Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 3/18/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:12 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good early afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here. Before I take your questions, I’d like to mention something.
As many of you are well aware, with over 5 million people now signed up for private health insurance plans through the marketplaces, and 13 days left to enroll this week, we are doing a March Madness enrollment push to reach our fellow college basketball fans, especially young adults, before the March 31st deadline.
Yesterday, we released our “16 Sweetest Reasons to Get Covered” bracket, and a video by the UNC and UCONN coaches. Today, we’re lucky to have NCAA and NBA champion Shane Battier joining us to release a new analysis by HHS that looks at the economic costs and the incidence of common sports injuries like sprains and fractures. The report finds that almost 2 million people every year suffer sports-related injuries and receive treatments in emergency departments. And if you don’t have insurance, these types of injuries can really set you back financially. For example, treatment for a sprained ankle could cost over $2,000. Treatment for a broken arm could run you as much as nearly $7,700. This data also finds that the rate of these types of injuries is especially high among folks under 25.
So this is yet another reminder of the importance of getting covered, whether you’re an athlete, a fan, or, like so many of you here, both.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q (Laughter.) Take that as a compliment.
MR. CARNEY: That’s exactly right.
Q Jay, on Ukraine -- Putin annexed Crimea today. What is the definition of success if this is being labeled a test of President Obama’s leadership, as Tom Donilon mentioned over the weekend? What is failure? What is success? Before, you were trying to stop something from happening; it seems that now you have to undo something. That’s a much tougher task. And what’s the goal for the meeting of the G7 in The Hague next week?
MR. CARNEY: Let me say a few things. We condemn Russia’s moves to formally annex the Crimean region of Ukraine. Such action is a threat to international peace and security, and it is against international law. We would not recognize this attempted annexation.
As we have said, there are costs for such action. Along with our partners in Europe and Japan, the United States imposed sanctions yesterday, including an executive order that gives us an expansive tool to sanction Russian government officials, entities operating in the arms sector in Russia, and individuals who act on behalf of or provide material support to senior officials of the Russian government. You have seen some designations already, and there are more to come.
We also continue to be focused on how we can best support Ukraine. We urge Congress to pass legislation as soon as possible that will enable us to provide Ukraine the resources it needs. We also support the IMF’s ongoing work to negotiate a package with the Ukrainians.
In addition, as you know, Vice President Biden was in Poland today, and he will be in Lithuania tomorrow. To our NATO allies, our message is clear: We have a solemn commitment to our collective defense, and we will uphold this commitment.
Lastly, I would note that today, President Obama invited his counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the EU to a meeting of G7 leaders next week on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague. In answer to your question, the meeting will focus on the situation in Ukraine and further steps that the G7 may take to respond to developments and to support Ukraine. As you know, the U.S. and the other members of the G7 have already suspended our preparations for the G8 Summit in Sochi.
The actions that Russia has taken, in clear violation of international law, in clear disregard for Ukraine’s constitution, Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Ukraine’s sovereignty, have not been and will not be recognized by the international community. Those actions have incurred costs already. They have done damage to Russia’s economy, to its currency, and to its standing in the world. Further actions, further provocations will lead to higher costs.
The goal of our policy is to make clear that in the 21st century, in the year 2014, these kinds of actions are not tolerated by the international community; that they are responded to, they bring about consequences. And the leaders of Russia will have to make their own calculations about the costs that they are incurring for their country and for Russia’s future and Russia’s standing in the world.
In the meantime, the President is focused on working to build and sustain the consensus that exists in opposition to these actions, and to ensure that we collectively, both here in the United States and in Europe and Asia, are working to support Ukraine and to make it clear that these kinds of actions will not be accepted by the international community.
Q So the goal of the policy is for the Russians to disavow any steps that they have taken for the Crimean Peninsula to become -- to be part of Ukraine? Or is it more to just get the Russians to stop threatening the Eastern Ukrainian region?
