Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:48 P.M. EDT
MR. MEAGHER: Hello, everyone. Good afternoon. As you can see things are changing and moving pretty rapidly around here today.
Obviously, we've had some last-minute adju- -- adjustments to the briefing, which is why I'm up here today. I know folks might have some questions after the statement that we just released from Jen. And we in the Press Office are going to strive throughout the rest of the day to get you the answers to the questions you might have.
A few additions beyond Jen's statement that I can provide right now. No members of the press who attended the briefing yesterday are considered to be close contacts. We are considering con- -- or we are currently conducting contact tracing, and any member of the press who is considered to be a close contact will be contacted. But if a close contact is determined, it would -- it would not be through yesterday's briefing. So, we just wanted to be clear about that.
I'm going to speak briefly about the first day and a half of Judge Jackson's committee hearing, and then I'm going to pass it over to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who will make some remarks at the top and then he's happy to take some questions on the trip. And he has a hard out where -- I'll call it.
And then again, please let us know if you have any follow ups after the briefing. We'll strive to get you answers, and we appreciate everybody's flexibility today.
With that, just a couple of things from the first day and a half of Judge Jackson's committee hearing. The President watched portions of Judge Jackson's hearing yesterday and today and is proud of the way she is showcasing her extraordinary qualifications, her experience, and her even-handedness. Her dedication to following the facts, the law, and our Constitution as an independent judge is clear.
He was also moved by the grace and dignity she has shown, the deference to senators, and the level of detail she is offering, reinforcing the value of her experience, her intellect, and the strength of her character.
The President was particularly struck when, reacting to Senator Leahy raising the broad support she'd received from the law enforcement community, Judge Jackson spoke about her family members who have served as police officers, saying, "I know what it's like to have loved ones who go off to protect and to serve, and the fear of not knowing whether or not they're going to come home again because of crime in the community. Those are not abstract concepts or political slogans to me."
As a former Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, President Biden also appreciated her respect for the intent of lawmakers and the text of the law. He appreciated Judge Jackson's commitment to stay in the lane of judges prescribed by the Constitution and her highlighting the importance of precedent.
He was also struck by how she swiftly dismantled conspiracy theories put forward in bad faith. They've been debunked by numerous fact checks, experts, and the record itself.
In selecting Judge Jackson, President Biden sought the opinions of Republicans and Democrats, who made clear they wanted someone have deep experience in the mold of Justice Breyer.
Today's testimony and Judge Jackson's endorsements by leading conservative jurists and some of the biggest law enforcement organizations in our country make clear she is indeed in Justice Breyer's mold.
And with that, I'll turn it over to Jake, who has a topper for you, and then he'll take some questions. Thanks.
MR. SULLIVAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'll make a few comments, and then, as Chris said, I'd be happy to take your questions.
The President is heading to Europe tomorrow to reinforce the incredible unity we built with Allies and partners in response to Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine and to consult on next steps.
Let me take a moment to set the context for this trip. Russia intended to accomplish three basic objectives in launching its unprovoked attack against Ukraine: first, to subjugate Ukraine; second, to enhance Russian power and prestige; and third, to divide and weaken the West.
Russia has thus far manifestly failed to accomplish all three objectives. In fact, it has thus far achieved the opposite.
On the first, the brave citizens of Ukraine are refusing to submit. They're fighting back. They're defending their homes. They're defending their cities. And although Russia may take more territory in these brutal military operations, it will never take the country away from the Ukrainian people.
On the second, Russian power and prestige has been badly depleted. The Russian military has dramatically underperformed. The Russian economy has been rocked by powerful sanctions. The Russian high-tech and defense sectors are being choked off from key inputs. And Russia is a pariah in the international community.
On the third, the nations of the free world are more united, more determined, and more purposeful than at any point in recent memory.
