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While the U.S. helps Ukraine, it plans to tighten pressure on the Kremlin

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Sweeping new sanctions are being imposed on Russia. The U.S., European Union and G-7 nations each announced new sanctions in response to the civilian toll in Bucha and in other cities across Ukraine in recent days. The newest U.S. sanctions target President Putin's adult children, Russia's largest banks and any new investment in Russia by U.S. nationals. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels for meetings with NATO foreign ministers. Before leaving on that trip, this is what Secretary Blinken said.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: This reinforces our determination and the determination of countries around the world to make sure that one way or another, one day or another, there is accountability for those who committed these acts, for those who ordered them.

FADEL: Joining me now from Brussels is U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price. Welcome.

NED PRICE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: Before we get to the meetings in Brussels, let's start with Ukraine's president. He admonished the U.N., calling it ineffective in the face of mounting evidence of atrocities by Russian troops against Ukrainian civilians. Has the U.N. been ineffective?

PRICE: Well, what we know is that Russia has posed a challenge at every turn in institutions and, of course, by its horrific actions on the ground in Ukraine. When it comes to Russia's actions at the U.N., you are going to see the United States take action this week. We are seeking Russia's suspension from the Human Rights Council. What we know is that we cannot let a member state of that council that is subverting every principle that we hold dear to continue to call itself a member of that council, especially when that country is using the Human Rights Council - which is supposed to stand up to human rights abuses and atrocities, the very elements that Russia is conducting in Ukraine - for the purposes of propaganda. And in recent weeks alone, we have seen a vast majority of the world's countries in the U.N. General Assembly stand up to Russia's aggression. A hundred and forty-one countries - 140 countries in respective votes have done just that.

FADEL: But Mr. Price, what will that actually do to change the situation on the ground? Because some parts of the country outside of Kyiv have been liberated from Russian forces, but as we speak, other parts of Ukraine are besieged. How urgent is it for Russia and Ukraine to negotiate an end to this war now so that more civilians aren't killed? And what will removing Russia from the Human Rights Council actually do?

PRICE: Well, No. 1, removing Russia from the Human Rights Council will correct a wrong, a fundamental wrong, that a country like Russia that is committing war crimes, that is using, as I said before, that very seat for the sole purpose of propaganda to spread lies and disinformation - that will correct a fundamental injustice. But that is not the entirety of our strategy, of course. We are going to continue to support Ukraine militarily, to support Ukraine economically, to support the Ukrainian people with humanitarian assistance, just as we continue to tighten the pressure on the Kremlin. And you're going to see additional important action on that latter front today. Not only do both of these things help Ukraine on the battlefield, but it actually strengthens Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table.

FADEL: How close is a diplomatic solution? I mean, is there a negotiated end to this war if Russia hasn't lost decisively? Putin has not backed down, has sold a false narrative to his country about liberating Ukrainians. Will he accept anything that doesn't portray him as the victor in this war?

PRICE: Well, unfortunately, I don't think we're close. And I say that because even as Ukraine engages in good faith with Russia, even as our allies and partners around the world - like Israel, Turkey, France, Germany, others - continue to use their good offices to try to foster dialogue and diplomacy, we have seen Russia continue to engage in this brutal military campaign. We have seen very few indications to date suggesting that Russia is actually serious about diplomacy. So until and unless that changes, we are going to continue with the prongs of our strategy, supporting Ukraine militarily. And just overnight, Secretary Blinken announced an additional $100 million in security assistance for Ukrainian partners, bringing the total to $2.4 billion over the course of this administration, $1.7 billion since this aggression started. And along with that, we are going to continue to tighten the pressure on the Kremlin. Both of these things, again, will not only work to Ukraine's favor on the battlefield, but again, it will strengthen Ukraine's hand at the negotiating table.

FADEL: You talked about other announcements today. And as I mentioned, top of the agenda in Brussels is the levying of even more robust sanctions. But, Mr. Price, can economic sanctions really have their intended impact without the cooperation of China and India? What is the Biden administration doing to try to bring those two nations into alignment with the U.S. and Europe?

PRICE: Well, we are here in Brussels with our NATO allies, with our G-7 partners from around the globe. And when we act together with this set of allies and partners, the United States and this constellation of countries, we constitute more than 50% of global GDP. No other collection of countries that is - that has shown any degree of real cooperation can come close to that. So, yes, absolutely, our measures can have bite. And I think what you've seen in the past couple days as the scale of atrocities has become clear - you have seen countries like India condemn in no uncertain terms what Russia is doing. So Russia, in its own horrifying way, is in some manner doing our job for us, sending a very clear signal to the world that countries have to stand up.

FADEL: You talked about the diplomatic solution, that it doesn't look like it's soon. The U.S. and NATO allies have affirmed that President Zelenskyy's right to negotiate an end to this war - has the right to negotiate an end to this war on terms acceptable to Ukraine. And among those terms for Zelenskyy are security guarantees from NATO allies, should Russia attack again. If Ukraine gives up its NATO aspirations, among those Zelenskyy wants guarantees from is the U.S. Is the U.S. willing to provide these security guarantees?

PRICE: Well, we are in constant dialogue with our Ukrainian partners. Secretary Blinken speaks to his counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba, regularly. As you know, President Biden speaks to President Zelenskyy regularly. Our national security adviser speaks to his counterpart. So we're having these discussions. And we can't get into details. As I said before, it's a hypothetical. There is no agreement. There's very little indication at this point that the Russians are serious about finding a diplomatic solution at this very moment. But we are prepared to do our part, including by ensuring that however and whenever this ends, it will be a strategic defeat for Moscow, that Moscow will be weaker, it will be isolated, and importantly, Moscow won't be able to undertake this kind of aggression in the coming months or the coming years.

FADEL: U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, speaking to us from Brussels, thank you for taking the time.

PRICE: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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