Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland on the American, NATO response to war in Ukraine

As President Biden announced energy sanctions on Tuesday, inside Russia the economic shockwaves continue. The central bank has now set a limit on withdrawals of dollars amid increasingly worthless rubles. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the Russian war and the American and allied response, both in aid and sanctions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    In addition to the energy sanctions announced today by the president, inside Russia, the economic shockwaves continue.

    The Central Bank has now set a limit on withdrawals of dollars from banks. The limit is now $10,000, with the rest paid out in increasingly worthless rubles.

    To discuss the Russian war, the American and allied response, both in aid and sanctions, I spoke just moments ago with Victoria Nuland. She is the undersecretary of state for political affairs, the department's fourth-ranking official.

    Undersecretary Nuland, thank you very much for joining us.

    I first want to ask you about the news this afternoon that Poland will be supplying MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. They're going to be doing it through Germany. I know you said that you, the U.S., was not informed ahead of time. But what is known about where these planes are going to be used? What's their mission?

    Victoria Nuland, U.S. Undersecretary of State For Political Affairs: Well, Judy, I have to tell you that I have been with my — with Senate friends for the last couple of hours. So I'm not fully informed, beyond the Polish press release.

    We have been saying that, obviously, these planes belong to Poland and it's their sovereign right to do with them as they — as they will. And the Ukrainians have been asking for them?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe they can be in position soon enough to make a difference in this war?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    I don't know what the arrangements are to figure this out.

    I would note that the Ukrainian air force has actually not been flying very much, and nor has the Russian air force. They're both afraid of surface-to-air missiles. And what has been most effective in this fight have been these surface-to-air systems that the United States and many of our allies and partners have been getting into Ukraine at high volumes to protect them against not only Russian aircraft, but also Russian tanks and other systems.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So would you say the fears that we're hearing from quarters, all quarters, about where these planes are, how vulnerable they would be to being shot down, your belief is that may be overwrought, overdone?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Look, Judy, only the Ukrainians can decide how best to fight this war. It is — what we are trying to do is to give them the means that they need to defend themselves.

    And they have been fighting incredibly bravely. I think, if you had asked anybody a month ago whether they would have been able to hold out as well and as strongly and flank the mighty Russian army, the way they have, and slow them down and sludge them up, nobody would have believed it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, that's a testament to them, but also to the support they have been getting.

    Well, President Zelenskyy, as you know, has been speaking to the public every day. We have been listening to him. He is asking, as you know, for more support, including more surface-to-air missiles. He's also asking for a no-fly zone. And there are a number of former U.S. ambassadors to Europe who are saying that there's a way to do that in a limited manner.

    Is the U.S. even considering something like that?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Judy, we do not believe it is possible to put U.S. or NATO airplanes over the skies of Ukraine now without coming into direct contact with the Russian military and making this a NATO-Russia or U.S.-Russia fight and thereby broadening this war, which we don't want to do.

    In addition to that, there are serious Russian air defenses over Ukraine. So I think that is not the right way to go. But, as I said, these surface-to-air systems that we have been helping the Ukrainians get have been highly, highly effective at the threat that they are facing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you're saying that even a limited form of no-fly zone is not in any way on the table?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Not unless we want to end up in a fight between the United States and Russia, which the American people don't want and which President Biden doesn't want either, and which does not help Ukraine, to widen this war. We need to end this war.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I just listened to you testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And there were a number of points when you spoke about additional aid the U.S. is talking to Ukraine about providing.

    Can you shed light for the American people on what that might be?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    I think we can continue to provide air defense systems. I think we can provide increasingly advanced air defense systems.

    We're obviously providing plenty of ammunition and other things. But, in general, we don't talk in specifics about these things publicly because it doesn't help the cause. The Ukrainians need a degree of strategic secrecy in the way they're going to beat this Russian military, and they have been successful so far.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Biden did announce today that the United States will no longer purchase Russian oil. There's a complete ban now from the U.S.

    How much difference is that going to make? It's not going to make much of a dent in Russian sales, is it?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Will, Judy, what has happened now is that 70 percent of the oil that Russia produces has come off the market as a result of the kinds of sanctions that President Biden just put on and that other countries are putting on, and the fact that there is market skittishness as a result of these kinds of things.

    So that is 70 percent of the revenue that he would get from oil that is not going into his coffers. And as President Zelenskyy has said, every drop of Russian oil sold is a drop of Ukrainian blood spilled.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in connection with that, pressure the Biden administration putting on our other allies in Europe, Germany, and others who are saying — we just heard the German chancellor say today that it affects the security of Europe to continue to depend on Russian — Russian energy.

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Well, I do think that our European allies and partners, who are more dependent on Russian oil and gas, really have had a very difficult wakeup call through this conflict.

    And I think it will accelerate some of their choices to move away from oil and gas from Russia, but it's not going to be quick. And we're going to have to support them in that. And, in the meantime, even as we impose this oil embargo, some of our allies and partners are not going to be able to do that right away, unless they want the lights to go off and the heat to go off in their homes.

    So, as we build this coalition and stay united, we also have to be flexible with each other that there are some things we can do that they can't do, and some things they can do that we can't do. So that's the unity that we're seeking to build. And President Biden did consult with allies and partners before doing this and make clear to them that we understood some of them would have a longer transition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're also hearing today about major American corporations that do a lot of business in Russia…

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … from Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Starbucks, and others — and this is on top of credit card companies like Visa — no more business with Russia.

    Are these the kinds of things that are that are going to have an effect ultimately on Vladimir Putin?

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Well, obviously, it has an effect on Russian financial coffers.

    But, more importantly, how it has an effect on the psyche of the Russian people, to whom Putin has been lying. He's trying to — just as he tries to turn Ukraine into rubble, he's trying to turn Russia back into a prison. As you know, the last of independent media has been cut off.

    He's trying to control information. But when Russian citizens, especially in the big cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, see that they can no longer get money out of their ATMs, they can no longer travel easily because of travel bans, they can't get their Big Macs, they can't get the pieces for their iPhones, that he is throwing them back to Soviet times, they are going to make their voices heard, and he's going to have to deal with the dissatisfaction of his citizens.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The undersecretary of state, Victoria Nuland, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

  • Victoria Nuland:

    Thank you so much.

    And in the few minutes since Undersecretary Nuland and I spoke, the Pentagon has rejected the Polish plan to send its Soviet era fighter jets into Ukraine, saying that the plan to have NATO jets fly into Ukraine at this time was not — quote — "tenable."

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