front end.
In terms of the banking and the financial sector, I mean, it accounts for such a large percentage of how they do business, that that is — it would be a difficult thing for them to plan and plot against.
And if you look to just even the anticipation of the potential sanctions, as Daleep was mentioning, you know, the Ruble is the worst-performing currency in the world right now. Their inflation is — has skyrocketed. So, we’re even seeing in their markets the anticipated impact even before today, and that’s even before the actual squeeze on the financial sector in the country.
So, it feels to me it would be a little hard to plan around and plot around, given the significance of what was done today and the fact that when we — sanctioning 10 — 10 of Russia’s financial institutions and these export control measures, which essentially cuts President Putin off from semiconductors and access to a range of technology he wants for the future, those are difficult things to plan ahead for.
Q Yeah. And then, I guess, secondly, does the administration have any assessment for how China is reacting to this at this point — whether they are willing to provide support to Russia and how much? And has there been any kind of contact there to kind of attempt to move them off of any support?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in terms of what impact they can have, I mean, China only accounts for about 15 percent of — China and Russia — I’m not sure; you can double check me on this — about 15 percent of the global economy. If you look at G7 partners, in the U.S. and Europe, it’s about 50 percent. Right? So they cannot cover what the impact of the sanctions that have been announced in coordination with Europe would — how they would impact Russia.
You know, I think from our perspective, as it relates to China, while I can’t get into the heads of what their thinking is, you know, this is a really — a moment for China, for any country to think about what side of history they want to stand on here. And, you know, that is certainly the — the case that we would make publicly and privately.
I think you saw that Secretary Blinken spoke with his counterpart just a couple of days ago. You know, the President is certainly open to speaking with his counterpart. But I don’t have any prediction of that at this point in time or a timeline.
Q Thanks, Jen. Over the past couple of weeks as you’ve been sending the alarm on this, you’ve put the sanctions package together, done — conducted diplomacy with the Russians and the rest of the world. How did the Ukrainian government use that time since they’ve been initially warned that this was a likelihood? Did they use that time wisely to prepare?
MS. PSAKI: Tell me more about what you mean, exactly.
Q Well, you’re seeing reports from the streets in Russia of — sorry, in Ukraine of people being surprised. You had, obviously, local and national leadership in Ukraine telling people to stay calm, to remain — to go to work even a day before the invasion began. So, were they properly prepared? And was there more that they could have done in the leadup?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think it’s not particularly constructive for us to give an assessment of that. What — what I can tell you is that our focus has been on providing up-to-date — what has turned out to be quite accurate and transparent information about what the — President Putin has — was preparing to do, which is invade Ukraine.
And we have been very clear with American citizens who were there. We have been clear with our European partners for months now, including Ukrainian leadership. So that has been what our focus has been. And, you know, we will remain a strong support — supporter and partner of President Zelenskyy and Ukraine moving forward.
Q Thanks, Jen. Following up on the sanction question.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q We have heard for weeks that these sanctions were, at least in part, a part of a strategy that was based on deterrence —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — as well as prevention. Today, with the President’s comment that “no one expected the sanctions to prevent anything from happening,” moving forward, do you expect this slate of sanctions to prevent any further advancement or aggression from Russia?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would say that later in the — later in the back-and-forth or the press avail, he also said, when asked, ” If sanctions cannot stop President Putin, what penalty can?” And he said, ” I didn’t say sanctions couldn’t stop him.” Which leads me to believe that’s not exactly what he meant. He also went on to say ” The threat of the sanctions and imposing the sanctions and seeing the effect of the sanctions are two different things.”
And the way we look at this, broadly speaking — and Daleep touched on this a little bit — is that we do see them as having a deterrent impact, right? It doesn’t mean they’re 100 percent foolproof.
But if you — if there’s a 95 percent chance of Russia invading without the threat of sanctions, and there’s a 60 — I’m making up these percentages just to make a point — but — and a 65 percent chance that they will with them, you’re obviously going to go with the threat of sanctions because you want to reduce the threat of an invasion. So, there is a deterrent. And we’ve seen the deterrent impact work at times. Right?
I’d also note, though, that we are very clear-eyed about the fact that President Putin not just a few days ago — I mean, he gave the speech a few days ago where he questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine as a sovereign country. He’s also talked about how the breakup of the Soviet Union was the worst thing that’s happened — that’s a paraphrase — in recent — you know, in decades of history. So, we are clear-eyed about his ambition.