MR. CARNEY: The answer is both, in the sense that what Russia has done -- the referendum held under circumstances that are unacceptable under international law and in violation of Ukraine’s constitution, the military actions taken by Russia, the actions taken by the Crimean parliament and the Russian Duma are not and will not be recognized by the international community. Further provocations will result in increased costs to Russia and others who engage in activities that violate a sovereign state’s territorial integrity.
Q So you’ve gone after visas, asset forfeitures. None of that has changed Putin’s mind. Why not deploy the full arsenal of your economic power against them initially, instead of doing it piecemeal, which doesn’t seem to be doing anything with the Russians?
MR. CARNEY: Jim, what I would say is that the motivations and the calculations of the leaders in Russia are for them to describe. What we have done is made clear that these actions will never be recognized by the international community. They’re illegal, and they violate a sovereign state’s territorial integrity.
We will make clear that we support the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. And we will make sure that there are costs to Russia for the actions that Russia has taken. And the assessments as to what costs Russia’s leaders are willing to pay on behalf of their nation and at the expense of the Russian people are ones that they will have to make. But they are real.
And Russia is taking action that reverses some of the work that that nation had done to establish itself as a responsible leader on the international stage. It isolates Russia. It undermines faith in Russia’s commitment to rule of law, and therefore undermines the incentive that global investors might have in investing in Russia. That effect has a negative impact on Russia’s economy and on the Russian people. And those costs are real.
What we can do is make sure that the costs are imposed, that the international community speaks with one voice in opposition to these steps, and that we together take action to ensure that the costs are imposed as we take action to ensure that Ukraine is supported with assistance by the United States and our allies and partners and the IMF, and as we take steps to make it clear, as Vice President Biden has done in Poland and will do in Lithuania, that we consider our commitment to our NATO allies a solemn commitment that, of course, will be upheld.
Q And on another subject -- The Washington Post is now reporting that the NSA has the ability to not only collect metadata about phone calls made and numbers, but that the calls themselves are recorded and can be played back. These are calls from foreign countries. Can you comment on that?
MR. CARNEY: I can’t. I haven’t seen the report, and I don’t have a response to it except to say that we don’t, as a general rule, comment on every specific allegation or report. We made clear what activity the NSA and our intelligence community engages in, and the fact that they are bound by our laws and the oversight of three branches of government. We also note, as I did the other day, the steps that the President announced in January to significantly reform our activity in order to provide the American people even greater assurance about these programs. But I don’t have anything specific on that report.
Q Jay, would the U.S. back the expulsion of Russia from the G8? Do you expect this to come up at the meeting next week?
MR. CARNEY: We and the other G7 nations have already now announced that preparations for the planned G8 Summit in Sochi have been halted. I don’t have a preview of all the topics that will be discussed in the G7 meeting in The Hague, on the fringes of the National Security Summit -- sorry, the Nuclear Security Summit. But certainly Ukraine and Russia’s behavior will be the number-one focus of that conversation.
It is hard to imagine a meeting of this group taking place in Russia under the current circumstances.
Q And Vladimir Putin said today that he’s not interested in Ukraine beyond Crimea. Has he given the President such assurances, and do you believe him?
MR. CARNEY: The President, as you know, spoke with President Putin the other day, one of several conversations, lengthy conversations the two leaders have had. We provided a readout; I don’t have any more specificity on that conversation.
What we are monitoring is activity, of course, in Eastern Ukraine and near Eastern Ukraine, and we are making clear that further provocations will be met with further costs to Russia. We are making clear our support for the Ukrainian government. We are working with Congress to ensure that bilateral assistance is provided and that the IMF has all the tools it needs to provide even greater assistance to Ukraine. And we’re in conversations with the Ukrainian government and others about other modes of assistance that we can provide.
I’m not going to judge the truthfulness of the statements. We’re going to look and see and evaluate the actions that are taken.
Let me go up and back. Steve.
Q The Russian stock market is soaring the last couple days. Is this a sign that the sanctions that we’ve taken are ineffective if they’re not really paying a cost? In reality, it’s up about 8, 9 percent in the last couple days, their main stock exchange.
