DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. Hi there. Long day. (Laughter.)
Good afternoon. Thank you all very (inaudible). I want to begin by thanking Secretary General Stoltenberg for his warm welcome and hospitality here at NATO, including generously making this facility available so I can brief you today and take your questions.
Today’s meeting was truly a remarkable expression of the power of diplomacy. Thirty sovereign nations spoke separately – NATO Allies – and also spoke as one. The NATO Allies spoke in complete unity in support of a set of critical international principles: that all countries must be able to choose their own foreign policy orientation, that sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacrosanct and must be respected, and that all nations are and must be free to choose their own alliances.
Today’s meeting lasted nearly four hours. It ended with a sober challenge from the NATO Allies to Russia, which came here today to express its security concerns. That challenge is to respond to the offers extended by the secretary general of NATO, by the Polish chairman in office of the OSCE, by the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, and by the President of the United States to de-escalate tensions, choose the path of diplomacy, to continue to engage in honest and reciprocal dialogue so that together we can identify solutions that enhance the security of all.
We are in the midst of an intense week of diplomatic engagements in multiple forums across Europe. On Monday I led the U.S. delegation to an extraordinary session of the bilateral U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue in Geneva. Yesterday I met here in Brussels with NATO Allies and EU partners and again this morning to share what we heard from the Russians at the SSD. I assured them, and I want to repeat now again, that the United States holds firmly to the policy of “nothing about you without you” when it comes to our allies and partners, including Ukraine. We will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO, or the OSCE without the OSCE.
Today the NATO-Russia Council met for the first time since 2019, and I was honored to lead the U.S. delegation to this important forum for discussion. As Secretary General Stoltenberg said earlier, it was a very serious and direct conversation. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko and Deputy Defense Minister Fomin both spoke extensively and shared Russia’s proposals and perspectives around European security and the future of NATO.
The United States and our NATO Allies were united in our responses to Deputy Foreign Minister Grushko and Deputy Minister of Defense Fomin and their comments, including when it comes to certain core Russian proposals that are simply non-starters. Together, the United States and our NATO Allies made clear we will not slam the door shut on NATO’s “Open Door” policy – a policy that has always been central to the NATO Alliance. As a defensive Alliance solely – NATO is a defensive Alliance – NATO exists to protect its member states. NATO has never expanded through force or coercion or subversion. It is countries’ sovereign choice to choose to come to NATO and say they want to join. And NATO has repeatedly affirmed, most recently in June 2021, that, quote – quote, “The Alliance does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia,” unquote.
The United States and our NATO Allies reiterated our shared commitment to diplomacy as the most durable path for building lasting security, and our willingness to engage Russia on security issues in a meaningful and reciprocal process. In today’s meeting, the NATO Allies offered their views on areas where NATO and Russia could make progress together in a way that strengthens security for all of us – and indeed, for the world. These include reciprocal actions around risk reduction and transparency, improved communication, and arms control.
We told the Russian delegation that we are united in our position that escalation does not create optimum conditions for diplomacy, to say the least. That is now the situation we face. As we speak, Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders in an unprovoked military buildup. Moscow is using increasingly aggressive rhetoric and spreading propaganda and disinformation, claiming that it is Ukraine seeking conflict, not Russia. Untrue. It bears repeating that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, it is Russia that continues to fuel a war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed nearly 14,000 Ukrainian lives, and now it’s Russia’s actions which are causing a renewed crisis not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe and for us.
As I noted, we and our NATO Allies believe there are some areas where we can work together with Russia and make real progress. At the SSD in Geneva on Monday, the United States raised several preliminary ideas where our two countries could take reciprocal actions that would be in our security interest and improve strategic stability. We told the Russian delegation we are prepared to discuss those ideas in greater detail at any time. Secretary General Stoltenberg opened today’s meeting by expressing his hope that the NATO-Russia Council could convene again soon to have deeper discussions on the areas where we can make progress together to strengthen security for all. That is a position shared by all the NATO Allies.
If Russia walks away, however, it will be quite apparent they were never serious about pursuing diplomacy at all. That is why collectively we are preparing for every eventuality. We have made it clear, and we told the Russians directly again today, that if Russia further invades Ukraine, there will be significant costs and consequences well beyond what they faced in 2014. In my meetings yesterday with our EU partners, we discussed our work together, and with the G7 to prepare coordinated economic measures, measures that would exact a severe, ongoing price for Russia’s economy and financial system should Russia take that fateful step. Russia’s actions have caused this crisis, and it is on Russia to de-escalate tensions and give diplomacy the chance to succeed.
Informed by the meetings we’ve held so far as well as by tomorrow’s OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna, governments in all three diplomatic tracks – the bilateral track, the NATO track, the OSCE track – will reflect on these weeks’ discussions and determine appropriate next steps. We remain ready to continue to engage with Russia. The heavy pace of bilateral and multilateral engagements this week demonstrates that the United States and our allies and partners are not dragging our feet. It is Russia that has to make a stark choice: de-escalation and diplomacy or confrontation and consequences. We expect and had expected that the Russian delegations at the SSD here at the NATO-Russia Council and tomorrow at the OSCE will have to report back to President Putin, who we all hope will choose peace and security.
