The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—an organization born at the height of the Cold War—might yet again prove instrumental in strengthening strategic stability in the twenty-first century. Shifts in global polarity, a growing role for non-traditional actors, and the unique properties of emerging technologies are all conspiring to undermine strategic stability. Meanwhile, the OSCE’s instruments for upholding strategic stability—including common norms, values, and principles of strategic restraint—are eroding in now-defunct treaties. Today, there are a range of material roadblocks to arms control, but the most significant impediment is the current lack of political will to sustain and improve it. At the OSCE, Russian obstructionism is perhaps the clearest manifestation of this trend. The categorical failure of great and middle powers to expend the time, expertise, and political capital necessary to create meaningful regimes of control is stark. It is also, fortunately, something that the OSCE can address and improve. We cannot give up on the OSCE vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good afternoon, everyone. We’ve had a pretty packed and I would say productive day here in Stockholm, and I really want to thank our hosts for doing such a wonderful job putting together this meeting of the OSCE, particularly my friend and colleague Ann Linde, the foreign minister of Sweden and the chairperson of the OSCE.
I’m here in Stockholm for this ministerial, but I’d have to be remiss if I didn’t highlight as well the very strong partnership that joins the United States to Sweden. Promoting democracy, reinforcing transatlantic security, combating the climate crisis – in these and so many other areas, we are very pleased to have Sweden as a close partner. And we’re also very admiring of the leadership that Sweden has shown with the OSCE in the chair this past year.
I’m looking forward to actually having an opportunity to meet the new prime minister a little later today and offering her congratulations on behalf of the United States for what is truly a historic victory. I know the good work that our countries will do together will continue under her leadership, as well as my own partnership with the foreign minister.
The OSCE is an invaluable institution, in no small part because it has a comprehensive view of security. It’s not just reflected in military might, but also good governance, democracy, human rights. And I think that approach accords with the reality of the world that we live in. Countries that respect human rights and govern with the consent of their people tend to be more stable, more prosperous, more peaceful, and they make better neighbors. Countries that violate human rights and flout democratic values often sow instability in other countries, and rulers who abuse their power give license to other leaders to do the same.
We’re not truly secure unless we come together to respect both the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. And that captures the insight that’s at the heart of the OSCE’s work for nearly 50 years. It’s particularly relevant now, when all of us are called to step up our commitment to democracy and human rights at home and around the world.
Next week, President Biden’s going to host the Summit for Democracy to bring governments and civil society from around the world together to make concrete pledges to renew and reform democracies. It’s no secret that there’s democratic backsliding happening around the world, including here in Europe. But the genius and resilience of democracy is that it is self-correcting. More than any other form of government, democracies have the capacity to face mistakes, learn from them, and do better. And that’s the spirit of the summit the President will be convening next week. It’s also the spirit of the OSCE.
I’m grateful to have had the chance to affirm the OSCE’s vital role in safeguarding democracy in Europe and beyond and urge all member countries to be constructive participants in the OSCE rather than obstructing it from contributing to peace and security in Europe.
Here in Stockholm, I also had the chance to meet with Foreign Minister Kuleba from Ukraine and Foreign Minister Lavrov from Russia. As I said yesterday in Riga, as well as in my meetings today, the United States and our allies and partners are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine, including efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within and large-scale military operations. We’ve seen this playbook before in 2014, when Russia last invaded Ukraine. Despite uncertainty about intentions and timing, we must and we will prepare for all contingencies, while working to see to it that Russia reverses course.
As I conveyed again to Foreign Minister Kuleba today, the United States remains unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence. We discussed Ukraine’s commitment to implementing the Minsk agreements, which we believe represent the best avenue for a diplomatic resolution to this crisis, potential crisis.
We also affirm that despite a massive Russian disinformation campaign, Ukraine is in no way posing a threat to Russia or seeking a confrontation that would justify a Russian military intervention. The only threat is that of renewed Russian aggression toward Ukraine. In my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine. And as with Foreign Minister Kuleba, I also made clear the United States is prepared to work with both parties to support a diplomatic resolution through implementation of the Minsk agreements in any way that we can. That diplomatic way forward can avert a crisis that would serve no one’s interests.