MR. CARNEY: I think it’s down for the year and I think the ruble has lost value. And I think that the long-term effect of actions taken by the Russian government, in clear violation of the United Nations charter, in clear violation of its treaty commitments that are destabilizing and illegal, will have an impact on their economy all by themselves. They will also incur costs because of the sanctions that we and the EU have imposed, and there will be more actions taken under the authorities that exist with the two executive orders that the President has signed. So I wouldn’t, if I were you, invest in Russian equities right now -- unless you’re going short.
Q How important is it for Congress to act, given this last few days? And is the administration considering additional steps that you would like to see Congress take when they return in the light of the fact that the annexation is now going forward?
MR. CARNEY: Additional steps that Congress can take or should take? What Congress needs to do, as soon as it is able, is pass the assistance package that has been moving through the Senate. And we strongly encourage both houses to pass legislation that not only provides the bilateral assistance but ensures that the IMF has all the tools necessary to provide the maximum amount of assistance to Ukraine -- because our bilateral assistance, everyone agrees, is meant to complement, not replace, the IMF’s assistance. And if we all care, as we say we do, about making sure that the Ukrainian government in this difficult moment has all the assistance it needs to stabilize its economy, Congress needs to make sure that those IMF quota reforms are passed, as well as the bilateral assistance.
What other steps Congress can take, I’m sure we will be in discussion with congressional leaders about that matter. We are in regular consultation with the Ukrainian government, with our allies in Europe and others about what the Ukrainian government’s needs are and how we can assist them. Right now, our focus is and continues to be on de-escalation and on doing what we can to help Ukraine stabilize their economy in this difficult moment.
Q After that performance in Moscow today, does the President believe that Putin would actually give Crimea back?
MR. CARNEY: We’re not judging motives or intentions or predicting future actions, Jim. I think President Putin spoke for himself today, and everyone can evaluate what he said.
What is unquestionably true is that the actions that have occurred in Crimea, the decisions made by the Russian government are all in violation of international law and the Ukrainian constitution.
We have said all along, and so has the Ukrainian government, that there are legal means by which the residents of Crimea could take steps to change their status within Ukraine or change their relationship with Ukraine or Russia, for that matter. But there’s a legal code in place and a constitution in place for those kinds of discussions to take place and decisions to be made.
Q But it appears that Putin is not adhering to that legal code.
MR. CARNEY: No question.
Q So how do you deal with a person like that? How do you deal with the Russians if they’re not abiding by the same legal code?
MR. CARNEY: We are imposing costs to Russia through sanctions and other measures. The international community is doing the same, and there are other costs incurred by Russia because of these actions that have an effect on Russia’s ability to grow and prosper in the future. So what the motives of the Russian leadership are, I have to point you to statements by Russian leaders.
Q And is there a sense of urgency that the West needs to step it up quickly in order to have Putin and Russia reverse course? Is there a sense of urgency?
MR. CARNEY: This is certainly a serious situation and we have taken steps accordingly, and we will continue to do so as I indicated earlier. There are more designations to come when it comes to specific sanctions under the authorities created by the executive orders. And I noted that the executive order the President signed yesterday is an expansive tool that allows for sanctions to be imposed on Russian government officials -- that has happened -- but also on entities operating in the arms sector in Russia and on individuals who act on behalf of or provide material support to Russian government officials even though they themselves do not hold office in the government.
And I think that we discussed that yesterday -- there are individuals who fall into that category who have both a great deal of influence in Russia and on the Russian government and who also have substantial assets that can and would be affected by these kinds of sanctions.
Q And you’ve heard the critics in the last couple of days say that because the President showed weakness to Russia, that that invited this move from Putin to take Crimea. What is your best argument that that is not the case?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I would say in response to those criticisms, which always lack an alternative approach or proposal. The idea that bombing another country -- in this case, Syria -- would have somehow been the right policy in order to send a message to the leader of Russia so that he didn’t take action against Ukraine is preposterous in many ways. It is also provably wrong, as others have said. The fact that President George W. Bush invaded Iraq and had two ongoing wars in the Middle East didn’t seem to affect Russia’s calculations when it came to its actions in Georgia. So there’s a problem with the logic.
