Senior Administration Official
April 1, 2022
MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, this morning to our on background trip briefing. The focus of our call today will be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel to Moldova and Romania.
As a reminder, this call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to a senior administration official. For your knowledge only and not for reporting purposes, I’m happy to let you know we have on the line with us today [Senior Administration Official]. Again, you can attribute what our briefer says to a senior administration official. And this call is embargoed until its conclusion.
With that, I will turn it over to our senior administration official. Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining the call. So, as you know, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will travel to Moldova and Romania on Sunday and Monday to focus on those countries’ efforts to assist refugees coming from Ukraine and the humanitarian needs created by the Russian Federation’s aggression and war against Ukraine. In particular, Russia’s military expansion – including towards Odessa in Ukraine – has created another significant front in which the humanitarian fallout will most directly impact Romania and Moldova in particular. Already these countries have welcomed one million people displaced by Putin’s war – roughly one-quarter of the total refugees, which recently topped four million, according to the UN.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s visit comes on the heels of the President’s announcement last week that the United States is prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new funding towards humanitarian assistance for those affected by Russia’s war in Ukraine and its severe impact around the world, including a marked rise in food insecurity, over the coming months. This funding will provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies, and other forms of assistance. The President also announced that the United States will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia’s aggression, which will help relieve some of the pressure on the European host countries that are currently shouldering so much of the responsibility for what is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. And I think we’ll have an opportunity to really see firsthand this assistance in action, on the front lines of the humanitarian and refugee response. And we’ll also have an opportunity to prioritize and provide inputs to our colleagues across the U.S. government as we implement and build out the pathways and align our approach to welcoming those fleeing this conflict with our colleagues and allies in Europe.
Let me offer a few details about Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s program in each country. She will arrive in Moldova on the morning of Sunday, April 3. There she’ll meet with President Maia Sandu and Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, as well as other senior officials engaged in the humanitarian response. She will also meet with NGOs working on the ground, as well as UN agencies leading the humanitarian response, including UNHCR, the World Food Program, and UNICEF officials. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will also have the opportunity to tour centers that are receiving refugees and providing urgent cash, medical, and other humanitarian assistance, as well as those sheltering displaced Ukrainians. And she’ll meet with Ukrainian refugees themselves to hear about their experiences firsthand.
Although Moldova is a small country and one of the most vulnerable in Europe to the effects of this crisis, it has risen to meet the challenge. International assistance will be critical to sustaining these efforts, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s visit will highlight the United States’ commitment to helping Moldova care for the large number of refugees who fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including the Department of State’s recent announcement of 30 million additional dollars to help with their refugee response.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will arrive in Bucharest, Romania, on the morning of Monday, April 4, where she will meet with Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă and other government officials to learn more about their efforts to welcome and support people displaced by the conflict. The Romanian government has created, in just a few weeks, a well-oiled humanitarian assistance apparatus to facilitate entry, processing, and transit for more than half a million refugees who have entered since Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will see this system in action, and also meet with UN officials to hear how they are scaling up operations in the country to support the humanitarian effort in Ukraine and across the region. There is still an urgent need to expand the scale of the response, and the Ambassador will use her visit to help with that process.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will also have the opportunity to meet with Ukrainian refugees, 90 percent of whom are women and children, according to the UN. She believes it’s vitally important to bring their voices and stories back to the UN, back to New York, back to Washington, and to shine a spotlight on the particular impact that Russia’s war is having on women and children.
Why don’t I stop there. We’ll obviously have more to say about the details of the trip as we get closer to our departure and along the way but let me turn it back over to [Moderator] now for your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And as a reminder for anybody who joined late, this briefing is on background and can be attributed to a senior administration official. I’ll ask our moderator to repeat the instructions for joining the question queue, and then we’ll get started with Q&A.
OPERATOR: Thank you. If you’d like to join the question queue, please press 1, then 0 on your telephone keypad. Once again that’s 1 followed by a 0.
Our first question will come from the line of Pamela Falk with CBS. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Hi. Thank you for the briefing. My question is about Moldova. You mentioned that it’s vulnerable. As a non-NATO member, does the Ambassador – do you believe that it is in the crosshairs of Russia? Is there – you said there was – it was – a part of the purpose was to shine a light on Moldova’s needs. Do you – how do you see them as vulnerable? Can you explain? Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, I guess I’d say a couple things about that. We really want to use this visit to continue to build and strengthen our bilateral relationship with Moldova, but also to thank Moldova for its commitment to provide protection for refugees that are fleeing Russia’s premeditated and unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine, and that includes the more than 100,000 refugees, as I said, that are currently being hosted in Moldova.