For our part, since President Biden and the United States began warning the world of impending Russian aggression back in November, we have clearly and consistently pursued three lines of effort: first, help Ukraine defend itself by supplying weapons and military equipment; second, impose severe and escalating economic costs on Russia through the application of unprecedented sanctions in close coordination with Allies and partners in Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and other parts of the world; and third, fortify NATO and the Western Alliance by enhancing our force posture on the eastern flank and making our allies more resilient against other forms of Russian aggression.
We've made decisive moves on all three fronts, and President Biden's trip will involve further actions on each of these three fronts.
He will attend an emergency NATO Summit, joined by the leaders of the other 29 NATO Allies. He will join the G7 leaders. And he will address the 27 leaders of the European Union at a session of the European Council. He will have the opportunity to coordinate on the next phase of military assistance to Ukraine.
He will join our partners in imposing further sanctions on Russia and tightening the existing sanctions to crack down on evasion and to ensure robust enforcement.
He will work with Allies on longer-term adjustments to NATO force posture on the eastern flank. He will announce joint action on enhancing European energy security and reducing Europe's dependence on Russian gas at long last.
He will announce further American contributions to a coordinated humanitarian response to ease the suffering of civilians inside Ukraine and to respond to the growing flow of refugees.
From Brussels, President Biden will travel to Poland, where he will engage with U.S. troops who are now helping to defend NATO territory, and he will meet with experts involved in the humanitarian response.
He will also hold a bilateral meeting with President Duda of Poland.
I'll leave further details on the schedule and program for each of these aspects of the trip to our trusty Communications and Press team.
Let me close with this: There will be hard days ahead in Ukraine -- hardest for the Ukrainian troops on the frontlines and the civilians under Russian bombardment. This war will not end easily or rapidly.
For the past few months, the West has been united. The President is traveling to Europe to ensure we stay united, to cement our collective resolve, to send a powerful message that we are prepared and committed to this for as long as it takes, and to advance our response on all three critical fronts that I've described: helping the Ukrainian people defend themselves, imposing and increasing costs on Russia, and reinforcing the Western alliance.
And with that, I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q: Thank you, Jake. The Russians and the Hungarians seem to be reluctant on imposing a ban on importing Russian oil and gas. Will this weaken the sanctions?
And would you call on the groups that the President is going to meet to exclude Russia from the G20, of course, group?
And do you think that an agreement with Iran could be reached without Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, when the President announced that the United States was going to ban the import of Russian oil and gas, he was very clear. He said that the United States is uniquely positioned: We are an energy producer. We can do this. We can take this step of banning the import of Russian oil and gas and coal and be able to withstand it, have resilience against it.
But he also recognized quite explicitly in that statement that some of our European Allies and partners would not be able to follow suit, and he was not going to pressure them to do so.
From his perspective, what we have achieved with our European partners -- in terms of financial sanctions, export controls, and other measures to hit the Russian economy hard -- have had unprecedented impact on a large economy at a scale we have never seen before.
And so, he believes that that is in fact increasing the costs on Russia; it is sharpening the choice for Russia. And he feels very good about where things stand today in terms of the unity and resolve of the Western alliance on sanctions.
And as I mentioned in my opener, we will have more to say on sanctions in the coming days.
On the question of the G20, I will just say this: We believe that it cannot be business as usual for Russia in international institutions and in the international community. But as for particular institutions and particular decisions, we'd like to consult with our Allies, consult with our partners in those institutions before making any further pronouncements.
Finally, we believe that if there is an Iran nuclear deal that meets the standards the President has set to verifiably block the pathway of Iran to get to a nuclear weapon and put this program back in the box after President Trump let it out of the box when he left the deal back in 2018, we will do that deal because we believe it is in the American national security interest to do so. But we will not do that deal until it meets those objectives.
Q: Yes, thank you very much. If you can tell us anything more about the sanctions -- you did just say "further sanctions" -- anything more about what areas that could be in, that would be great.
And the other thing is, there was a report out that British troops are basically secretly training Ukrainians to use this very sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons -- the "Star," I think, or "Start" or something like that.
MR. SULLIVAN: Right.