I would generally say that when assessments are made and judgments made about the course of action the United States is taking with regard to Ukraine, most of what we here called for, we are doing and we will continue to do, including stepping up our assistance to Ukraine, including ratcheting up the costs to Russia for their actions. If there are other concrete ideas that lawmakers or others have, they ought to express them; and certainly if they’re good ideas, we may take them up.
Chuck. I never get to my right here.
Q What made today so special about suspending diplomatic relations with Syria?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not sure it’s about -- what’s special about today --
Q I guess, why didn’t it happen sooner?
MR. CARNEY: Following the announcement that the Syrian embassy suspended its provision of consular services, and in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people, we have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations here in the United States. Consequently, the United States notified the Syrian government today that it must immediately suspend operations of its embassy in Washington, D.C. and its honorary consulates in Troy, Michigan and Houston, Texas. Syrian diplomats at the embassy and Syrian honorary consulates are no longer permitted to perform diplomatic or consular functions, and those who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents must depart the United States.
Q I guess what I’m trying to figure out is why didn’t this happen nine months ago when I think the Assad regime --
MR. CARNEY: As I said, following the announcement that the Syrian embassy suspended its provision of consular services and in consideration of the atrocities perpetrated by the Assad regime, this step was taken. I think the suspension of consular services was the nearer-term precipitating event.
Q That’s more of the tipping point. Ambassador McFaul said today -- said this morning in response to Putin’s speech that there should be more -- that the President should be enacting more sanctions today, that our new response should take place today.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I said that --
Q And Vice President Biden seemed to hint that more is coming.
MR. CARNEY: Well, more is coming.
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have timing for you. But work is being done to make further designations. And obviously when --
Q It will continue to be on the individual?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to itemize what’s under consideration or what the decisions will be. The authorities under the two executive orders are broad and give us the tools we need to take appropriate action as we see fit, given the decisions by the Russian government.
Q And can you give us more on the Merkel phone call?
MR. CARNEY: The President spoke with Chancellor Merkel not that along ago, today, about Ukraine, about the collaboration that the two leaders have engaged in with our shared allies and others to ensure that the actions in Ukraine, in Crimea, the transgressions by the Russian government are not viewed as legitimate by the international community. And that effort is clear to see, and it was evidenced by the 13 to 1 vote --
Q She agreed with that?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to speak for Chancellor Merkel, but I would point you to her public statements, which have been quite clear and strong on this matter, and on the need for further steps to be taken in response to Russia’s actions.
Q And I want to get a response to Mitt Romney’s op-ed today that seemed to suggest that the President takes too -- that he’s left with bad options because he takes too long to make decisions in certain situations, whether it’s Syria or Russia, on foreign policy. I just didn’t know if you had a response to --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have a response.
Q There’s nothing you want -- anything to say in response to his --
MR. CARNEY: I’ll resist.
All the way in the back.
Q Thanks, Jay. Two questions on the missing flight. First, Malaysia is criticized of lacking cooperation with the FBI. Is the White House frustrated with that?
MR. CARNEY: You’ll have to repeat. You said, Malaysia is criticizing?
Q Of lacking cooperation with the FBI.
Q Criticized for.
Q For -- yes.
MR. CARNEY: What I can tell you is that the Malaysian government has the lead in this investigation. U.S. officials are in Kuala Lumpur, as you know, working closely with the Malaysian government on the investigation.
This is a difficult and unusual situation, and we are working hard, in close collaboration with the Malaysian government and other partners, to investigate a number of possible scenarios for what happened to the flight. Our hearts of course go out to the families of the passengers. They are in a truly agonizing situation.
We remain fully committed to assisting the Malaysians and working with our other international partners on this investigation, on this effort. And we are providing assistance through the NTSB, through the FAA and through the FBI. So I haven’t seen the report that you’re mentioning. I can assure you that we are in a close, collaborative relationship as regards this investigation.
