Remarks by President Biden in Press Conference
6:32 P.M. CET
THE PRESIDENT: Good evening, everyone. With all the press that’s here, you must be getting very tired. Am I the 16th or 17th? At any rate, all kidding aside, thank you for taking the time.
I — today marks one month since Russia began its carnage in Ukraine, the brutal invasion of Ukraine. And we held a NATO summit the very next day. At that time, my overwhelming objective, wanting that summit, was to have absolute unity on three key important issues among our NATO and European allies.
First was to support Ukraine with military and humanitarian assistance.
Second was to impose the most significant — the most significant sanctions — economic sanction regime ever, in order to cripple Putin’s economy and punish him for his actions.
Third was to fortify the eastern flank of our NATO Allies, who were obviously very, very concerned and somewhat at — worried what would happen.
We accomplished all three of these. And today, we’re determined to sustain those efforts and to build on them.
The United States has committed to provide over $2 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since I became President — anti-air systems, anti-armor systems, ammunition. And our weapons are flowing into Ukraine as I speak.
And today, I’m announcing the United States have prepared to commit more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to help get relief to millions of Ukrainians affected by the war in Ukraine.
Many Ukrainian refugees will wish to stay in Europe, closer to their homes. But we’ve also — will welcome 100,000 Ukrainians to the United States with a focus on reuniting families.
And we will invest $320 million to bolster democratic resilience and defend human rights in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
We’re also coordinating with the G7 and the European Union on food security, as well as energy security, and I’ll have more to say about that tomorrow.
We’re also announcing new sanctions of more than 400 individuals and entities aligned with — in alignment with the European Union: more than 300 members of the Duma, oligarchs, and Russian defense companies that fuel the Russian war machine.
In addition to the 100,000 U.S. forces now stationed in Europe to defend NATO territory, NATO established, as you already know, four new battle groups in Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Slovakia to reinforce the eastern front.
Putin was banking on NATO being split. In my early conversation with him in December and early January, it was clear to me he didn’t think we could sustain this cohesion.
NATO has never, never been more united than it is today. Putin is getting exactly the opposite of what he intended to have as a consequence of going into Ukraine.
We built that same unity with our European — the European Union and with the leading democracies of the G7 — in the G7.
So I want to thank you, and I’ll be now happy to take your questions. Since there’s so many people out there, I’m going to — I’ve been given a list.
Now, how about Chris with the Associated Press? First question.
Q Hi. Thank you, Mr. President. So you’ve warned about the real threat of chemical weapons being used. Have you gathered specific intelligence that suggests that President Putin is deploying these weapons, moving them to position, or considering their use?
And would the U.S. or NATO respond with military action if he did use chemical weapons?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, on the first question, I can’t answer that. I’m not going to give you intelligence data, number one.
Number two, we would respond. We would respond if he uses it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.
Josh, of Bloomberg.
Q Perhaps I’ll just project, Mr. President. Thank you very much.
THE PRESIDENT: If I had your voice, I’d had been elected a lot earlier. (Laughter.)
Q (Microphone is extended towards press member.) Okay. I’ll give — I’ll give it a try. It’s got a long arm. Thank you.
Can you talk to us about two things, sir: One, since your conversation with President Xi of China, have you seen any indications of action or lack of action from China that has led you to believe whether they will intervene and help Russia either with the sale of arms or the provision of supplies to support this war in Ukraine?
And secondly, can you say whether this — the conversation today turned to the subject of food shortages, and what the U.S. will do to address wheat shortages, in particular, as a result of this war? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: On the first question relating to President Xi Jinping of China, I had a very straightforward conversation with Xi — now, I guess, it’s six days ago, seven days ago — in that range.
And I made it clear to him — I made no threats, but I made it clear to him that — make sure he understood the consequences of him helping Russia, as had been reported and as what was expected.
And I made no threats, but I pointed out the number of American and foreign corporations that left Russia as a consequence of their barbaric behavior. And I indicated that I knew how much he — because we had long discussions in the past about his interest in making sure he has economic relations and economic growth with Europe and the United States — and indicated that he’d be putting himself in significant jeopardy and those — in those aims if, in fact, he were to move forward.
