The Westin Grand Munich
11:18 A.M. CEST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, this was an important trip to be here at the Munich Security Conference — in particular this year, as I said yesterday.
We are looking at a moment that is a very decisive moment on one of the bases for the Munich Security Conference and certainly one of the founding reasons for NATO, which is European security and the connection and alliance between Europe and the United States.
This was a productive trip, in terms of the extensive bilateral meetings that we had that were in furtherance of the ongoing collaboration and partnership with our Allies.
It was important in that, as you all know, this is a moment that is very dynamic. If not every hour, certainly every day, there seem to be new moments of interest and also of intelligence.
And so we have affirmed, however — all of that being said — through these last couple of days, that this Alliance is strong — probably stronger than it was before; and — and that this Alliance has purpose and meaning founded on shared principles that are very much at play right now. And as I mentioned yesterday, if we think about those principles, one of the most important is about a mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, which at its essence is what is at play in terms of Russia’s posture as it relates to Ukraine.
At stake is the NATO Alliance, in terms of our unity, joining together — through, sometimes, compromise; certainly always through collaboration — to be a unified voice, especially when these very founding principles of our relationship are being compromised, if not attacked.
So, with that, I’ll take any questions you have.
AIDE: And I’ll call on folks. So, Nandita from Reuters.
Q Thank you, Madam Vice President. During your meeting with President Zelenskyy, he spoke a little bit about asking the U.S. for specific defense aid. Could you talk a little bit about what he asked the United States for and what the U.S. has agreed to offer?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. Well, I’ll tell you what I think you already know: So far, we have offered — not even offered, we have — we have transferred and given $650 million in aid. We have also made certain loan guarantees around, in particular, $1 billion.
And that is on top of all of the work that we have done collectively through the NATO Alliance to provide support for Ukraine.
Q Is there anything new that you are planning to offer Ukraine?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, what I made clear in our meeting and — is that — again, this is a dynamic situation. And depending on what happens in the coming days, we will reevaluate the need that Ukraine has and our ability to support. And we have been doing that through the course of these many months.
AIDE: Let’s go to Molly from ABC.
Q Thank you, Madam Vice President. I wanted to ask you, first, are you going to take part in that NSC meeting —
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — today?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q You are going to take part in that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q And then I wanted to follow up on your meeting with President Zelenskyy yesterday.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q When he spoke after your meeting, he shared his frustration with countries like the U.S. who say that a attack is likely to happen in Ukraine but that you won’t put sanctions in place until that happens.
You — the administration has continually said that retaining those sanctions holds on to some leverage. But if you believe Putin has made up his mind, what leverage do you really have? Why not put those sanctions in place now?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence. But let’s also recognize the unique nature of the sanctions that we have outlined.
These are some of the greatest sanctions, if not the strongest, that we’ve ever issued. As I articulated yesterday, it is directed at institutions — in particular, financial institutions — and individuals, and it will exact absolute harm for the Russian economy and their government.
Q But if Putin has made up his mind, do you feel that this threat that has been looming is really going to deter him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Absolut- — we strongly believe — and remember also that the sanctions are a product not only of our perspective as the United States but a shared perspective among our Allies. And the Allied relationship is such that we have agreed that the deterrence effect of these sanctions is still a meaningful one, especially because — remember, also — we still sincerely hope that there is a diplomatic path out of this moment.
And within the context then of the fact that that window is still opening, altho- — open, although it is absolutely narrowing — but within the context of a diplomatic path still being open, the deterrence effect, we believe, has merit.
AIDE: Let’s go to Jennifer Jacobs from Bloomberg.
Q Thank you. Would you be willing to talk a little bit about how the U.S. would get out of this potential conflict with Russia? What is the endgame? How does the U.S. — after imposing some of these sanctions and possible military action, how does the U.S. disentangle from this?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I would characterize it differently. I don’t — we don’t consider ourselves to be entangled. But we’re very clear of our principles and our purpose, which is to be aligned with our Allies, understanding that — I mean, listen, guys, we’re talking about the potential for war in Europe.
I mean, let’s really take a moment to understand the significance of what we’re talking about. It’s been over 70 years. And through those 70 years, as I mentioned yesterday, there has been peace and security. We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe.
So our position is, for us, very clear, which is as a leader — which we have been, bringing together the Allies, working together around our collective and unified position — that we would all not just prefer, we desire, we believe it is in the best interest of all that there is a diplomatic end to this moment. And so where do we want this to end? That is where we want it to end.
Q What should Americans be braced for? What could they possibly be facing? The President has already said Americans will be facing some economic fallout or some hardships. Can you explain to Americans what exactly will they face if this happened?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Sure. As the President talked about in his speech, we are aware that, again, when America stands for her principles and all of the things that we hold dear, it requires sometimes for us to put ourselves out there in a way that maybe we will incur some cost. And in this situation, that may relate to energy costs, for example. But we are taking very specific and appropriate, I believe, steps to mitigate what that cost might be if it happens.
AIDE: Let’s go to Eli at the Los Angeles Times.