Q And also, there are some new reports saying that the missing flight could have landed in the U.S. military base, Diego Garcia, in the central of Indian Ocean. Do you rule in that or rule out that?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll rule that one out.
Q You mentioned earlier that there will be costs. Again, you said that yesterday, you said it today. But a lot of people who have looked at the sanctions that were imposed yesterday have found them to be minimal, and in some cases risible. Mr. Rogozin said that they were written by a prankster. And, in fact, a lot of the people who were sanctioned don’t have any assets in the U.S. So --
MR. CARNEY: Or say they don’t.
Q Or say they don’t. So how do these bite? I mean, what --
MR. CARNEY: Bill, what I can tell you is that the actions taken against 11 individuals were part of a process that will continue because of continued unwillingness by Russia to resolve this in a way that’s consistent with international law. And the costs have been real and they will increase. I’m not going to get into a guessing game about what the decision-making process is among President Putin and his advisors about steps moving forward or the acceptability of the rising costs that are being imposed on Russia for Russia’s actions.
What I can tell you is those costs are real and they will increase.
Q What are those costs? I mean, we don’t have any indication from you what you think the costs are.
MR. CARNEY: No, that’s -- because somebody pops off for a television camera doesn’t mean that the costs aren’t real; that blocking of assets -- access to assets, blocking of an individual’s ability to travel are not real consequences. And as outlined in the two executive orders that the President signed, there are authorities in those orders to expand considerably the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s refusal to reverse course in this matter. And so the costs will increase.
And as we just discussed with regard to one of the provisions, one of the descriptions of those who could be sanctioned under yesterday’s executive order, they include individuals who are influential with, close to, and provide material support to leading government officials but are not members of the government. I think anyone who understands how the Russian system of governance works and who has influence in that system understands the kind of person that we’re talking about here, and the fact that they have substantial assets not just in Russia but abroad.
Q Exactly to that point: People have pointed out that the people who were sanctioned yesterday are not the top-level oligarchs of Russia. They are people who have some influence --
MR. CARNEY: I don’t disagree with that, but I’m not sure what your point is. We took steps yesterday identifying 11 people. Further steps will be taken, as I’ve made clear today, in response to Russia’s continued refusal to avail itself of the means to resolve this diplomatically in a dialogue with the Ukrainian government, with the participation of international interlocutors, through the presence of U.N. and OSCE monitors in Ukraine; through a process that is established under Ukrainian law and the constitution that would allow for the legal discussion of decisions, like changing the status of a region within the sovereign state of Ukraine. These are all options available to Russia, available to those in Crimea who have taken this step. Russia has not availed itself of those options, thus there will be further costs imposed not just by the United States but by others.
Q You don’t really expect the Russians to walk back what they did this morning, do you?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to psychoanalyze motivations or behavior, and I’m not going to predict actions. What I can say is that we have been very clear that there are costs to this behavior; those costs have been imposed and are increasing as the behavior continues.
Q But they just don’t look very severe.
MR. CARNEY: Bill, I get your point. It’s yours to have. I can tell you what we’re doing and what our policy is.
Q Jay, can I ask you about health care? You started out by saying 5 million people have enrolled. Is that the correct word, “enrolled,” since we still don’t know how many people have actually paid their premiums? Is it 5 million signed up? Will we get the information on who has actually enrolled and paid their premiums?
MR. CARNEY: CMS is working to provide more detailed data on who has already paid their premiums, what percentage of the population of enrollees that includes. We can point you to major insurers who have placed that figure at 80 percent, give or take, depending on the insurer. But we don’t have specific data that is in a reliable enough form to provide. I think it’s consistent with how these things tend to work.
And what is ironic to me, I think it was -- in some ways it seems like yesterday and in some ways it seems like five years ago instead of five months ago -- but I doubt, based on the questions I got in the room at the time, that anybody would have done anything but laugh if I had said there would be 5 million enrollees by March 18th.
