QUESTION: We’re joined now by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us this morning. We now know that President Putin has forces surrounding Ukraine on three sides. He’s made it clear that he believes Russia and Ukraine are one people. Do you think he’s already made the decision to take control of Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: George, I don’t know if the decision has been made, and it’s clear that we’ve offered him two paths forward. One is through diplomacy and dialogue; the other is through deterrence and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. And we’re about to test the proposition of which path President Putin wants to take this week. We have important conversations that are taking place between us directly at NATO, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the question really now is whether President Putin will take the path of diplomacy and dialogue or seeks confrontation.
QUESTION: What are those massive consequences if indeed Russia does invade?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been working in tremendous collaboration with European partners and allies and beyond to make it very clear that there will be massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression, by which I mean economic, financial, and other consequences, as well as NATO almost certainly having to reinforce its positions on its eastern flank near Russia, as well as continuing to provide defensive assistance to Ukraine.
And this is not just me saying it, George. We’ve had the leading democratic economies in the world, the G7, make clear there would be massive consequences – the European Union and the NATO Allies and partners as well. So we’ve been working very closely with them in recent weeks to get those agreed, decided, and in some detail.
QUESTION: But the United States and Europe have imposed a series of sanctions on the Russians going back to the first invasion of Crimea under the Obama administration. They’ve been imposed. They’re still in place. They haven’t worked. What will be different this time?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: President Biden has been clear that we are looking at taking steps that we have not taken in the past and that the consequences for Russia would be severe. And that’s something that President Putin’s going to have to factor into his calculus. Again, our strong preference is a diplomatic resolution of this challenge, but ultimately that’s up to Russia. If they’re going to engage in a meaningful way in dialogue, if they’re prepared to take reciprocal steps to address not just their security concerns but our security concerns, then we can make progress. If not, we’re going down a very different path.
QUESTION: What about military assistance to the Ukrainians? The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said this week the United States should be arming the Ukrainians now. Let’s take a look:
“The sequence is wrong. The weapons should be sent now and the force posture should be enhanced in the east now, telling Moscow we can always pull them back once you stop your buildup along Ukraine’s borders.”
Why not follow his advice?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have been providing significant defensive assistance to Ukraine, including as recently as the last couple of weeks, almost half a billion dollars this year alone. That’s continued. That will continue. And if there is further aggression by Russia against Ukraine, we’ll see even more of that. We are making sure to the best of our ability, and other allies and partners are doing the same, that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.
But George, it’s also important to step back for a minute and look at not only how we got here but why this is so important. How we got here is because Russia has committed repeated acts of aggression against its neighbors going back more than a decade – Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in 2014, and now the prospect of doing that again.
And at the same time, this is bigger even than Ukraine. This goes to some basic principles of international relations that are what guarantee peace and security: the principle that one nation can’t simply change the borders of another by force; the principle that one nation can’t dictate to another its choices and with whom it will associate; the principle that we can’t have countries exerting spheres of influence to subjugate their neighbors. That should be a relic of the past. All of that is what is in play here. That’s why it’s so important that we stand not only for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty and its independence, but for these basic principles.
I think there’s a way forward through dialogue, through diplomacy, to address whatever legitimate concerns Russia may have provided Russia also addresses our concerns.
QUESTION: What are the legitimate concerns? What are their legitimate concerns?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, look, we’ve had in the past agreements that have addressed concerns on both sides, for example, the deployment of intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. There was a treaty. Unfortunately, Russia developed and deployed weapons that are in violation of that treaty. The previous administration pulled out of it. There may be grounds for renewing that. Similarly, there are agreements on the deployment of conventional forces in Europe on things like the scope and scale of exercises that, if adhered to reciprocally, that is, Russia makes good on its commitments which it’s repeatedly violated, then there are grounds for reducing tensions, creating greater transparency, creating greater confidence, all of which would address concerns that Russia purports to have.
QUESTION: So you’re willing to address troop levels, you’re willing to address missile deployments, you’re willing to address training exercises?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, we’re – let me be clear about a few things. First, when it comes to the deployment of forces and troop levels, we’re not looking at troop levels. To the contrary, if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, I think it’s a very fair prospect that NATO will reinforce its positions along its eastern flank, the countries that border Russia. But when it comes to, for example, the scope and scale of exercises, things that were dealt with in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that Russia’s been in violation of, those are things that we can look at. There are confidence-building measures, there are risk reduction measures, all of which, if done reciprocally, I think can really reduce tensions and address concerns.
The other thing that’s so important is this, George. We’ve been very clear with Russia repeatedly that we are not going to do or commit to anything about Europe without Europe. So anything that goes to Europe’s security interests will be done in full coordination with them with Europeans at the table.
QUESTION: What will tell you that President Putin is serious about trying to find a negotiated solution?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, one thing is this. If we’re actually going to make progress in these talks starting next week – but I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs next week – we’re going to listen to their concerns, they’ll listen to our concerns, and we’ll see if there are grounds for progress. But to make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders, the possibility of doubling that on very short order.
So if we’re seeing de-escalation, if we’re seeing a reduction in tensions, that is the kind of environment in which we could make real progress and, again, address concerns, reasonable concerns, on both sides.
QUESTION: And this, of course, comes in the wake of Russian paratroopers going to Kazakhstan this week to back the government. The lead Russian negotiator in the talks starting tonight with the United States said, “It’s none of the United States’ business what’s happening in Kazakhstan,” that it – they will not discuss it at these talks. What do you make of that characterization, and will the U.S. raise Kazakhstan in the talks this week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have real concerns about the state of emergency that was declared in Kazakhstan. I’ve talked to my counterpart, the foreign minister. We’ve made clear that we expect the Kazakh Government to deal with protesters in ways that respects their rights, that pulls back from violence at the same time. It, of course, has a right to defend its institutions —
QUESTION: The orders now are shoot to kill.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That is something I resolutely reject. The shoot-to-kill order, to the extent it exists, is wrong and should be rescinded. And Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised – economic concerns, some political concerns. We have real questions about why it was necessary to call in this organization that Russia leads and is a part of. These ought to be things that the Government of Kazakhstan can handle on its own and handle in a rights-respecting way.
QUESTION: So the United States will raise it in these talks this week?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The talks this week are focused, look, on three things. First, there are direct bilateral talks between Russia and the United States as part of something we call the Strategic Stability Dialogue. This was something that was created after we extended the New START agreement at the beginning of last year to see if there were other steps that our countries could take together on arms control. That’s going to be the focus of those talks. NATO-Russia, the council is meeting. That’s an area where we can look at issues that affect NATO’s interests and Russia’s interests.
And then the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, this brings together 57 countries, including Russia, including Ukraine, including the United States, European allies and partners, and there we can talk about broad issues of European security. So there are a lot of things that are potentially on the table, and we’re committed to seeing if we can find a way forward diplomatically through dialogue. That is the responsible way to handle these differences.
QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thanks for your time this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, George. Good to be with you.