Q: Are there any U.S. troops in Eastern Europe or anywhere else currently training Ukrainians (inaudible)?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, as for the first question, I'm not going to get ahead of an announcement which will be rolled out in conjunction with our Allies on Thursday when the President has the opportunity to speak with them. That's on a further package of sanctions.
What I will say is that one of the key elements of that announcement will focus not just on adding new sanctions, but on ensuring that there is joint effort to crack down on inva- -- evasion, on sanctions busting, on any attempt by any country to help Russia basically undermine, weaken, or get around the sanctions. That is an important part of this next phase.
We have applied an enormous amount of economic pressure. And in order to sustain and escalate that pressure over time, part of that is about new designations, new targets, but a big part of it is about effective enforcement and evasion -- applying the lessons that we've learned from other circumstances where we have, in fact, imposed sanctions on countries. So, stay tuned for that.
On the question of U.S. troops, we do not have U.S. troops currently training Ukrainians. We do not have U.S. troops on the territory of Ukraine. We do, of course, have U.S. troops defending NATO territory, providing reassurance to our Allies, deterring Russian aggression.
And, of course, the United States is playing a key role not just in the direct provision of military equipment to Ukraine but in the facilitation of military equipment provided by many of our Allies as well.
Q: Thanks, sir. Two questions, quickly. Moments ago, you said at the beginning that Russia would never take Ukraine. But does the President believe that Ukraine can win a military victory here? And if so, why haven't we heard that from him thus far?
And then my second question is: With regards to Russia and partnership with the United States and certain institutions, what does the President hope that Russia can bring to the Iran nuclear deal? What do they have to bring to the table after they have rightfully been made a pariah on the world stage?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I can describe to you what happened with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action back in 2015.
One of the key roles that Russia played in the implementation of that deal was that Russia actually accepted the enriched uranium from Iran so that Iran's stockpile -- stockpile stayed below 300 kilograms total, meaning that stockpile was so small that Iran could not swiftly break out to a nuclear weapon. That is a key part of how we ensured that Iran's nuclear program was in a box.
Now, we don't have to rely on any given country for any particular element of the deal, but that is a role that Russia played in the past -- a practical role that didn't have necessarily political significance but did have that practical significance.
What I said was that Russia is never going to take Ukraine away from the Ukrainian people -- never going to be able to subjugate the Ukrainian people. That was not a statement about particular slice of territory that a Russian advance could occupy for a period of time or about a particular battle that some Russian element could win.
I would refer you over to the Pentagon in terms of the best military analysis for how particular battles in particular fronts will play out.
But what -- I will say this: Whether Russia takes a city or takes a town or takes more territory, they are never going to be able to achieve the purpose that they set out, which was to subjugate this country, to bring this country to heel, because the Ukrainian people have made very clear that they will not be subjugated, no matter what it takes.
Q: Jake, thank you for being here. But to follow up on that question, is it the policy of this government that Ukraine should win this, it should reject Russia and regain its sovereignty and its freedom?
MR. SULLIVAN: We've said from the outset that we are unwavering in our commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. We remain committed to that as our proposition for this.
But in the immediate day-to-day of this conflict, our focus is on ensuring that Ukraine has the tools that it needs to defend itself and to be able to effectively ensure that Russia cannot achieve its objectives in Ukraine. That's what we're focused on right now.
But on the basic proposition of Russia's -- of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, from day one of the Biden administration, we have not wavered an inch on that.
Q: Let me follow up on one thing, Jake -- on Article 5 and any cyberattack that comes now. Obviously, Russians have done it before; it wasn't an Article 5 issue then. Does something in Ukraine now change the contour of a cyberattack against any member nation of a -- of NATO become an Article 5 issue --
MR. SULLIVAN: So, in the June summit last --
Q: -- having the President raise that just yesterday as dramatically as he did?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, last June, when the NATO leaders gathered for the NATO Summit, President Biden -- consulting with them, we put out a statement that spoke to cyberattacks and their relationship to Article 5. And we could see circumstances in which a collective response by the Alliance to a cyberattack would be called by an Ally. That is absolutely something where we and other countries could bring capabilities to bear to help a country both defend itself and respond to a particular cyberattack.