But what the other part of it that we are quite focused on is the consequences. And the way we see it is — you know, as we’ve touched on a little bit — inflation is skyrocketing, the Ruble is the worst-performing currency in the world. It was his decision to go to war. It’s our choice to make him pay a price — same with the global community — and we believe these consequences are also going to have an impact.
Q And that — just at the risk of repeating your question as well: I mean, the President did also say, you know, let’s check in in a month.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q And there has been some questions about time here. It seems like this is a strategy to use these sanctions to put pressure on Russia to eventually discourage them to pull out — or to force them to pull out this — this advance. So, what is the timetable here, you think, for when the Russian government will start actually feeling the impact of these sanctions and possibly pull out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, in many senses, they’re already feeling the impact. I mean, look at where the Ruble is. Look at where inflation is. Look at where the markets are in Russia.
In terms of how Putin will feel the impact, we just sanctioned a range of oligarchs around him. We sanctioned 10 financial institutions. These are all — these are all significant, enormous steps that are going to have an impact on him.
But in terms of the moment by moment, I can’t give you an assessment of that.
Q Last one. Just off topic.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
Q Just — there’s been a lot of questions about refugees in the region.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q For Ukrainians that are in the country, is the U.S., especially after yesterday, considering TPS or any sort of protections?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. As you know, that’s a decision that would be made through an interagency process led by the Department of Homeland Security. And I don’t have any prediction of that. I mean, I don’t have any kind of prediction of that at this point in time. Obviously, these — these events are just unfolding as we speak.
Q So that process hasn’t started? That conversation hasn’t —
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to give you any specifics on an internal process. But I would just say, again, it’s an interagency process. And, right now, we’re, of course, in the middle of an invasion and a — and a — you know, a war in Ukraine.
Q Thanks, Jen. Earlier you had you have to do a lot of things at the same time. One of those things, of course, is the State of the Union next week.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
Q Can you tell us how the President this week has been preparing for that, how much time he spent on the speech, and how he’s juggling that with this very busy schedule that you laid out earlier tonight?
MS. PSAKI: Yeah, absolutely. So, in addition to obviously being very closely engaged and leading the effort on the U.S. response to the Russia — to Russia — the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the President has been working with speechwriters, working with pol- — members of his policy team to finalize details of his State of the Union, doing — starting to do some readthroughs — not too many, yet. I expect those will increase in the days ahead. I expect we won’t have too much of a preview for you. Maybe tomorrow, but maybe — more likely this weekend.
He’s also been engaging with his COVID team, talking about where we are in the state of the pandemic, what’s next in the pandemic.
He has been working closely with his economic team on — and receiving updates on the supply chain, the implementation of the Infrastructure Bill.
So, even as we have all been understandably focused on the conflict in Ukraine, the President has been very hard at work on a range of issues that are vital to the American people.
Q And you touched on my follow-up. ABC is reporting that the White House is revamping the COVID strategy now that hospitalizations are on the decline. Should we expect the President to roll that out in the speech next Tuesday?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any preview for you on timeline or format. But the President has been working and engaged with his COVID team for some time now, and we’re making strong — strong progress on moving toward a time when COVID is no longer a crisis.
The COVID team has been spending a lot of time and energy, including with the President, working with experts inside and outside government, local public health officials, and governors. And this work is broader than one piece of guidance.
How we look at it is we’re preparing to stay ahead of the virus, protecting our most vulnerable, keeping our country open. And that is — and that is going to look at everything from — the CDC is obviously reviewing mask guidance, but also how we’re going to ensure that vaccines, boosters, tests, treatments, and other — and other important components of our medicine cabinet are available to the American people.
Q Thanks, Jen.
Q I had a couple of questions.
MS. PSAKI: Oh, sure. And then I’ll go to you next.
Q Thanks. I had a couple of questions. First a follow-up about some of the humanitarian needs you’ve been talking about.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q You’ve talked about how much money and supplies are going to be going, but how are you going to ensure that those supplies get to the Ukraine? Is there going to be some sort of airdrop? And would the President consider putting U.S. boots on the ground for humanitarian needs to make sure they get to the people that need it?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we do have, fortunately or unfortunately, a fair amount of experience on providing humanitarian assistance in conflict zones, and we typically work — and USAID, specifically, has a great deal of experience with that — working with trusted third-party entities; obviously, the government, which remains in power. So, there’s a range of ways that we would provide assistance.
