QUESTION:  We’re joined now by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Antony, Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us this morning.  Let’s begin with that green light to Sweden’s membership to NATO.  How important a breakthrough is this?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  George, as a result, our Alliance is stronger, it’s bigger with the addition of Sweden on top of Finland, it’s more united than it’s ever been, and among other things, that sends a very strong message to Vladimir Putin that he’s not going to outlast Ukraine, he’s not going to outlast NATO.  We’re committed to supporting Ukraine in this war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine and we’re committed to making sure that our Alliance – our defensive Alliance is as strong as possible in case there’s any further Russian aggression.

QUESTION:  As you know, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine would like the United States to go even farther, pushing hard for NATO membership.  The President said over the weekend – President Biden – that he doesn’t believe Ukraine is ready.  When will they be ready?  What kind of assurances can you give them coming out of this summit?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  George, I think you’re going to see a few things coming out of the summit.  First, a very robust package of support both political and practical for Ukraine.  Second, when it comes to membership, I think the summit will take note of the progress that Ukraine has made, which has been significant, and at the same time, the fact that work remains to be done in terms of reforming its military, reforming its – and strengthening its democracy.

So all of that will be coming out of the summit, but you’ve got a unified Alliance that is going to demonstrate in very practical ways its enduring support for Ukraine, including the path to membership.

QUESTION:  Is the real concern right now that allowing Ukraine into NATO right now would put us even more directly into conflict with Russia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, President Biden has been very clear about this, and in fact, the Ukrainians have too that in the midst of a war, you’re not going to take the membership step.  But at the same time, beyond that – and the Ukrainians acknowledge this as well – they still have work to do in terms of reforming their security sector and in terms of deep-rooting their democracy that’s going to be important to all the Allies.  But the Allies are united and many other countries even beyond NATO are united in their support for Ukraine and making sure that they have what they need to deal with the Russian aggression, to take back territory that’s been seized, and to continue down the path that they’ve been on, which is integrating more and more with Europe, with the West, with its institutions.

QUESTION:  What’s your sense of how the Ukrainian offensive is going right now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  These are still early weeks, and this is something that’s going to play out over many more weeks and probably many more months.  Look, I think the Ukrainians have in hand what they need to be successful.  It is tough.  It’s challenging.  The Russians have built up very strong defenses.  But at the end of the day, besides all of the support that we provided, it really comes down to this:  This is Ukraine’s land.  It’s their territory.  It’s their future.  It’s their freedom.  I think that’s the biggest difference-maker and I’m convinced you’re going to see that play out over the next weeks.

QUESTION:  We saw this news come out overnight that Vladimir Putin – President Putin – actually met with the head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin.  What did you make of that, that they met after the apparent mutiny?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  George, it’s really hard to speculate on what this means.  I think what we have seen with Prigozhin’s efforts in recent weeks is a direct challenge to Putin’s authority.  We’ve seen Prigozhin raising profound questions about the very premises that Putin has brought to this war, saying that NATO and Ukraine were never a threat to Russia, which is a fact, and it’s raised profound questions that Putin still has to answer.  I can’t tell you how this is going to play out.  I think we haven’t seen the last chapter.  What this means for Prigozhin, what it means for Wagner, what it means for President Putin remains to be seen, but it does raise all sorts of questions and it does suggest there’s some cracks in the armor.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thanks for your time this morning.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, George.  Good to be with you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future