Q The last time Secretary Sebelius did a call with CMS officials a couple weeks ago with enrollment figures, they did say -- as you say -- they’re working on the data; they hope to have that data soon about who’s paid. Do you anticipate it would be by the end of March?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to CMS. I understand what’s happening here, which is the battle to discredit the process has been lost on the grounds of -- in the arena of nobody is going to enroll, healthcare.gov is a disaster, the whole thing is going to collapse of its own weight. Well, that didn’t happen, and I apologize to those who were hoping it would.
But, you know, what we are doing is systematically implementing a law that provides enormous benefits to millions of Americans who are making clear that they want us to do that by the demand they’re showing. Every time there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, we are going about the business of resolving it. Every time there’s data that we are able to provide in a responsible way, we provide it. And that’s going to be the case here.
What I can tell you is a lot of people have signed up; a lot more will sign up. They’re signing up because they want the benefits provided by the options available to them, and I am confident that no matter what the number is on April 1st, there will be those who find it insufficient.
Q Last one. One reason people have to go to the exchanges to get covered is if they’re looking for a new job. And so I wonder if you think you’re going to be looking for health care and going to the exchanges any time soon. (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: I would say a couple of things about reports on personnel moves at the White House, which is the level of accuracy is inversely proportional to the quality of the sources.
Q So can we get your take on it then? So we can get the most accurate version, let’s get it from you.
MR. CARNEY: I have a great job that I love.
Q Thank you, Jay. Vice President Biden with Polish President Komorowski this morning. President Komorowski said he was not surprised of Russia’s move in Ukraine because the Russian budget defense had grown 400 percent in the last eight years, and he criticized NATO members who have scaled back their defense spending. Does the White House agree or believe that NATO members, considering the Ukrainian crisis, should reconsider their military spending?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I didn’t see those particular comments, but I can certainly understand the concern and suspicion on behalf of Polish officials with regards to what Russia has been doing in Ukraine. I think that if you look at overall military spending by this country, say, from 10 years ago, you’d see dramatic increases, even as we now rationalize our military spending after having ended one war and being in the process of ending another.
What I would also say is that if you look at the President’s submitted budget, it contains within it both a topline for defense spending and an additional $25 billion through the security and investment fund that we certainly hope Congress will support, because we believe that is an appropriate additional amount of spending that we should see in our defense budget.
Q And how about the NATO members?
MR. CARNEY: I’ll wait until we talk to NATO, or hear what the institution itself has to say. I don’t have at my fingertips figures on defense spending by NATO members.
Q Jay, on two subjects; one on health care. You’re over 5 million enrolled. What is the anticipation of this White House for March 31st? What are your numbers for March 31st? What are you expecting?
MR. CARNEY: Now, you know I’m not going to do that, April.
Q No, I don’t know.
MR. CARNEY: All I can tell you is that we have a lot of people who have signed up and there are going to be more. Our goal has always been to get a substantial number and for it to be demographically and geographically allocated in a way that allows the marketplaces to function effectively. We believe very strongly that we’ll achieve those goals.
There’s been some talk over the months about what target figures there are, and CBO has made estimates and revised estimates, and I can point you to the CBO for the CBO’s figures. What I can tell you is, since the very, very rocky start that this enrollment period endured, we have seen substantial interest rewarded with an ability consummated to enroll in insurance coverage through the marketplaces. That’s a good thing.
The purpose of the law was to make sure that Americans across the country had options available to them for quality, affordable health insurance. And that is being realized. We have a lot of work to do. We’re 13 days out. A lot of people can and will still enroll, and we are doing a multifaceted campaign to reach as many people as we can so that they know what their options are and they know that March 31st is the deadline and they need to enroll by then or they won’t be able to until next year.
Q So was it out of the realm of possibility that 7 million could be met? Especially as this weekend the President told those workers at QSSI that he’s anticipating large numbers to come in on the site and through the other sites that are linked to the federal government to register.
MR. CARNEY: I think we’ve all learned through hard experience not to predict success but to do the hard work necessary to create success when it comes to this effort. And there are a lot of people working extremely hard to ensure that the website is functioning, that all the various issues that need to be resolved as we smooth out the transition here are being resolved effectively for the American people. And that work is going to continue right up until the deadline, and it will continue beyond that in the various efforts that need to continue to work.