Q Thank you, Madam Vice President. A question about something else that President Zelenskyy said yesterday relating to NATO. He seemed to question the sincerity of Allies, including the U.S., I think, in terms of a desire to admit Ukraine to NATO. Is there any — is there any reaction to those pretty pointed comments from the President? And was that something that was discussed with Chancellor Scholz and other leaders?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me start by saying I appreciate and admire President Zelenskyy’s desire to join NATO. And one of, again, the founding principles of NATO is that each country must have the ability — unimpaired, unimpeded — to determine their own future, both in terms of their form of government and, in this case, whether they desire to be a member of NATO.
And I’ll put that in context, because the obvious is also the point, which is that: and therefore no other country can tell anyone whether they should or should not join NATO. That should be their independent choice. That is the point of sovereignty. So I respect President Zelenskyy’s desire to be a member of NATO.
NATO is a membership. It is about nations coming together as a group, making decisions collectively around, again, principles and what will be, then, the conditions and — and the standards of membership. And so that is the process.
It doesn’t happen overnight. No one country can say “I want to be, and therefore I will be.” And no one country can say “You can’t be.” And isn’t that at the heart of the very issue we’re presented with in terms of Russia’s aggression, or stated aggression, toward Ukraine?
Q Was it surprising to you, though, that he planted that flag so firmly on that issue — given that that’s obviously Putin’s main demand, is that he gets some sort of guarantee, swearing that Ukraine won’t be admitted — that Zelenskyy wants to make it clear that they do want to enter the organization? Was that a surprise that he would come and say that at this point in this crisis? And does that make it less likely that there’ll be some sort of diplomatic resolution?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to second guess President Zelenskyy’s desires for his own country. But I will say this: Let us recognize the position he is in right now. His country is virtually surrounded by Russian troops. I believe he came here — this is my belief, based on just my own assessment and speculation — he came here to make a very clear point that he does not stand alone.
In fact, I told him in our meeting, “The United States stands with you.” Because we do, as do this community of Allies and partners.
So I understand where he — why he came here. And I would not second guess — I will not second guess why he spoke the words he speaks.
He’s in a position, again, where his country is virtually surrounded by what — by, I think most reasonable people would believe, hostile troops.
AIDE: Let’s go to Aamer at The AP, please.
Q Thank you, Madam Vice President. So Daleep Singh said late last week that SWIFT sanctions probably won’t be part of the opening gambit if sanctions go forward. Considering the administration saying early and often that you’re going to stay high — start high and stay high, how does that square? How can you start high and stay high without SWIFT sanctions in the package?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We’re going to take this one moment at a time in terms of what might need to happen in the future in terms of escalation. But right now, we’ve made our position clear.
AIDE: And last question, let’s go to Natasha at CNN.
Q Thank you, Madam Vice President. I’m wondering whether the U.S. has evidence that Putin has actually given the order to his subordinates to launch an attack and whether that intelligence and that evidence is shared and agreed upon by the Allies here — and that includes Zelenskyy, who has been skeptical of this kind of intelligence in the past.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As the President has said, we believe that Putin has made his decision. Period. And — but I will also say that, as part of our relationship and partnership, in — in the context of the Alliance, we do share information, certainly, because we want to make sure that we are all working with the same information when we make these very critical and meaningful decisions — the last question about sanctions.
And I said it yesterday on the stage: Everybody didn’t agree at the beginning about what the consequences should be if Russia re-invades Ukraine. We had to meet. We had to discuss it. Because each of these nations — I mean, I spe- — I spent time — a considerable amount of time with the Chancellor of Germany yesterday. I — I spent time with the President of the EU yesterday. When we look at the significance of these sanctions, they are immense.
And so, all nations who are a part of this understand that we cannot take lightly or speak lightly about what we are prepared to do, because we do understand the cost we are exacting, and it is severe.
So we have had these discussions, again, through a process. We have arrived at this place. And — and back to the last question, we will, obviously, reassess depending on how the days, weeks, and months ahead roll out.
Q And do you believe —
AIDE: Thank you all.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: But — just go on. You can go to the follow-up (inaudible).
Q I was just going to ask: Do you believe that the U.S. and Ukraine are now more on the same page about what the intelligence suggests than they have been in the past?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I can tell you that there has been direct communication about the intelligence, so nothing is being held back.
Q Vice President, the Prime Minister of Italy does not agree with all of the sanctions plans. He said yesterday that he does not feel that energy should be sanctioned. Does that not undercut U.S. efforts to impose tough, painful, severe financial sanctions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: As I’ve said, this is an alliance of nations that each have their priorities and their — their individual concerns about how anything we do going forward will impact their specific country, their economy, and their security.
So, again, I would not deny Italy from having its perspective or its list of concerns; we all do, actually. That has been part of this process. And so Italy is very much at the table in terms of these conversations about how we can do this in a way that achieves its intended purpose, which — back to the earlier point — is about deterring Russia from invading a sovereign nation.
And we all understand, including every country in Europe, what war in Europe looks like and what it can mean for the citizens of each of those countries.
END 11:34 A.M. CEST