Thank you again for your attention. Happy to take your questions.
MODERATOR: All right. Our first question goes to Alex Marquardt at CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you, madam.
MODERATOR: If you could just wait for the microphone.
QUESTION: You mentioned at the top this was a long day. It did go on longer than expected by about an hour. If I could just first ask: What issues specifically prolonged and dominated these talks? And then, you mentioned offers that were extended. What were those specifically? Did these conversations about arms control, about more transparency over military exercises – do you believe they made enough progress to get Russia to de-escalate? And did you issue any sort of ultimatum to the Russians?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: So let me be clear: These are all beginning meetings around a set of incredibly complex issues. At the SSD, we put some ideas on the table. They weren’t proposals; we weren’t beginning to negotiate. We were basically saying to the Russians, “Some of the things you’ve put on the table are non-starters for us.” We are not going to agree that NATO cannot expand any further. We are not going to agree to go back to 1997. We are not going to agree that everything that is in Europe has to get out of Europe. There’s a lot we can, however, work together on in the arena of transparency, deconfliction, communications, arms control, and a whole variety of other areas where we could move forward.
So we put some ideas on the table. We are socializing some of those ideas with all of our partners here at NATO, with our partners in the European Union, at the OSCE to see what might gain some traction, where there might be interest. The real reality here, Alex, is if Russia has concerns about its security – which, quite frankly, I heard loud and clear today – but Russia is a big country with vast land territory. They’re a permanent member of the Security Council. They have the largest conventional military in Europe. Along with the United States, we are the two largest nuclear powers on earth. They are a powerful country. The fact that they feel threatened by Ukraine, a smaller and still developing democracy, is hard to understand, quite frankly. Why they need 100,000 troops on the border, which they say are not for invasion but are for exercising, when live fire exercises are reported this morning, what is this about? Is this about invasion? Is this about intimidation? Is this about trying to be subversive? I don’t know, but it is not conducive to getting to diplomatic solutions.
So Russia has a choice to make. I hope that when both Deputy Minister Grushko, Deputy Minister Fomin, Deputy Minister Ryabkov, and the OSCE representative return to Moscow, that they will brief the president of Russia and that they will all appreciate, understand, and the president of Russia will agree that diplomacy is the right path.
QUESTION: So no indication of de-escalation right now?
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: There was no commitment to de-escalation, no.
MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Zoriana Stepanenko with the RFE/RL Ukrainian service.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. So —
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Hold on one second. Let me just add one thing: There was no commitment to de-escalate nor was there a statement that there would not be.
QUESTION: The Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that further consultations and negotiations with Russia are possible and you are working out this bet. So what will be the subject of these consultations if NATO Allies are not willing to give up their core principles? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Well, I think I just laid out what some of those are: arms control, deconfliction, communications, transparency, looking in fact at how we are all positioned and how we can ensure that we have security for all in Europe.
MODERATOR: All right. For our next question, we’ll go to a remote question from Shaun Tandon with AFP.
QUESTION: Good morning from Washington, Madam Deputy Secretary. To begin with, could I follow up briefly, the – what you just – how you just responded to Alex’s question? You said there was no commitment to de-escalation, but no statement otherwise. Could you explain on that – what are the chances you see of de-escalation on this?
Could I ask you about – you’ve spoken repeatedly about unity among NATO on the “Open Door” policy. Some countries, notably Hungary, have in the past voiced reluctance for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. How unified do you think NATO is actually on that, and is there actually a real possibility of Ukraine joining NATO? And for that matter, Sweden and Finland – did the issues of their membership come up today? Thanks.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Sure. I would say that what was so amazing today was every – every country – it’s part of why it went on so long – every country spoke. And the Russians were given additional time because they were Russia and then there were 30 of us, so they were given a little extra time. But every one of the Allies in NATO laid out the same set of principles, the same hopes and expectations of Russia – every single one – without exception – without exception.
In terms of the process of NATO, I don’t want to speak for other countries about what their ambitions are, what they hope for, what the timetables are. There is a process that is laid out very clearly – the MAP process in NATO – for joining NATO. It has very specific landmarks and process. So we are open to everyone, and certainly Ukraine is one of those countries that very much wants to become a member, and so they are going through the process. It does take some time and there is a lot of work that has to get done to make sure that the high standards of NATO are met, so we’ll see where things go.
The same is true for Georgia, which is the other country most often talked about. I think on Finland and Sweden, I’m not going to speak for them about whether their ambitions regarding NATO are different than they’ve been in the past. What I will say is that I would send you all to the statements they’ve made over the last few days. I think one of the things that Russia has done, which it probably did not expect – it has brought all of Europe, NATO and non-NATO allies alike, together to share the same set of principles, the same ambition, the same hopes, and the same commitment to diplomacy.
MODERATOR: For our next question, we’ll go to Henry Foy with the Financial Times.
QUESTION: Thank you, Deputy Secretary. Can I ask, did you learn anything new from the Russian side today that you hadn’t already heard in Geneva or in statements made previous to those negotiations, either in tone or in substance, if you could talk about that?
