Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, 14 January

The White House

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:18 P.M. EST

MS. PSAKI: Hi, everyone. Okay, we have another special guest today, our National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who will give us some brief opening comments. We'll take some questions, and then we'll proceed with a briefing from there. With that, I will turn it over to Jake.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Jen. Thanks, everybody. I'm here to provide a brief update on the situation with respect to Russia and Ukraine.

We've now completed an intensive week of diplomacy in multiple formats: the Strategic Stability Dialogue, the NATO-Russia Council, and the OSCE.

Russia raised its concerns, we raised our concerns, including the actions Russia has taken to undermine European security that Secretary Blinken spoke so eloquently about last week. We stuck to our core premise of reciprocity. We were firm in our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and those areas that are non-starters.

Allied unity and transatlantic solidarity were on full display, and they remain on full display. The discussions were frank and direct. They were useful. They gave us and our allies things to consider. They gave Russia things to consider.

We will now reflect and consult with allies and partners on how to proceed.

We're prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic. We're equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path.

We continue to coordinate intensively with partners on severe economic measures in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine. We continue to work with Allies in NATO on changes in force posture and capabilities, especially on NATO's eastern flank, if that scenario arises. And we continue to support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the defense of their sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We have been very clear with Russia on the costs and consequences of further military action or destabilization in Ukraine.

So, we're ready either way. We're ready to make progress at the negotiating table — serious, tangible progress on important issues of concern to us, to Europe, and to Russia in an environment of de-escalation. And we're ready to take the necessary and proper steps to defend our allies, support our partners, and respond robustly to any naked aggression that might occur.

In our view, diplomacy is the more sensible path. The Russians will have to make their own assessment.

In terms of next steps in the diplomatic process, we'll remain engaged with allies and partners and with the Russians, and make determinations in the coming days about what comes next.

I'm going to leave it there and be happy to take your questions.


Q Is there an agreement to hold more talks with the Russians, Jake?

MR. SULLIVAN: There are no dates set for any more talks. We have to consult with allies and partners first. We're in communication with the Russians, and we'll see what comes next.

Q Jake, can you address the Deputy Foreign Minister's comments suggesting that the — that Russia could deploy forces — or wouldn't rule out deploying forces in Latin America? Is that something that the U.S. is concerned about? Is that something that came up in those discussions?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm not going to respond to bluster in the public commentary. That wasn't raised in the discussions at the Strategic Stability Dialogue. If Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively.

Q And, Jake, just another one on — the Russian proposal suggested that — to try to reach some sort of agreement on keeping exercises away from the line of contact between NATO and Russia, or limiting the deployment of missiles and other weapons. Is that — is that something that's on the table from the U.S. perspective? Or is that not something that the U.S. could ever agree to?

MR. SULLIVAN: As Deputy Secretary Sherman said in her readout of these meetings, and as was closely coordinated with allies and partners at NATO: We are prepared to discuss reciprocal limitations on the deployment of missiles, as long as Russia is prepared to fulfill its end of the bargain and that there's adequate verification. So, we are prepared to have a detailed negotiation on that — emphasis on "detail" — because the devil is often in the details on those things.

We also, as Deputy Secretary Sherman indicated in her readout of these discussions, have said we are prepared to discuss reciprocal parameters around the size and scope and frequency of military exercises. But reporting that has suggested we're going to reduce the number of troops we have deployed or somehow cut back on our overall force posture in Europe — those reports are wrong.


Q I guess with no more talks scheduled with the Russians right now, as we sit here today, in your view, what is the likelihood of Russia invading?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm not going to put any kind of likelihood on it. What I'm going to say is that the United States and our allies and partners are prepared for any contingency, any eventuality. We're prepared to keep moving forward down the diplomatic path in good faith, and we're prepared to respond if Russia acts. And beyond that, all we can do is get ready, and we are ready.


Q Are they making the case, though, to invade, do you believe?

MR. SULLIVAN: What do you mean by "making the case"?

Q Is Russia trying to justify an invasion, if one happens?

MR. SULLIVAN: I'm not going to put myself in the head of the Russians. As you see from their public comments, they've been — they've said many different things. Some of them contradictory. They've — different speakers over the course of this week have given both hopeful signs and deeply pessimistic signs. You'll have to ask them where they stand in respect to their positioning.

From our perspective, we can just be clear about where we stand. And where we stand is ready to go down a principled path of diplomacy and ready to respond in the face of aggression.

Q The White House has often talked about this, and you've talked about this, and President Biden — about having this stable, predictable relationship with Russia. Given the back-and-forth over these talks and the threats, is that even still possible?

MR. SULLIVAN: We believe that diplomacy and diplomatic understandings that can be reached between the United States, our European allies and partners, and Russia can contribute to stability in Europe — that it is possible to make progress on things like missiles and exercises, as we just discussed. That ultimately we can get updates to some of the underlying issues related to transparency and deconfliction. That we can get to risk reduction and conflict management so that the overall security situation in Europe is more stable. That is certainly viable if Russia is prepared to engage in a good-faith way.

If they're not, and they choose to further invade Ukraine, then they are going to deal with the costs and consequences that the United States and our allies and partners will impose.