So what we feel positive about is that since the wretched start to healthcare.gov, we have seen a system that has functioned effectively for the millions of Americans who want it to work for them. And it was on us to fix the problems, and some very talented people worked hard to make that happen.
We’ve got 13 days left, and I want everybody -- and I know the audience isn’t huge -- but anybody who is out there watching should be aware that March 31st is the deadline and they need to make sure they have the information they want and need so that they can enroll by March 31st.
Q And last topic. What would it take to see a G8 again versus a G7? I mean, what would it take for Russia to come back into the fold?
MR. CARNEY: I wouldn’t put it in terms of that institution and the meetings and the summits it holds. I would simply say that the suspension of preparations for that G8 Summit are the result -- that that suspension is the result of the actions that Russia has taken. So the positive that would come out of Russia reversing course might include restoring preparations for the G8 in general, but I think the positives are far greater than that as a general matter.
Jared. Go ahead, Jared, and then Jon.
Q You described the costs to Russia as real and significant, and they’ve been effective. Can you at this point point to any hesitation or any reversal of course that Russia has made due to the sanctions and the other costs that the United States has put into place?
MR. CARNEY: Jared, I want to congratulate you on the penetrating question. I think it’s very clear that Russia continues to pursue a course that is in direct violation of international law, that directly contradicts its obligations under international treaties and understandings and memoranda that it has with Ukraine and other nations. And that’s why we’re taking the actions we’re taking, and that’s why the costs will increase until Russia changes course.
Q But at this point you can count no successes?
MR. CARNEY: You’ve seen what’s happened today. I’m not sure your point, except that as long as Russia -- I mean, you’re reinforcing the point. Yes, if Russia refuses to change course, it will incur more costs imposed by us, imposed by our friends and allies around the world, and imposed in general by the global economy.
Q I just want a couple clarifications. You said the United States will never recognize this annexation that Russia has done today. Does that mean that the sanctions that have been put in place are going to remain in place until Russia reverses what it has done?
MR. CARNEY: Sanctions will increase. Designations will be forthcoming. So it’s hard for me to put a pin on what the ongoing consequences of that kind of action would be. What I can say without question is that this action, the results of the referendum, and the attempt to annex a region of Ukraine illegally will never be recognized by the United States or the international community.
Q And should we then assume -- and I think you strongly implied it, so I’ll just ask directly -- the G8 Summit in Sochi will not happen unless Russia reverses course?
MR. CARNEY: All I can say right now, Jon, is that preparations for that summit have been suspended. Summits don’t occur without preparations; those preparations don’t look likely to be resumed any time soon. But I don’t have an announcement to make about that at this time.
We are focused on, as we have been throughout this situation, providing support to Ukraine, rallying the international community in opposition to these actions, and conveying very clearly to the Russians what we believe are very sensible options for them to take when it comes to ensuring that their interests in Ukraine are protected and recognized.
Q On the seven Russians that were sanctioned, assets freezed -- can you tell us, do any of them have assets in the United States?
MR. CARNEY: That’s not information I have. I would refer you to the Department of Treasury for those kinds of questions. What I can tell you is those named in the seven -- there were four others under the other designation -- the seven you mention are very well known and prominent members of the Russian government or the Duma, and they fall under the category of Russian government officials that was spelled out in the executive order. That executive order contains within it expansive authorities for the designation of other individuals and entities. And what I can tell you is that you should expect further action to be taken as Russia continues down this path.
Q And just a political question. Earlier today, the Chairman of the Republican Party predicted a Republican “tsunami” this fall. I’m just wondering if political forecasters here at the White House see signs of a Republican “tsunami” on the horizon?
MR. CARNEY: It’s an interesting choice of words. But I think that the President is focused on and Democrats are focused on a message that supports the policy priorities that we have, which consist of steps we can take to expand opportunity and reward hard work and responsibility in this country. And that policy approach is supported by a substantial percentage of Americans across the country. And that’s the way we approach this election cycle, because elections in the end are about who makes the decisions going forward in Congress, in this case when it comes to policy.
