QUESTION: And once again tonight I am joined by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, nothing the U.S. or Europeans have done has been able to stop any of this from happening. Now the President has announced new and harsher sanctions. What’s the goal at this point? Do you believe Putin will suddenly turn around his tanks and head home because of harsher sanctions?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Lester, we’ve been warning about this for a long time. We’ve been planning on this for a long time. We’ve gotten allies and partners together for a long time. And we’ve made it clear that, on the one hand, if President Putin decided to pursue the path of diplomacy and dialogue, we’re ready for that and prepared to engage on that; but equally, if he pursued the path of aggression – which, tragically, is exactly what he’s done – we’re prepared on that too. And as a result, we have responded in a united way, swiftly, and with real consequence to impose very severe costs on Russia for the aggression it’s committing against Ukraine.
QUESTION: If Russia begins to feel cornered and maybe even desperate in all this, do you worry they could become more dangerous and perhaps directly threaten NATO countries?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Lester, when it comes to threatening NATO countries, we have something very powerful called Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all. Russia knows that, and that’s exactly why, among other things, one of our responses has been to shore up NATO’s defenses – to put more forces, to put more equipment on its eastern flank, the countries closest to Russia – to deter any aggression that Russia might be contemplating against NATO countries.
But in terms of doing other things, look, I think you just have to listen to President Putin’s own words. This is something he was planning all along. We made every possible effort to deter him, to dissuade him from taking this course. But clearly, this has been something that he’s planned for a long time, and it’s much bigger than NATO. This is all about trying to get Ukraine back into his orbit, to reconstitute, if he could, something approximating the Soviet empire, short of that re-exerting a sphere of influence to subjugate countries on his borders to his will. That’s what’s going on.
QUESTION: And very quickly, any signs that he is losing support at home?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, much, much too early to say. We’ve seen protests. We’ve seen at least reports of more than a thousand people being arrested for protesting against war, but much too soon to say. As the impact of this is felt, as the consequences of what President Putin has done is felt, including in Russia, that will have an impact.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, always good to talk to you. Thank you for joining us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks. Thanks for having me.