In terms of other mechanisms, I don’t have anything to predict for you at this point in time.
Q And then another question for you, and this has been happening while you’ve been up at the podium, so —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
Q I’m not trying to ambush you —
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
Q — but I wanted to give you a chance to respond. Senator Ted Cruz is speaking at CPAC, and you came up.
MS. PSAKI: Oh?
Q He called you, quote, unquote, “Peppermint Patty,” and has encouraged people to boo you. So, I wanted to —
MS. PSAKI: Don’t tell him I like Peppermint Patty. (Laughter.) I — so I’m not going to take it too offensively.
Q You just did. (Laughter.)
MS. PSAKI: Senator Cruz, I like Peppermint Patty. I’m a little tougher than that, but there you go.
Q Hi. Yeah, so back to the President’s comments earlier today. So, he did say to give it a month to see if these sanctions work.
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q However, you know, under Russia’s current assault, Ukraine clearly might not have a month or even weeks. So, is it fair to say that he is conceding Ukraine to Putin?
MS. PSAKI: There’s nothing about the President’s strategy or approach or leadership in the world — building a coalition of the majority of countries, you know, in the Western world, to stand against the actions of President Putin — that suggests that he is ceding anything.
You saw him lay out a set of historic sanctions today that will maximize pain on Russia. Yes, as we’ve — as we’ve conveyed, they’re meant to have a squeeze over the course of time, but we’re already seeing an impact on the financial markets, on the currency, on inflation in Russia. And there is a — there are — unfortunately, the Russian people are going to feel the pain of that.
So, I would say the President is going to continue, as he has for weeks now, to work in close lockstep with European partners to continue to press — to press from the global community for de-escalation as a relates to the events in Ukraine.
Q Thank you, Jen. If President Zelenskyy is in danger of being killed or captured and put on some sort of a show trial, would President Biden send U.S. troops in on a rescue mission to get him out?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we are in touch with President Zelenskyy, who is an important partner. We support him. He is the leader of Ukraine, of gov- — the President of Ukraine, but I’m not going to get into security steps.
Q Okay. There’s this talk about a possible forecast for financial pain, particularly at the gas pump —
MS. PSAKI: Yeah.
Q — for Americans. The President said today, “The notion that this is going to last for a long time is highly unlikely.” Would he try to ensure that by lifting some of the restrictions that he’s put in place on the energy industry or rethinking some projects like the Keystone Pipeline?
MS. PSAKI: Well, first of all, the Keystone Pipeline is not flowing, so I’m not sure how that would solve anything.
There’s also plenty of oil leases that are not being tapped into by oil companies, so you should talk to them about that and why.
But what the President is talking about is — we certainly understand — and he said this today, right? — it may have been in response to your question. I don’t remember. But if there’s an invasion of another country by a big country, there’s going to be impacts on the markets. Right? And we certainly anticipated that, and we anticipate that as it relates to the global oil market as well.
So that’s why the President, for weeks now, has been engaging with a range of big global suppliers — some in the Middle East, others — to see what we can do to ensure there is supply out there in the market to reduce the impact on the American people.
Q And the U.S. is one of the Russian oil industry’s best customers — hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. Would the President ever consider ordering U.S. companies to stop importing Russian oil?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any prediction of that at this point, Peter. We announced some significant sanctions today. Our objective is to ensure there is the greatest pain — economic pain on Russia and not on the Russian people, but on President Putin, and to minimize the impact on the American people, including companies here in the United States.
Q Thanks, Jen.
MS. PSAKI: All right. Thanks, everyone. See you tomorrow.
Q Jen, the President said that he thinks that Putin is go and try to expand back the Soviet Union. So, is this — do you all think this is act one in a multiple-country invasion?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction of that, but we certainly think he has grander ambitions than Ukraine.
Q And to clarify that same point: Does he believe that President Putin is going to absorb Ukraine into Russia when he says that President Putin wants to “reestablish the…Soviet Union”? Is that what he’s saying?
MS. PSAKI: I think he believes that — as we all do — that President Putin has more — has grander ambitions in Ukraine. Hence, the military campaign is continuing.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
MS. PSAKI: We’ll do this more tomorrow.
6:23 P.M. EST