Moldova has been working closely with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, with other UN agencies; I mentioned the World Food Program and UNICEF. And obviously the United States is one of the largest donors to those institutions, and so we want to see the work that the team is doing on the ground and see if there’s anything we can do to help continue to scale up the response. And that – and that’s what’s behind the assistance that we’ve been providing directly to Moldova and also through our humanitarian assistance to the UN agencies.
We’re going to keep working with allies across Europe, with allies, with partners to respond to Russia’s aggression wherever it appears. And we firmly support Moldova’s sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its constitutionally guaranteed neutrality. And this visit will be an opportunity to check in with Moldova’s leaders on the full range of issues that we have in our bilateral relationship, but really focus and home in on the ways in which Moldova is responding to this crisis both domestically, but the incredibly generous welcome that Moldova has provided to Ukrainians and others who have been fleeing Russia’s war of choice. And that’s going to be the focus of her conversations and her on-the-ground visits to those involved in this response.
MODERATOR: Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from the line of Benny Avni with the New York Sun. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes. This is not directly related to the trip, but since I have you on the line. There was a call this week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the USUN to start the process of ejecting Russia out of the Human Rights Council and the Security Council. Any response from you guys?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for that question. Look, we share the outrage that Russia sits on the UN Human Rights Council at a moment where they’re conducting a brutal and completely unjustified attack on Ukraine. And we’re going to continue to and are committed to ensuring that Russia is held accountable for its atrocities.
You’ve heard in recent days President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield state publicly our assessment that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine. And just watching the television and seeing the brutal bombardment of civilian – civilians and civilian infrastructure underscores that point. We’re all watching it on television in real time. So, we’re working with allies and partners around the world and using every tool in our toolbox to continue to hold Russia accountable, including reviewing Russia’s participation in UN and other international bodies. And already in Geneva, we’ve pushed to establish a permanent commission of inquiry through the Human Rights Council and that Commission’s work will serve as an important evidence base for any future prosecutions and efforts to hold Russia accountable for the acts that it’s committing in Ukraine. Why don’t I stop there.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is from Margaret Besheer with the Voice of America.
QUESTION: Hi there. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, loud and clear.
QUESTION: Hi. It’s Margaret. Thank you. Margaret Besheer. [Senior Administration Official], on the 100,000 – up to 100,000 refugees the U.S. is willing to accept, I know in the statement from the Administration it said up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russia – Russia’s war. Is there a quota, a proportion, some sort of number percentage you can tell us that will be non-Ukrainians? Are they open to the same standards of immigration rules as the Ukrainians? And how fast might they start actually coming to the U.S.? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sorry, just getting off unmute there. Look, I think it’s a very good question. At this moment, look, we’ve made the announcement that we’re going to be not only surging humanitarian assistance to our partners in Europe, to international institutions, and really helping the immediate response on the ground, but, as you note, the President announced that we will welcome 100,000 Ukrainian citizens and others fleeing Russia’s aggression. And we’re going to be using the full range of legal pathways that we have available including visas, humanitarian parole, the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, and other pathways in the coming period to help relieve some of the pressure on Europe but also help welcome some of those who need a place to stay.
We still expect that most displaced Ukrainian citizens will want to stay in neighboring countries or elsewhere in Europe where they may have family, where they have connections, where there are large diaspora communities. And obviously we’re all hoping that Ukrainians will be able to return home in safety and security as soon as possible. But we also recognize that some number of Ukrainian citizens and others who fled this violent conflict that has emerged from Russia’s unjustified aggression may wish to come to the United States temporarily, especially those who have family ties or family members here in the United States.
And so, we’re going to be focusing in the – in the days and weeks to come to develop and make use of those pathways that are available, and in particular to make sure that we can help those with family here in the United States make those connections and make use of those legal pathways to come here to the United States as needed. And that – that’s what the – that’s what’s behind the announcement and that’s what we’re going to be working on in the period to come.
And Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s trip is going to be an opportunity to check in both in Moldova and Romania with our counterparts on the ground, with obviously our counterparts in both of those countries, to make sure that we’re scoping and tailoring this program and building it out in a way that’s actually helping relieve some of the pressure our European host countries are currently coping with. Again, as I mentioned at the top, this is the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. I think we’ve all been inspired by the way in which Europe has responded to this crisis with open arms and with a lot of support. We’re continuing to provide that support through our humanitarian assistance programs, and I think we’ll have a better sense of how many Ukrainian citizens will avail themselves of these open pathways to the United States in the weeks to come.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Next question.
OPERATOR: Thank you. If there are additional questions, you may join the queue by pressing 1 followed by 0 at this time. Again, that’s 1 and then 0 on your telephone keypad.
Our next question comes from the line of Michel Martin with MCR (sic).
QUESTION: NPR. Thank you. It’s National Public Radio. Just very excited to be able to join the trip. I was wondering – I’m interested in the whole question of – I understand that this is a check-in and the Ambassador wants to sort of see what’s happening and to thank these countries for their welcome, but it’s obvious given how much infrastructure has been destroyed in major cities in Ukraine that people aren’t going to be able to go home anytime soon, as much as they probably want to. So, the question is: Is there, I mean, thought to sort of the long-term or at least near-term support for people who have had to leave in a very short period of time with very little? What does it look like in that near term? What does the sort of programmatic support look like in the near term?
Because we’ve seen in other conflicts how an initial welcome, even a very warm welcome, can turn to resentment when local populations kind of feel that their needs aren’t being met, or some of these countries are already under some stress, as many countries are around the world because of COVID lockdowns, because of economic dislocation that they were already experiencing. So, I was just wondering if there’s some thought to now, once the immediate crisis is being addressed, and as you pointed out, that they’ve scaled up their responses very quickly, what is the – what’s the next step after that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it’s a really great question, and I think it’s in some ways this – you’re exactly putting your finger on part of the focus of this trip, which is to check in with those who are really – obviously Ukrainians are on the front line of this. We’re going to be meeting and talking to those who have had to flee this – flee their country because of Putin’s aggression. But we’re also meeting with and talking to those who are helping deal with the unprecedented crisis that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has caused. And as you note, the kind of magnitude and speed of the displacement that we’ve seen from Ukraine – four million and counting – has required a swift and significant and coordinated international response. I think we still see some aspects of that response ramping up. I think we’re going to use this visit to see whether there’s ways that we can help ensure that all the pieces are in place, but also to make sure that our European allies and partners are getting the support that they need to continue to address all the issues that are – inevitably come with displacement this large and this rapid.
That’s part of what President Biden was doing in Poland during his visit last week, and that’s why Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is going to be going to Moldova and Romania: to look at the kind of front lines of addressing this refugee and humanitarian crisis and make sure that we do have the resources and pieces in place.
Obviously the focus right now has been mobilizing the immediate response to make sure that we’ve got the basic needs – food, safety, security, shelter – for people who are fleeing the conflict; that the – that countries like Romania and Moldova that are taking refugees who are fleeing, that there’s a place for them to go, a place for them to be safe, a place for them to make connections with friends and family potentially in different parts of Europe. We’ve seen a number of people float through countries like Romania and Moldova and Poland and go to other parts of Europe. So, there is an effort to kind of share in meeting the needs of people.
But right now, the focus is really on this immediate response. We want to make sure that all the tools of the UN system, of the American support that we’re providing and, of course, close coordination with our European allies and partners is taking place, that we’re meeting any unmet needs, that we’re continuing to ramp up the response. But I absolutely agree that there are some larger questions in terms of timing, in terms of the need for support over time, and obviously, the tremendous destruction of infrastructure, but destruction in terms of lives and the personal toll of what’s happening because of Putin’s unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine. That’s going to be with us for some time, and we want to begin to put the pieces in place for addressing that over the longer term as well. And that’s part of what we’ll be talking with our partners and colleagues about during the course of this trip. So, we look forward to having you on board and we’ll be able to talk about it in more detail along the way.
MODERATOR: Operator, do we have any more questions in the queue?
OPERATOR: Thank you. There are no further questions at this time.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much, everybody, for joining. And just as a reminder, attribution for today’s call is to a senior administration official. Thanks for joining.