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State Department spokesperson on the U.S.' efforts to counter Russia's messaging


Two weeks of war in Ukraine. Russia still has not taken hold, and Ukraine is still fighting back. And the United States remains off in the wings, not center stage. We spoke earlier today with Ned Price, who's a spokesperson for the State Department. And I started by reminding him that on February 18, he was on NPR's Morning Edition, saying the goal then was to prevent a war. So I asked, what's the goal now?

NED PRICE: The goal now is to end the war. And, Sarah, we're doing that in a couple of different ways. No. 1, we are providing our Ukraine partners with our support, support that has totaled more than a billion dollars in the past year, about $250 million in recent days alone. And we're going to continue providing even more. But second, we are also seeking to create the conditions for a diplomatic solution to this. And we are doing that by increasing the pressure on President Putin, on the Kremlin, on those around him. We spoke before the war of the unprecedented financial measures, economic sanctions that President Putin and those around him would face. And you have seen the immediate effect on the Russian economy and the Russian financial system. And we are prepared to go even further until and unless President Putin escalates and turns to diplomacy.

MCCAMMON: What is communication like with Russia now? For example, is the Russian foreign affairs minister, Sergey Lavrov, speaking with Secretary Blinken?

PRICE: Well, there are a number of countries that are engaging directly with Russia at the moment, countries like Israel, countries like France. Others are engaging with the Russian Federation, and they're doing so in full and constant coordination with the United States. Look. We are prepared to engage directly if and when the conditions are appropriate. Until now, however, the challenge has been that the Russians have engaged in something that we've called the pretense of diplomacy. In other words, they have sometimes theatrically purported to engage in the process while investing all of their energy, all of their resources not in diplomacy, but in the machinery of war.

MCCAMMON: Yesterday, your counterpart at the White House, Jen Psaki, alluded to chemical weapons that Russia may use in Ukraine. What can you tell us about that?

PRICE: Well, I can tell you that we're concerned. And we're concerned about this for a couple reasons. No. 1, we know that Moscow has employed chemical weapons in the past, most infamously, Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader. But we're also concerned because of some of the rhetoric that we've heard emanate from Moscow and from the Russian Federation in recent days accusing the United States - baselessly - and Ukraine of preparing to engage in some sort of chemical weapons or biological weapons effort. And we're concerned because if you were to psychoanalyze President Putin, the Russian Federation, you might diagnose them with taking part in something called projection. In other words, accusing others of taking part in precisely what they have done or, in this case, what they may be planning to do.

MCCAMMON: On that note, Russia has falsely claimed that there were only fighters, not pregnant women, in the maternity hospital in Mariupol that was hit by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. What is the State Department doing to counter Russia's false messaging more broadly?

PRICE: From the start, and frankly, long before the start of this effort - this goes back several months now - we have undertaken an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to declassify as much information as we can, in the first instance to try to deter the Russian Federation from going forward with some of the actions that it may have planned under the assumption that by exposing what the Russian Federation had planned, we would keep them from moving forward with it. But if we were unable to do that, to at least make sure in the next instance that the world was clear-eyed about what the Russian Federation was up to. So that if Moscow claimed to have experienced an attack on the part of Ukraine, on the part of the United States, that the world would be prepared, and we would help to inoculate the international community against some of this disinformation, against some of these false claims. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has really stuck to its playbook in terms of its propaganda, in terms of its misinformation, in terms of its disinformation.

MCCAMMON: Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department. Thank you for your time.

PRICE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.