Now, that's not necessarily the same thing as a military response. That response could take many different forms. But we have made clear through NATO documents now -- not just last year, but going back years -- that cybersecurity is an Alliance issue, is -- it is an issue where, collectively, NATO is prepared to pull together both to enhance resilience, enhance defenses, and, if necessary, use the appropriate tools to respond.
Q: Thanks, Jake. It's been just over a week since you met with your Chinese counterpart, a couple of days since the President spoke with President Xi. Have you seen any indications that China will or will not provide assistance to Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: I can't make predictions going forward. What I can tell you is we have not seen since those meetings or since the President's conversation with Xi the provision of military equipment by China to Russia. But, of course, this is something we are monitoring closely. We will continue to monitor it. And the President made clear to President Xi the implications and consequences of any such provision of equipment, and they very well understand one another.
Q: And where does this fall on the agenda at the NATO Summit? Will there be an effort to try to put specific concrete steps in place if China does provide that assistance?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President will certainly consult on the question of China's potential participation in the conflict of Ukraine while he's in Brussels -- he'll do so with NATO. He'll also do so when he addresses the 27 leaders of the European Union, because, on April 1st, the European Union is having a summit with China. And so, this will be an opportunity -- Thursday -- for the United States and our European partners to coordinate closely on what our message is. We believe we're very much on the same page with our European partners, and we will be speaking with one voice on this issue.
Q: Yes, I just wanted to follow up on your comment about shoring up the eastern flank of NATO. Are you -- do you anticipate additional U.S. troop deployments to Europe?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I think there are two issues that are important to lay out. One is: What's required in the immediate term? And right now, Secretary of Defense, the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe believe that they have effective posture today for what's necessary today.
But, of course, that could evolve in the coming days and weeks, depending on Russia's actions and depending on the overall threat picture.
The second is: What is the longer-term force posture -- not just for this contingency, this emergency, this invasion, but over the course of time? That is something the President will discuss with his Allies at the NATO Summit on Thursday.
Q: Thank you. And if I might ask a quick follow-up on Russian troop casualties -- a Russian media report that the outlet blamed on hackers and withdrew suggested that suggested that almost 10,000 Russian servicemen had been killed and 16,000 had been wounded in Ukraine. Does that -- is your assessment that that number is realistic? Or how bad do you think the casualty situation is for Russia?
MR. SULLIVAN: I'd refer you to the Pentagon for precise casualty figures. We do believe it numbers in the thousands. But it is a necessarily imprecise analysis from our part to be able to get, you know, that number down to the precise figure. So, I would refer you over to the Pentagon for that.
Q: The President said yesterday, Jake, that cyberwarfare is a capability Putin has but has decided to not use yet in this iteration of this war, but administration sources have told us the Russians have this multi-phase plan to target critical infrastructure that is already underway.
I'll give you a couple of specifics: Two weeks prior to the invasion, 21 U.S. energy companies targeted by hackers; they're involved with LNG production.
March 9th, CISA and the FBI began working with an unnamed American pharmaceutical company whose top execs were targeted with malicious phishing attacks. Internally, the administration has attributed that to Russian intelligence.
I have a list of stuff that goes on and on here. Suffice it to say, this -- how did these acts not constitute cyberwarfare so far already?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, the President put out a statement yesterday -- a very strong, clearly worded statement -- in which he said, based on evolving intelligence, we believe that attacks could occur.
Now, the Russians have spent years preparing the ground for attacks --
Q: But do you --
MR. SULLIVAN: -- trying to get inside systems.
Q: -- is the position that they are not already underway? Just want to clarify.
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, I -- what I think we would distinguish between is gaining access to a system, which could be used for a variety of purposes -- intelligence collection or mere preparation for a future attack -- and the actual disruptive, destructive type of attack of the kind you saw that shut down the Colonial Pipeline last year, for example, or attack JBS Foods. And it's really that latter thing that we have not yet seen.