And as a follow-up, Washington has previously said that negotiations would take place if Russia de-escalated on the border, reduced troops. Can you tell me, is that still the case? These dialogue offers that you made in Geneva and NATO made today, could they still go ahead if those 100,000 troops stay there? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. Sorry, tell me your first question again. Sorry, it’s been a long day.
QUESTION: Whether there was any change in tone or content from the Russians.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Oh, I would say I did not hear substantively new things, because we had nearly eight hours of conversation plus a dinner in Geneva. I think that what is important is at the end of this meeting, as I think the secretary general said, the Russians were not ready to commit to the series of discussions that the secretary general will lay out, but nor did they reject those discussions.
And as I said in my statement, all of us, including Russia, have to go back to our governments to decide on next steps. We will, the United States of America, do it in very close consultation with all of our Allies and partners at NATO, in the OSCE, with the European Union. As I said, nothing about you without you, and that will be the case here for every next step.
QUESTION: And on de-escalation?
MODERATOR: All right.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: On de-escalation, clearly, we began dialogue today, and dialogue in Geneva, with troops on the border. What I think is very important and which I think Russia heard loudly and clearly from all Allies today is it’s very hard to have dialogue, to have diplomacy that is conducive to success when, in fact, you have 100,000 troops, live-fire exercises, propaganda, disinformation, other efforts to subvert that environment. It makes it quite difficult.
So if Russia wants to reach success through diplomacy – and I certainly hope they do, because the consequences for them will be quite severe if they don’t – then they should de-escalate.
MODERATOR: All right. For our next question, we’ll take a remote question from VOA, Nike Ching calling from Washington.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Can’t hear you. I see you but I can’t hear you. You’re on mute. Sorry. It’s a problem we’ve all had.
QUESTION: Here we go.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Got you now.
QUESTION: Yeah, awesome. Thank you, Deputy Secretary. How would you respond to Ukraine President Zelenskyy’s proposal for an international summit to end the crisis?
And separately, if I may also ask about Nord Stream 2, yesterday, Under Secretary Toria Nuland said that the pipeline would be suspended if Russia further invaded Ukraine. But Chancellor Scholz has not used the same language. What detail can you provide to show there is actually U.S.-German unity on Nord Stream 2? And has it been communicated to Russia? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: Thank you. I have not seen President Zelenskyy’s proposal for a summit. I think that what you’ve seen is really the coming together of the world around this problem to try to solve it, this crisis that has been created by Russia.
There are many things going on in the world. All of us are sitting here in masks except I took mine off for this. We’re all in the midst of an Omicron crisis. We’re all trying to deal with climate change. We all have seen other things that have taken place around the world – DPRK shooting off missiles in Asia. So lots is going on. We have colleagues that are negotiating with Iran in Vienna, Kazakhstan, lots of things. So this is a crisis that was created at this moment for whatever reason by the Russians, and so I think you’ve seen the world come together to try to solve that problem. So that is incredibly important, and I endorse that notion of the world coming together in this regard.
Where Nord Stream 2 is concerned, we’ve been clear about our position. It is a Russian geopolitical project that undermines energy security and the national security of a significant part of the Euro-Atlantic community. The pipeline is not operational right now. The Germans’ Federal Network Agency has suspended certification. And Secretary Blinken has said, which underscores what Under Secretary Nuland said, to quote the Secretary, “From our perspective it’s very hard to see gas flowing through [the] pipeline for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine.”
So I think you’re seeing quite a consistent assessment here of what will happen if indeed Russia takes further aggression – aggressive action where Ukraine is concerned.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, and we will go to Matthias Kolb with Süddeutsche Zeitung.
QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question. I would be interested in your assessment. Before this NATO-Russia Council, there was fear here in Brussels that the Russians are only doing this for show, to kind of, like, okay, signal that they’re open for dialogue, but in the end, it’s already decided that it was just a show and in the end they will say no, you didn’t come up, you didn’t fulfill our promises. Was there something — did you sense of that, or are you now leaving process a bit more optimistic than you came here from Geneva? Thanks.
DEPUTY SECRETARY SHERMAN: I’m smiling because in one of your competitors’ newspapers today, they quoted a Russian analyst, when asked that question, said, “Who the heck knows?”
I think the reality is that I will say that the Russian delegation sat through nearly four hours of a meeting where 30 nations spoke, and they did, which is not an easy thing to do. I’m glad they did it. It was important for them to hear the unity, that in fact NATO really does speak as one even though these are 30 sovereign countries who have different interests; we’re not all exactly the same, to be sure.
So I don’t know. I really think this is about all of the Russian delegations from this extensive set of dialogues this week going back to Moscow, sharing what they’ve heard with President Putin, governments talking with each other – perhaps even talking with President Putin, or with others in the Russian Government, and seeing if – in fact, if there is traction.
There is plenty to work on where we have places where we can enhance mutual security. There are some places we cannot. But there is progress that can be made. And everyone – Russia most of all – will have to decide whether they really are about security, in which case they should engage; or whether this was all a pretext. And they may not even know yet.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s press conference. Thank you, everybody.