I am not going to comment on any detail about what we know or don’t know as a consequence of that conversation. But tomorrow is — is it tomorrow or next Monday that Ursula is having that conference with China?
WHITE HOUSE AIDE: April 1st.
THE PRESIDENT: The 1st — on April 1st.
We’ve had discussions — because I think that China understands that its economic future is much more closely tied to the West than it is to Russia. And so I — I’m hopeful that he — he does not get engaged.
We also did discuss today that there’s a need for us to set up, NATO to set up, and — and the EU — to set up a system whereby we have an organization looking at who has violated any of the sanctions, and where and when and how they violated them. And that’s something we’re going to put in train. It’s not done yet.
So, with regard to Xi, I — I have nothing more to report.
With regard to food shortage, yes, we did talk about food shortages. And — and it’s going to be real. The price of these sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia, it’s imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well, including European countries and our country as well. And — because both Russia and Ukraine have been the breadbasket of Europe in terms of wheat, for example — just to give you one example.
But we had a long discussion in the G7 with the — with both the United States, which has a significant — the third-largest producer of wheat in the world — as well as Canada, which is also a major, major producer. And we both talked about how we could increase and disseminate more rapidly food. Food shortages.
And in addition to that, we talked about urging all the European countries and everyone else to end trade restrictions on — on sending — limitations on sending food abroad. And so, we are in the process of working out, with our European friends, what it would be — what it would take to help alleviate the concerns relative to food shortages.
We also talked about a significant, major U.S. investment, among others, in terms of providing for the need for humanitarian assistance, including food, as we move forward.
Tarini, of the Wall Street Journal. Watch out you don’t get hit in the head there now. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, in your view, does President Zelenskyy need to cede any Ukrainian territory in order to gain a ceasefire with Russia? Or is that completely off the table?
And then also, do you think that Russia needs to be removed from the G20?
THE PRESIDENT: On the latter point, my answer is yes. That depends on the G20. I — that was raised today. And I raised the possibility, if that can’t be done — if Indonesia and others do not agree, then we should, in my view, ask to have both Ukraine be able to attend the meetings, as well as — well, basically Ukraine being able to attend the G20 meetings and observe.
With regard to — what was the first question?
Q If you think that Ukraine needs to cease — to give up any territory in order to get a ceasefire.
THE PRESIDENT: That is a total judgment based on Ukraine. “Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” I don’t believe that they’re going to have to do that, but that’s a judgment. There’s negotiations — that are discussions, I should say — that have taken place that I have not been part of, including Ukrainians. And it’s — it’s their judgment to make.
Cecilia, ABC. There you are.
Q Oh, (inaudible). Thank you.
Sir, you’ve made it very clear in this conflict that you do not want to see World War Three. But is it possible that, in expressing that so early, that you were too quick to rule out direct military intervention in this war? Could Putin have been emboldened, knowing that you were not going to get involved directly in this conflict?
THE PRESIDENT: No and no.
Q You do not believe that?
And to clarify, on chemical weapons: Could — if chemical weapons were used in Ukraine, would that trigger a military response from NATO?
THE PRESIDENT: It would re- — it would trigger a response in kind, whether or not — you’re asking whether NATO would cross; we’d make that decision at the time.
Q And my final question: Because you’re heading to Poland tomorrow, do you think that getting a firsthand look at the effects of this war on these millions of Ukrainians who have fled their country could change the way that you might respond?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think so, because I’ve been to many, many warzones. I’ve been in refugee camps. I’ve been in warzones for the last 15 years. And it’s — it’s devastating. And what — the thing you look at the most is you see these young children, you see children without parents that are in those camps or in — or refugees. You see women and husbands — men and women who are completely lost and have no — you see the look — that blank look on their face, that absolute feeling of, “My God, where am I? What’s going to happen to me?”
And so, it — what it will do, it will reinforce my commitment to have the United States make sure we are a major piece of dealing with the relocation of all those folks, as well as humanitarian assistance needed both inside Ukraine and outside Ukraine.
For example, this is not something that Poland or Romania or Germany should carry on their own. This is an international responsibility. And the United States, as the leader — one of the leaders in the international community, has an obligation to be engaged — to be engaged and do all we can to ease the suffering and pain of innocent women and children, and men, for that matter, throughout — throughout Ukraine and those who have made it across the border.