But how one defines cyberwarefare [sic] -- warfare or cyberattacks, of course, is going to differ across individuals.
The distinction the President was making was the distinction between all of that preparatory work, which has been ongoing for years and has, in fact, intensified, and the type of destruction or disruption -- the launch of a particular form of malware, for example -- that would result in the kinds of physical effects we've seen in past attacks.
Q: So no successful attacks yet? Just want to clar- --
Q: Thanks, Jake. I wanted to ask about talk -- concerns about the use of nuclear weapons, including possibly smaller nuclear weapons. Can you just address those concerns and talk about how that might come up on this trip?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, President Putin, in the early days of the conflict, actually raised the specter of the potential use of nuclear weapons. It is something that we do have to be concerned about. Based on our current analysis, we have not changed our nuclear posture to date. But we are constantly monitoring for that potential contingency. And of course, we take it as seriously as one could possibly take it.
We will be consulting with Allies and partners on that potential contingency, among a range of others, and discussing what our potential responses are. But I'm not going to speak to that from this podium today. I'm going to let the President have the opportunity to speak with his fellow colleagues on what is a very weighty matter.
Q: Jen was asked yesterday --
Q: Are Vladimir Putin's days numbered, Jake? Are Vladimir Putin's days in power numbered?
MR. SULLIVAN: From our perspective, what happens with respect to the Russian political system is something that will be worked out inside Russia.
What we can do is put forward our basic three lines of effort. That's what we're doing: helping the Ukrainians defend themselves, fortifying the NATO Alliance, and imposing costs and consequences.
MR. MEAGHER: We've got time for one more. We've got time for one more.
Q: I have two questions on Russia and North Korea and China. There is a report today that the North Korea's cyber-hacking organization is related to Russians' cyber-criminal organization. Do you have any information on that?
And I follow up next.
MR. SULLIVAN: I'm sorry, can you just repeat the question?
Q: Yes. North Korea's cyber-hacking organization is related to Russian's cyber-criminal organization. Do you have any information on this?
MR. SULLIVAN: All I can say, generally, is that North Korea's cyber capabilities have -- have been manifest in the world and they work with all kinds of cyber criminals around the world, including Russian cyber criminals. I've got nothing further for you on that today.
Yeah, I'll take one more.
Q: Thank you, Jake. Do have any expectation -- do you have any specific comments or expectations on the meeting between --
Q: What specifically does -- what specifically --
Q: -- between President Xi and President Zelenskyy that's scheduled to happen soon?
MR. SULLIVAN: Sorry, I told her --
Q: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. SULLIVAN: -- that I would call on her --
Q: Thank you, Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: -- so I've got to -- I've got to let her ask the question.
Q: What specifically does the President hope to accomplish when he's in Poland? And why did he feel that it would be helpful for him to go to Warsaw at this time, particularly when the Vice President was there less than two weeks ago?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, Poland has taken the brunt of the humanitarian impact outside of Ukraine in terms of the refugee flows. Poland is where the United States has surged a significant number of forces to be able to help defend and shore up the eastern flank. Poland has to contend not just with the war in Ukraine but with Russia's military deployments to Belarus, which have fundamentally changed the security equation there.
And so, for all of those reasons, we feel that it is the right place for him to go to be able to see troops, to be able to see humanitarian experts, and to be able to meet with a frontline and very vulnerable ally.
So, I'll -- I'll leave it at that, guys. Thanks.
MR. MEAGHER: Thank you, everybody.
Q: Jake, is he meeting with refugees?
(Mr. Sullivan returns to the podium to retrieve his facemask.)
MR. SULLIVAN: Oh, sorry.
Q: Is he meeting with refugees, Jake?
MR. SULLIVAN: We'll -- we'll --
Q: I thought you said -- Psaki said that you'd tell us -- you -- you might be able to tell us today.
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I think I said at the outset that we'll go through the precise details of the schedule (inaudible).
2:12 P.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Briefing by Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355026