Foreign Minister Lavrov and I had candid exchanges on our different perspectives. We agreed to report those back to our presidents, who may have the opportunity to speak directly in the near future.
It’s now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions, and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine. We’re watching the situation very closely. We’re in close contact and coordination with our allies.
Let me close with a reminder that when the members of the OSCE signed its founding document, the Helsinki Final Act – and that was 46 years ago – they pledged to uphold principles that made it possible for the countries of Europe to live side by side in peace, stability, prosperity. They’re inseparably linked with respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, and human rights, and the United States will continue to stand for those values here and everywhere.
And with that, I’m happy to take some questions. Thank you.
MR PRICE: We have time for a few questions today. We’ll start with Francesco Fontemaggi of the AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. After your meeting with the Foreign Minister Lavrov, do you see any sign that Russia is willing to de-escalate and remove its troops from the border? Was there any agreement on the way forward, other than direct contact between the two presidents? And should we – was it – or was it only each side talking past each other, as you seem to report? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The purpose of seeing Foreign Minister Lavrov was to be able to communicate clearly and directly to him our concerns, the consequences if Russia pursues aggression and confrontation, as well as our views on the better way forward, which is de-escalation and recommitment to diplomacy through the Minsk process. And we had a – I think a very direct, very candid, non-polemical exchange of views. It was serious; it was sober. I believe that the foreign minister will take the conversation back to President Putin. I’m going to do the same, of course, with President Biden. And as I said, I think it’s likely the presidents will speak directly in the near future.
MR PRICE: Will Mauldin of The Wall Street Journal.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to clarify something about the possible sanctions or other economic measures you mentioned yesterday, a new degree of economic measures that the U.S. has withheld before. Is that the – when you spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov today and mentioned severe costs and consequences, are you referring to those economic potential moves, or are there other responses that the U.S. and its partners could take, such as military or something else on the table? And then what would be the trigger for that? Is the trigger only a new violation of Ukraine’s territory or could the trigger be a refusal to back down? Or could it be some other action Russia could take in regards to Ukraine? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Will. So as we’ve been in recent days, in recent weeks, in the meeting with the foreign minister, I was very clear that there would be serious consequences for Russian aggression toward Ukraine, including, as I said, high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from taking in the past. We’ve been, will continue to be, very clear about those consequences. I think Moscow knows very well the universe of what’s possible. And we had a detailed conversation as well about the concerns that we have, and these include both the potential for renewed aggression with military forces, as well as some of the efforts that we see Russia taking to try to destabilize Ukraine from within. Both are cause for concern.
MR PRICE: Missy Ryan of The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. I’d like to ask you about the talks this week on the Iran nuclear deal. Have you seen any indication in the discussion so far in Vienna that the Iranians are ready to return to compliance? And as they put new proposals on the table, do you see any proof that they’re negotiating in good faith? And secondly on Iran, what is your response to the appeal that Israeli Prime Minister Bennett made to you today in a call today, according to the Israeli Government readout, to immediately halt the talks based on Iran – new Iranian enrichment activities?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Missy. So as you know, our team, led by Rob Malley in Vienna right now, I think in the very near future, in the next day or so, will be in a position to judge whether Iran actually intends now to engage in good faith. I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric don’t give us a lot of cause for optimism. But even though the hour is getting very late, it is not too late for Iran to reverse course and engage meaningfully in an effort to return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA.
What Iran can’t do is sustain the status quo of building their nuclear program while dragging their feet on talks. That will not happen. That’s also not our view alone. It’s very clearly the view of our European partners. I have to say, I had a good conversation as well with Foreign Minister Lavrov about this. I think Russia shares our basic perspective on this, and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days. But it is up to Iran to demonstrate and to demonstrate quickly that it is serious about taking the steps necessary to return to compliance, not to try to drag things out while building up.
