THE PRESIDENT: Hello, folks. Thanks for coming over.
Good afternoon, everyone. Earlier this week, I spoke with President Putin of Russia about the nature of our relationship — the relationship between our two countries. And I was candid and respectful; the conversation was candid and respectful.
Two great powers with significant responsibility for global stability. And President Putin and I have had a significant responsibility to steward that relationship. I take that responsibility very seriously, as I’m sure he does.
Russia and Americans are both proud and patriotic people. And I believe the Russian people, like the American people, are invested in peaceful and a secure future of our world.
During the campaign for my — for the presidency, I was unequivocal that if I was elected President, I’d respond to any attempt to influence our elections — the last election — and — because elections are sacred. They’re sovereign undertakings, and they’re an expression of the will of the American people, and we cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our dome- — democratic process with impunity.
And I told him: If it turned out that the invest- — as I thought — that there was engagement in our elections, that I would — that I’d respond.
Later, during the transition, as we learned more about the SolarWinds cyber intrusion, I made clear that I would respond once we determined who had, in fact, conducted a hack on the scope and scale that occurred.
When President Putin called me in January, after I was sworn in, to congratulate me, I told him that my administration — we were looking very carefully, now that we had access to all the data, at the issues that — to assess Russia’s role and then determine what response we would make.
When we spoke again this week, I told him that we would shortly be responding in a measured and proportionate way because we had concluded that they had interfered in the election and SolarWinds was totally out of the — inappropriate.
Today, I’ve approved several steps, including expulsion of several Russian officials, as a consequence of their actions. I’ve also signed an executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests.
I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so, to be — I chose to be proportionate.
The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of ecs- — of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.
If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond. It is my responsibility, as President of the United States, to do so.
But throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.
There are also areas where Russia and the United States can and should work together. For example, in the earliest days of my administration, we were able to move quickly to extend, for five years, the New START Treaty, and maintain that key element of nuclear stability between our nations. That was in the interest of the United States, of Russia, and, quite frankly, of the world, and we got it done.
When I spoke to President Putin, I expressed my belief that communication between the two of us, personally and directly, was to be essential in moving forward to a more effective relationship. And he agreed on that point.
To that end, I proposed that we meet in person this summer in Europe, for a summit to address a range of issues facing both of our countries. Our teams are discussing that possibility right now.
And out of that summit — were it to occur, and I believe it will — the United States and Russia could launch a strategic stability dialogue to pursue cooperation in arms control and security. We can address critical global challenges that require Russia and the United States to work together, including reining in nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea, ending this pandemic globally, and meeting the existential crisis of climate change.
I also made clear to President Clutin [sic] that the United — Putin — that the United States is unwavering in our support of our allies and partners in Europe. In that vein, I expressed concern about Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and occup- — and in occupied Crimea. I affirmed U.S. support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And I strongly urged him to refrain from any military action.
Now is the time to de-escalate. The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process. The U.S. is prepared to continue constructively to move forward that process.
My bottom line is this: Where it is in the interest of the United States to work with Russia, we should and we will. Where Russia seeks to violate the interests of the United States, we will respond. And we’ll always stand in defense of our country, our institutions, our people, and our allies.
Thank you very much for your time.
Q Mr. President, did President Putin give you any indication in that call that he is willing to change his behavior?
THE PRESIDENT: We indicated we would talk about it. I laid out, as I said, very simply — I told — I said during the campaign; I said when he called to congratulate me on being elected; I said, subsequent to that, this last conversation, that if it turned out that he was engaged in the activities that he’d been accused of in cybersecurity and SolarWinds and interfering in our elections that I would respond in kind.
I urged him to respond appropriately, not to exceed it, because we can move as well. My hope and expectation is we’ll be able to work out a modus vivendi. And — but it’s important that we have direct talks and that we continue to be in contact with one another.
THE PRESIDENT: Pardon me?
Q Why not — on Nord Stream, why didn’t you keep going with the sanct- — sanctions on Nord Stream 2, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: Nord Stream 2 is a complicated issue affecting our allies in Europe. I’ve been opposed to Nord Stream 2 for a long time, from the beginning, when I was even — when I was out of office and even before office, when we — before I left office as Vice President. But that still is an issue that is in play.
Thank you very much.
5:03 P.M. EDT