I plan on attempting to see those folks, as well as I hope I’m going to be able to see — I guess I’m not supposed to say where I’m going, am I? But anyway, I hope I get to see a lot of people. (Laughter.)
Markus, with Der Spiegel.
Q Thanks, Mr. President. There’s a presidential election coming up in 2024. And as you know, there are wide- —
THE PRESIDENT: You’re kidding.
Q Yes. (Laughter.) It’s true. And there are widespread concerns in Europe that a figure like your predecessor, maybe even your predecessor himself, might get elected president again. So, are there any steps, anything you’re trying to do and NATO is trying to do here, these days, to prevent what you’re trying to do becoming undone two years from now? Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I — that’s not how I think of this. I’ve been dealing with foreign policy for longer than anybody that’s involved in this process right now. I have no concerns about the impact —
I made a commitment when I ran this time. I wasn’t going to run again, and I mean that sincerely. I had no intention of running for President again and — until I saw those folks coming out of the fields in Virginia carrying torches and carrying Nazi banners and literally singing the same vile rhyme that they used in Germany in the early ‘20s — or ‘30s, I should say. And then, when the gentleman you mentioned was asked what he thought — and a young woman was killed, a protester — and he asked — was asked what he thought, he said, “There are very good people on both sides.” And that’s when I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet any longer.
And when I ran this time — and I think the American press, whether they look at me favorably or unfavorably, acknowledge this — I made a determination: Nothing is worth — no election is worth my not doing exactly what I think is the right thing. Not a joke. I’m too long in the tooth to fool with this any longer.
And so, we’re a long way off in elections — a long way off. My focus of any election is on making sure that we retain the House and the United States Senate so that I have the room to continue to do the things that I’ve been able to do in terms of grow the economy and deal in a rational way with American foreign policy and lead the world — lead the — be the leader of the free world.
So — but it’s not a — it’s not an illogical question for someone to ask. I say to people at home: Imagine if we sat and watched the doors of the Bundestag broken down and police officers killed and hundreds of people storming in, or imagine if we saw that happening in the British Parliament or whatever. How would we feel?
And one of the things that I take some solace from is: I don’t think you’ll find any European leader who thinks that I am not up to the job. And I mean that sincerely. It’s not like, “Whoa…” It’s that — that —
The point is that when — the first G7 meeting I attended, like the one I did today, was in Great Britain. And I sat down, and I said, “America is back.” And one of the — one of my counterparts, colleagues, a head of state, said, “For how long?” “For how long?”
And so, I don’t blame — I don’t — I don’t criticize anybody for asking that question. But the next election, I’d be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me.
Thank you very, very much.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, no — yeah, one final question. Right.
(Cross-talk by reporters.)
Hey, well, wait — hold on a second, please. I was supposed to be, an hour ago, at the European Union meeting and — to speak.
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I’m not thanking you.
Someone I haven’t called on before. You.
Q Mr. President —
THE PRESIDENT: Who are you?
Q I’m Christina Ruffini from CBS. Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q Sir, deterrence didn’t work. What makes you think Vladimir Putin will alter course based on the action you’ve taken today?
THE PRESIDENT: Let’s get something straight: You remember, if you’ve covered me from the beginning, I did not say that in fact the sanctions would deter him. Sanctions never deter. You keep talking about that.
Sanctions never deter. The maintenance of sanctions — the maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain, and the demonstration — why I asked for this NATO meeting today — is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we’re doing not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That’s what will stop him.
Q Do you believe the actions today will have an impact on making Russia change course in Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s not what I said. You — you — you’re playing a game with me.
Q (Inaudible.) (Off-mic.)
THE PRESIDENT: I know. The answer is no.
I think what happens is, we have to demonstrate — the purpose — the single-most important thing is for us to stay unified, and the world continue to focus on what a brute this guy is and all the innocent people’s lives that are being lost and ruined, and what’s going on. That’s the important thing.
But, look, if you’re Putin and you think that the — that Europe is going to crack in a month or six weeks or two months, why not — they can take anything for another month.
But we have to demonstrate — the reason I asked for the meeting — we have to stay fully, totally, thoroughly united.
6:51 P.M. CET