QUESTION: And joining me now from Moldova is Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, welcome back to Meet the Press.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Chuck.
QUESTION: I want to start with some of the asks that President Zelenskyy made of Congress yesterday morning here our time, and I assume he made some similar asks in his phone call with President Biden. We’ve got a bullet points here: the no-fly zone; more planes, drones, and lethal aid; a full ban on Russian oil imports; and terminate Russia’s preferential trading status.
I want to set aside the no-fly zone situation here for a minute. Let’s start with planes. It seems that we’re close. This idea of essentially U.S. fighter jets to Poland; in exchange, Poland sends Russian-made jets to Ukraine – is that going to happen? And how quickly can it happen?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first let me say this. President Zelenskyy has been a remarkable leader. He’s been the embodiment of the Ukrainian people and everything they’re doing to resist this Russian aggression. And President Biden’s in regular contact with him, as he was just yesterday.
On this question of planes, yes, we’re talking very actively about this, looking at what we can do to backfill Poland if it chooses to send the MiGs and the Su planes that it has to Ukraine, how we can help by backfilling what they’re giving to the Ukrainians. So that’s in very active discussion as we speak.
QUESTION: You said “if,” “if Poland.” That’s a Polish decision, not a NATO decision?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s a sovereign decision by Poland. If they choose to do it, we want to make sure that we can help them and, again, backfill what they’re giving so that they don’t have any loss in their own ability to provide security.
QUESTION: So we are 100 percent going to do this? If any of these NATO nations that have these Russian-made planes donate them to the Ukrainian – Ukraine, we’re going to backfill if they’re NATO Allies?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look. We’ve got to – we have to work through each case on its own merits. We’ve got to make sure we’re able to do something if that’s what a country is requesting in return for sharing the jets that they have.
QUESTION: Let’s start with the ban on oil imports. I know as late as last week there was still – the administration was saying no, we can’t do the 100 percent ban. Has your mind changed? Has the administration’s mind changed on this? Are you looking at a full embargo on Russian and gas – Russian gas and oil?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck – Chuck, I spoke to the President and the cabinet, the leading members of the cabinet, about this just yesterday from Europe. And we are now in very active discussions with our European partners about banning the import of Russian oil to our countries while, of course, at the same time maintaining a steady global supply of oil. The actions we’ve taken to date have already had a devastating impact on the Russian economy. We see the ruble in freefall. We see the economy heading into a deep recession. We’ve already had a major impact. But we are looking – again, as we speak – in coordination with allies and partners at this prospect of banning oil imports.
QUESTION: So it’s interesting you added the “in coordination.” We will not do this unilaterally? The United States is not going to do this unilaterally?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: A hallmark of everything we’ve done to date has been this coordination with allies and partners. We are much more effective across the board when we’re doing things together in as close a coordination as possible. There are instances where we each do something a little bit different, but it complements the whole. So in the first instance, we want to make sure that we’re acting in coordination. I’m not going to rule out taking action one way or another irrespective of what they do, but everything we’ve done, the approach starts with coordinating with allies and partners.
QUESTION: All right. And another way of ratcheting things up on the Russians is Zelenskyy suggested terminating Russia’s preferential trading status, Most Favored Nation status. Is that something we’re considering?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, Chuck, let me – let me say this. There are a series of things that are out there that we’re looking at to continue to ratchet up the pressure on Vladimir Putin for the purposes of getting him to end this aggression against Ukraine, to stop this war, to stop the killing, to stop the suffering. And there are, as I said, extraordinary measures that we’ve already taken. We said many months ago when all of this started and we warned that Putin was threatening this aggression, we said if he pursued it, there’d be massive consequences for Russia. And we’ve delivered on that promise.
You see it again in everything that’s happening to the Russian economy. But if there are things that remain to do to increase the pressure, if he’s unwilling to stop the aggression, we’re going to do them. So we will look at each and every one, decide together with our allies and partners what’s most effective, when we should do it. And we’ll proceed – we’ll proceed in that way.
QUESTION: All right. I want to talk about the no-fly zone. Let me quote President Zelenskyy on Telegram on Friday. He essentially set this out on social media: “All the people who will die, starting this day, will also die because of you” – he’s addressing the West – “because of your weakness, because of your disunity. Today the Alliance’s leadership gave the green light for further bombing of Ukrainian cities by refusing to make a no-fly zone.”
I understand it’s an emotional statement, right? And I understand you’ve had different conversations there. Why rule out the no-fly zone? Why not make Putin think it’s possible?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, again, my admiration for President Zelenskyy has no bounds. And if I were in his shoes, I’d be asking and looking for everything possible from everyone in every place around the world. And as I’ve said, what we’ve already done is extraordinary. And just to remind people, over the past year alone, from the United States alone, more than a billion dollars in security assistance, lethal defensive weapons that are being put to very effective service by Ukrainians now in defense of their country, and other measures that we’re looking at going forward. Just in the last week alone, Chuck, we have delivered more than $200 million worth of security assistance into the hands of Ukrainians. So all of that is ongoing. All of that’s continuing.
The President’s been very clear about one thing all along as well, which is we’re not going to put the United States in direct conflict with Russia, not have American planes flying against Russian planes or our soldiers on the ground in Ukraine, because for everything we’re doing for Ukraine, the President also has a responsibility to not get us into a direct conflict, a direct war, with Russia, a nuclear power, and risk a war that expands even beyond Ukraine to Europe. That’s clearly not our interest. What we’re trying to do is end this war in Ukraine, not start a larger one.
QUESTION: Let me ask you this. At what point –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And by the way, keep in mind what – again, keep in mind what a no-fly zone – just so people understand, too, what a no-fly zone means. It means that if you declare a space no-fly and a Russian plane flies through it, it means we have to shoot it down.
QUESTION: Let me ask the question this way. We’re getting towards the end of the second week of this conflict. Can this still end diplomatically with Vladimir Putin in charge of Russia?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: How this ends is an important question, and I wish that we could see signs that President Putin was willing to engage diplomatically to bring this aggression to a close. Right now we’re not seeing them. He was on the phone – President Putin with President Macron of France a couple of days ago, and by all accounts, according to the French, he’s digging in and doubling down.
And I think we have to be ready that this could go on for some while. The sheer force that Russia can bring to bear – the manpower, the expanse of its military – has the potential to keep grinding down these incredibly brave and resilient Ukrainians. But here’s the thing. Winning a battle is not winning a war. Taking a city is not taking the hearts and minds of Ukrainians. And what we’ve learned over the past couple of weeks is that they will fight to the end for their country – and if it takes a week, if it takes a month, if it takes a year.
And he has no plan – Putin – for how this actually ends on his terms. He can’t impose his will and Russia’s will on 45 million Ukrainians. They’ve clearly demonstrated that. But it may take some considerable time to play out. We want it to end as quickly as possible, with Ukraine having its independence, its territorial integrity, its sovereignty. But I think we need to be prepared for this going on for some time.
QUESTION: Secretary Antony Blinken. I know you’re busy. I know you’ve got yet another plane to catch. Thanks for coming on and sharing your perspective with us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Chuck. Good to be with you.