And we’re always engaged in a debate about what the proper policies are when it comes to how do we grow our economy, how do we expand opportunity, how do we reward hard work. What to me doesn’t seem like a particularly substantive argument is that we’re against everything they’re for and we’ll get back to you about what we’re for. It certainly does leave the opening for those who might make the counter argument that, therefore, the policies that helped precipitate the worst recession since the Great Depression, that’s not a great place to be.
Q Do you agree with your predecessor, Robert Gibbs, on the likelihood of the Republicans taking over the Senate? I mean, it’s not -- the Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: I didn’t see him say that was likely. I don’t think it’s likely at all. I think the Senate is going to be retained by Democrats for the reasons I just described.
Q Jay, you said of the G7 side meeting next week that they would discuss modes of assistance to Ukraine. A Senate delegation that went over there late last week or whatever, Senator John McCain at the very least has come back and said that the United States and NATO should consider sending some kind of defensive military hardware -- anti-aircraft, anti-tank hardware, whatever. Is that one of the modes of assistance that will be considered at that meeting next week?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we have said -- and I’ll repeat -- that we are reviewing requests by the Ukrainian government, and we are -- and we’ll continue to do that. Our focus, however, remains on supporting economic and diplomatic measures aimed at de-escalating the situation in Ukraine. But we’re reviewing a variety of requests and running a process that evaluates what forms of assistance we and our partners can provide aimed at a focus that still hopes to see this situation de-escalate rather than escalate.
Q Have they requested significant amounts of military?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Ukrainian government.
Alexis, then Roger.
Q Jay, one quick question to follow up. Because a lot of the relationships, international relationships with Russia are under some scrutiny or reevaluation, do you happen to know whether the World Trade Organization is something that Russia might lose its membership in? It worked so hard to get into the WTO. Is that at risk?
MR. CARNEY: I haven’t heard that specific conversation. I think that, in general, Russia’s credibility and stature internationally is affected by these actions. The system that is in place through organizations with broad international membership that affect trade and politics, if you will, through the United Nations and other organizations depend on a fealty to the rule of law, a shared commitment to resolve differences through legal means.
And what we have seen of late by the actions taken by the Russians in Crimea is an undermining of and a violation of those principles that undergird that structure that supports all of these international institutions. So it certainly affects their standing within the world community. I don’t know at this point how to answer questions about status or membership within any specific organization.
Roger, last question.
Q Thank you. The Vice President in Poland this morning talked about diversifying the region’s energy supply. Can you talk a little bit more about what the Vice President has in mind and what possibly the U.S. role will be?
MR. CARNEY: I think that there has been a lot of focus, for good reason, on the secure energy needs of Europe in general and which nations depend on which other nations for their energy supplies. What we have said is that we’re taking immediate steps to assist Ukraine, including in the area of energy security, energy efficiency and energy sector reform. In addition, we understand that there has been no interruption of oil and natural gas exports from Russia to Ukraine and Europe. European gas inventories, as I think I pointed out the other day, are well above normal levels at this time due to a milder than usual winter in Europe and could replace a loss of Russian exports for several months if necessary.
It’s also important when you look at the question of energy security and Ukraine, that any disruption to Russia’s energy shipment to Ukraine and Europe is a lose-lose situation for everyone, with Russia being the biggest loser. They depend heavily on Europe and Ukraine as critical export markets for its natural gas, and they earn something like $50 billion per year from those sales. You remember that a lot of the supplies to Europe run through Ukraine. So we’re evaluating steps that Ukraine can take when it comes to energy security to energy efficiency and energy sector reform, and mindful of all the things that I just mentioned.
Q This would be on the agenda for The Hague next week, you think?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t want to get more specific than I was earlier. Ukraine is the subject, will be the principal subject of that conversation. I obviously leave it up to the leaders to decide the particulars. Thank you all very much.
1:03 P.M. EDT
President Obama Signs S. 337 FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and S. 2328 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act
June 30, 2016
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