QUESTION: So Secretary, thank you very much for this interview, but let me go straight forward to the current hot topic, which is, of course, Russia. You said there is evidence for Russian plans over invading Ukraine. So how close we are to military confrontation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we don’t know President Putin’s intent. We don’t know if he’s made a decision to take renewed aggressive action against Ukraine. But what we do know is that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so and to do so on short notice. And that’s very, very concerning, and not just to us – it’s concerning to many partners throughout Europe. I was just at the NATO summit before coming here to the OSCE, and that concern is widespread.
And so it’s been very important for me and for us to communicate very clearly to Russia the mistake that it would be to commit renewed aggression against Ukraine, the serious consequences that would result, and our conviction that whatever differences there are are best resolved through diplomacy, particularly through implementation of the Minsk agreements that have never been implemented.
QUESTION: But you just had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication of his intentions now? What was the mood? And do you have any messages that there is a de-escalation coming?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We had a very direct, candid conversation, as we usually do. No polemics, very, very professional, very straightforward. And I shared with him – because it’s important to be able to share this directly, to communicate directly, not simply through television or through press releases, but to talk face to face – because I wanted him to understand the concerns that we have, the consequences that would result if our concerns are realized by Russian aggression, but also our conviction that the best path forward is diplomacy, is for Russia to de-escalate, to pull back its forces, and to engage meaningfully in implementing the Minsk agreements.
QUESTION: But can you say that you’re closer now to a breakthrough or de-escalation?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What I can say is this: Foreign Minister Lavrov will report back to President Putin. I am, of course, doing the same with President Biden. I expect that the presidents will speak in the near future and we’ll move on from there, but the first and most important thing is to just be very clear and very direct about how we see this, what our concerns are, what we’re going to do, and what we would prefer to do, which is to reinvigorate the diplomacy and finally resolve the occupation of these territories in Ukraine.
QUESTION: So are there any concrete plans for a meeting between the two presidents?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: My expectation is that they will speak in the near future.
QUESTION: When you say “near future” —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to put a date on it.
QUESTION: Okay. But you warned for severe consequences if, finally, Russia invades Ukraine. What do you mean with that, and how far are you ready to go? Are you ready to go beyond economic sanctions?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What I’ve said and what we’ve said is that there would be high-impact economic consequences. I think the universe of those consequences is well known to Moscow, and I hope that President Putin factors that into his calculus. At the same time, the United States, other countries have been working to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself and, of course, if there are any threats to the NATO Alliance, we’ll make sure that we continue to strengthen our own defensive capacities.
But I also put an emphasis on the word “defensive.” NATO is a defensive alliance, not an aggressive alliance. We’re here for the protection and security of our members, but also to help partners like Ukraine defend themselves if they’re at risk of aggression. So that’s what we’re focused on. But I think, again, what’s most important for Russia to understand is that actions have consequences. Those consequences are real, they’re not in Russia’s interests, and having a conflict is in no one’s interest.
Let me just add this: President Biden, when he spoke to President Putin in Geneva some months ago, said that our strong preference in the United States is to have a stable, predictable relationship with Russia. Russia moving aggressively again against Ukraine would move it exactly the opposite direction of stable and predictable. I don’t think that’s good for any of us, but the President was equally clear if Russia chooses to act recklessly, we’ll respond.
QUESTION: But you just referred to sanctions, and I will tell you that the EU and United States have already sanctions in place. So what makes you believe that this time sanctions will work? Because Putin doesn’t seem to change course.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, many of the things we’re looking at I think would have a very high impact and are things that we have not done in the past, that we’ve refrained from doing. And Russia is well aware of what the universe of the possible is when it comes to that, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: You don’t want to be more concrete on what you’re planning to do?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Laughter.) Not in public.
QUESTION: But Russia is wary of Ukraine joining NATO. So will the United States support Ukraine’s joining NATO?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The NATO Alliance at the Bucharest summit many years ago now made clear that its door is open, including to Ukraine, including to Georgia, other countries that are interested in membership if and when they meet the requirements of membership. And this goes back to the founding of NATO and the Washington Treaty that made clear that the alliance’s doors would be open to those who sought to join and, again, could meet the criteria. So we’ve reaffirmed that again at the at the most recent meeting of NATO: NATO’s door is open.
But this does not represent a threat to Russia because, again, I emphasize: ours is a defensive alliance. It’s a transparent alliance. It is not directed against Russia; it’s not a threat to Russia. And in fact, unfortunately, the only aggressive actions that we’ve seen in the Euro-Atlantic area in recent years have been Russian aggression against Georgia and then against Ukraine. And we don’t need to see a repeat of that in Ukraine again.
QUESTION: But is Russia the biggest threat for Europe and the West? Because we’ve seen also rising tensions along Europe’s borders, in particular with Belarus —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: — and what they’re using as a hybrid attack with thousands of migrants being forced towards Poland, Latvia, Lithuania.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: So do you think that really Russia is now the biggest threat for Europe and the West?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, by its actions, including some of the actions that it’s taken in the past as well as the threat of actions that we’re seeing in Ukraine, it poses a real problem, and it does not need to be and should not be that way. And again, it goes back to what President Biden said to President Putin: we would welcome more stability and predictability in the relationship, but acts of aggression move in the wrong direction.
We’re also working together in areas where our interests overlap. For example, in my conversation today with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we talked about Iran and our mutual interest in seeing that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. We’re actually working together well with European partners as well as with China in the talks in Vienna. We’re working together as well in the Caucasus where we both have an interest in Azerbaijan and Armenia resolving in a lasting and durable way the differences over Nagorno-Karabakh as well as their larger relationship. So I think we have to be able to do – to work on things together where it’s in our mutual interest, but things like renewed aggression on Ukraine make that very, very difficult.
QUESTION: Just one last question, because in a few days President Biden will host a virtual Summit for Democracy aiming at defending democracy against —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: — authoritarianism. But two NATO Allies will be missing; it’s Turkey and Hungary. Do you consider these countries as a lost cause?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So first, the Summit for Democracy – not for democracies – is about two things. It’s about renewing and reinvigorating democracies that are in many ways under challenge, in some cases from within, in other cases from without. And so we’re bringing countries together virtually in support of renewing democracy at home and taking concrete measures to do that, but also looking at how we can be more supportive of democracies that are under challenge around the world.
Because what we’re seeing right now, unfortunately, is something of a democratic recession. There’s been backsliding on democracy around the world, including in Europe, over the last decade. And as a result, one of the profound challenges and conflicts of our time is that between autocracies and democracies, and democracies need to demonstrate that they can deliver and produce real results for their people. That’s what this summit is all about.
QUESTION: But is Turkish-American relations, for example, still at an all-time low? Has anything changed?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We have a very important relationship with Turkey. It’s a NATO Ally. And it’s not a secret that we also have differences, but we’re working through those differences. We’re also working to deepen cooperation in many areas. I met with my counterpart the foreign minister just the other day on that. President Biden met with President Erdogan some weeks ago. And we are committed to working through the differences that we have and working to strengthen the alliance that we have as members of NATO.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary, thank you very much for your time and for being here with us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Good to be with you.