And let me just say that I had a very good and detailed conversation with Prime Minister Bennett today. This is in keeping with the many exchanges that we’ve had with our Israeli allies on any number of issues, but to include, of course, the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. And we have exactly the same strategic objectives: we are both determined to ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. And we went over in some detail where we thought things stood based on what we’ve been hearing in Vienna. We will continue to be in very close contact with Israel, as well as with other concerned countries including in the Gulf, about the status of the talks and our assessment of where this is going or where it’s not going.
QUESTION: Can you just address the appeal that he apparently made in the call for an immediate halt to the talks?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: As I said, we’re going to know very, very quickly, I think in the next day or two, whether Iran is serious or not. We need to test that proposition fully. I think our partners in the talks believe that as well, but as I said, and to be very clear, we will not accept the status quo of Iran building its program on the one hand and dragging its feet in talks on the other. That’s not going to last.
MR PRICE: We have time for one final question from Pontus Ahlkvist of TT.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Many Swedes are worried about the future world order in light of rising authoritarian leaders. What is your message to them in this context? How do you view Sweden’s and other smaller nations’ ability to stand up for democratic values? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, let me say I think Sweden’s a remarkable example of not only standing up for, but acting on democratic values and human rights. We see that around the world almost every day and we’re seeing it very much here in Stockholm, including with its leadership of the OSCE this past year. And in so many ways, we’re partners in that effort not only within the OSCE, but working together, promoting democracy around the world, security, human rights, gender equity and equality, international development, sustainability – all of these things are part of democratic resilience, and we’re very proud to have Sweden as a full partner in that.
I think it’s also true, to go to the first part of your question, that this is a time when democracies are being challenged – some being challenged from within, others being challenged from without. And there is a contest between autocracies and democracies, and as President Biden has spoken to on numerous occasions, that is a fundamental contest of our time. And autocracies are trying to demonstrate that their way of doing business is somehow more effective in answering the needs of citizens than democracy is. It’s fundamentally wrong, but it’s the case that they make. And so when democracies are struggling or when they’re in disarray, that plays into the hands of and the case that autocracies are making.
And it’s one of the core reasons why President Biden wanted to bring countries together, which he’ll do this coming week at the Summit for Democracy. And it really has two purposes. It’s both to look at how countries around the world are dealing with some of the internal challenges to democracy and how we can strengthen our own resilience, but also how we can work together more effectively to strengthen and shore up democracies around the world.
And we’ll have more to say on that next week at the summit. I just want to mention that it’s not one conversation and we’re done. It’s actually the start of what we hope will be and expect will be a year of action on building democratic resilience. There will be a follow-up next year, and in between, a lot of work that’s going to be done. And countries will be coming to this summit with real commitments and initiatives to, again, build resilience at home as well as among the community of democracies around the world.
So stay tuned for more next week, but in this endeavor, as I said, we could not ask for a better partner than Sweden, and it’s also particularly wonderful to be here. I just wish we had more time. Thank you.
MR PRICE: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, everyone.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest and most comprehensive regional security organization with 57 participating states from Europe and Eurasia, as well as Canada and the United States. The OSCE’s foundational principles, enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, constitute a comprehensive approach to security, recognizing that peace and prosperity in the region depends on respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States as well as on respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals.
Yesterday, the premier human rights conference of the Europe-Eurasia region should have opened in Warsaw, Poland. Unfortunately, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) 2021 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) did not convene due to a decision by the Russian government to block the meeting. We deeply regret this attempt by the Russian government to block scrutiny of its worsening human rights record.
Since the adoption of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the OSCE has recognized that respect for human rights is essential to peace and security. For decades, yearly HDIM reviews of the records of all participating States — the United States included — have been a hallmark of the OSCE, bringing to the table representatives of governments and civil society organizations from across the region. The United States still expects the OSCE and its participating States to hold the mandated annual HDIM meetings. We will continue to urge Russia to live up to its commitments, which include guaranteeing the protection of fundamental freedoms and allowing citizens to hold their governments accountable, including through free and fair elections.
The United States will not ignore human rights violations. We will continue to do our utmost to spotlight the full range of human rights concerns across the OSCE region, and we will work with allies and partners to defend the principle of comprehensive, annual human dimension reviews with robust civil society participation.