Q Jake, you're still saying "if." Does that mean you're still uncertain whether Russia is negotiating in good faith?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians have definitively decided to take a military course of action in Ukraine. So, as things stand right now, Russia has the opportunity to come to the table, as we go forward, to deal with the very real concerns that we've put on the table, that Secretary Blinken has laid out publicly, and to negotiate in some of these areas that we've just been talking about.

If Russia chooses to go a different path, we'll respond accordingly.

But basically, we are still at a moment where we believe a path of diplomacy can operate in a way that vindicates and reflects our interests and principles. And we're prepared to work with our allies and partners on that.

I think we're united with the European Union, with NATO, with Ukraine, with the rest of the countries of the Euro-Atlantic community on the notion that there is a diplomatic path forward here.

We are also united with our allies and partners that if Russia chooses to go a different way for whatever reason, or no reason at all — well, we'll be ready for that.

Q Ambassador Michael Carpenter is offering a different assessment. I'm sure you heard him say that, "The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill." So, do you agree with that or disagree?

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, the Russians have put tens of thousands of troops in and around Ukraine and occupied territory relative to Ukraine. So, it is certainly the case that the threat of military invasion is high. That's why I've stood at this podium repeatedly over the course of the past few months, warned about that, and laid out what would come as a result of that in respect to a response by the United States and our allies and partners.

So, there's no illusions on the part of the United States government. There's no illusions on the part of any of us who have been dealing with this issue about what the prospects are for potential conflict and potential military escalation by Russia.

The point that I would make today is that the United States and our European allies and partners are prepared for multiple different eventualities — an eventuality that has us at the negotiating table, working on these issues in a serious and substantive way, and the eventuality that has us responding to what Russia does in a clear, effective, forceful way that imposes significant costs on Russia for any action that it might take.


Q On those actions, looking at Europe right now, it doesn't seem necessarily that they're prepared to join the aggressive multinational sanctions package that the U.S. has talked about. So, if Vladimir Putin were to invade Russia tomorrow, are you confident that the sanctions that you have threatened Moscow with and that you would want to see out of Europe are lined up, ready to go?

And secondly, the Kremlin sort of picked one element of sanctions legislation that's up on the Hill — the prospect of sanctioning Vladimir Putin personally — today, and objected to that. I'm wondering is that among the, sort of, package that you've signaled to them as on the table were Ukraine to be invaded by Russia?

MR. SULLIVAN: The main focus of the sanctions package that we've been working with Europe on have been significant financial sanctions with a "start high, stay high" mentality, not a graduated application of these sanctions; export controls that go at certain fundamental strategic industries in Russia; and other steps that we would take to ensure that Russia actually had to deal with the economic consequences of this invasion.

In terms of your question about my level of confidence in our European allies and partners, I feel very good about the level of engagement and the level of convergence between the United States and Russia, A, on the fundamental proposition that there would have to be severe economic consequences, and, B, on both the categories, types, and targets of sanctions that would have to flow.

Does that mean that the U.S. and Europe are going to have precisely the same list down to every last detail? No. Does it mean that I will be able to stand before you and say the United States and Europe have moved in unison on the application of severe economic measures? I'm confident that I will be able to do that.

Q Can I ask a question about the cybersecurity meeting that you held today? I'm wondering, in terms of the Log4j vulnerability, how many federal — or if federal systems have been affected by that vulnerability; if it was because the government hadn't done the necessary patchwork to prevent it from happening; and if the firms that you spoke with today made any commitments in terms of, you know, financial assistance or other assistance to maintain kind of critical open source software, since this seems to be an issue that continues to bubble up.

MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, the President signed an executive order last year that goes to procurement of software by the United States government and fundamentally raises the game. And we're in the process of implementing that.

And, actually, where things stand with respect to departments and agencies of the U.S. government today, as compared to nearly one year ago today when the President took office, we are in a much more robust posture. And that's due to the work not just of the interagency, but of specific departments and agencies that have implemented that executive order.

In terms of the session today, I'm not going to speak on behalf of the companies in terms of the commitments they made, but it was an incredibly constructive discussion about ways that the public sector and the private sector can work effectively together to ensure that public sector systems are more robust and resilient and private sector systems are more robust and resilient. I'll leave it at that.

And we will try to develop, along with the participants in that meeting, an agreed readout so that we're not betraying any confidences.


Q On Russia and Ukraine, Secretary Blinken said at the start of the week that he didn't expect any major breakthroughs this week but that one positive outcome could obviously be a de-escalation of tensions.

Given the current state of play, given everything that you've said, what specifically does that look like from your view — Russia de-escalating — right now?

MR. SULLIVAN: It would involve them reducing the number of forces that they have deployed in aggressive postures towards Ukraine. And that would ultimately be a key part of de-escalation.

There are other steps that Russia could take in respect to de-escalation that go far beyond Ukraine as well. But in terms of the proximate challenge in and around the border of Ukraine, that would be an important step.

I would also say one other thing that I think is very important that Tony — you mentioned Secretary Blinken's comments at the beginning of the week. He said something at the end of last week that I want to underscore, which is that our intelligence community has developed information — which has now been downgraded — that Russia is laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.

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