QUESTION: Also joining us now from Lithuania is Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, always good to see you. I know you’re very busy today, so thank you for taking the time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Gayle.
QUESTION: Let’s start. We know Sweden is now following Finland into NATO. What message do you think that this will send to Russia? What message do you want it to send, if any?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it sends two messages. First of all, our Alliance is stronger, it’s bigger with two new members – Finland and now Sweden, and it’s more united than ever. And in terms of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, it’s sending a very strong message to Putin that he’s not going to outlast us, he’s not going to outlast Ukraine, and the sooner he ends this war of aggression the better.
QUESTION: President Biden made it very clear that he doesn’t believe Ukraine is ready for NATO. What will it take in – for the administration’s point of view for Ukraine to be ready? I know I’ve heard you all say when the war is over. Is it – is that it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So we’re committed to what’s called NATO’s “Open Door,” to welcoming new members when they’re ready for membership and when all of the Allies agree to invite them in. Ukraine has made good progress in that direction, and that’s going to be reflected at the summit. At the same time, the Ukrainians and others are the first to acknowledge that they have more work to do – continuing to reform their military, continuing to deepen democratic reforms. You’re going to see that come out of the summit as well.
The bottom line is this: Here in Vilnius, a really robust package of support for Ukraine – political support, practical support, and further progress down the road toward membership in NATO.
QUESTION: There are some confusing headlines coming out of Russia right now. We just heard recently that the head of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, met with Putin five days after the alleged mutiny. How is this man still alive, in your opinion? We haven’t heard from him in the last couple of days. How is he still alive?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, this is an internal matter for the Russians to figure out. I think it’s raised lots of questions that Putin still has to answer. This was a direct challenge to his authority. Prigozhin also questioned the very premises on which Putin was fighting the war, making clear that there’s no threat to Russia from NATO, no threat to Russia from Ukraine.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last chapter of this. This is still going to play out. But it has raised real questions. I think it’s opened some real cracks.
QUESTION: Before you go, we want to know – we want to get an update from you, if you can, about Wall Street reporter Evan Gershkovich. We’re all very worried about him. We hear that Russia – we’ve heard Russia may be open to a swap. (A) is that true; and if so, what can you tell us about that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So Evan’s now been unjustly detained for more than a hundred days. We have another American in Russia, Paul Whelan, unjustly detained for even longer. My number one responsibility as Secretary of State is to look out for the security, the well-being of Americans around the world, especially those who are being unjustly detained. And we’ve gotten many Americans out.
I’m determined to bring Evan home, to bring Paul home, to bring others home. I have nothing that I can share with you right now. I can just tell you generally that even when we have profound, very profound differences with Russia, for example over Ukraine, that doesn’t mean that we’re not working to try to bring home Americans who are being unjustly detained.
So that work continues. I’m very much focused on it, but nothing that I can share with you right now.
QUESTION: All right. We’re all thinking of him. We thank you so much for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Gayle. Good to be with you.