QUESTION:  And we are joined now by Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the latest on the crisis with Russia over Ukraine.  Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us again this morning.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good morning, George.

QUESTION:  The Russians said again this morning that they’re continuing to pull back troops from the border.  Yesterday the President said he was skeptical about that.  Are you seeing any evidence that this is being done in a real and significant way?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re not, and unfortunately there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback.  On the contrary, we continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border.

QUESTION:  We’re also – heard from the Kremlin spokesman this morning, Dmitry Peskov, saying that there still is a possibility that diplomacy can work, but that Russia is getting pretty tired of these threats and warnings from the President.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, the threats are coming in the other direction.  They’re coming from Russia – unprovoked, massing forces on Ukraine’s borders – but there always has to be an opening for diplomacy.  And in fact, that’s my job.  So we’ll pursue that.  And as the President said yesterday, we’re prepared either way.  We’re prepared if Russia is ready to actually engage in meaningful diplomacy that would strengthen everyone’s security in Europe.  We’re also prepared if they choose to renew aggression against Ukraine.  The choice is really President Putin’s.

QUESTION:  Your intelligence has suggested that the invasion could actually come today. Does that still feel possible?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We said that we were in a window of time at which the invasion could come at any time.  President Putin’s put in place the capacity to act on very short notice.  He can pull the trigger.  He could pull it today, he could pull it tomorrow, he could pull it next week.  The forces are there if he wants to renew aggression against Ukraine.

QUESTION:  What’s the basis for a diplomatic solution right now?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, George, we shared ideas with Russia several weeks ago about ways on a reciprocal basis, with each side taking steps, we could actually improve security throughout Europe.  We did that in close coordination with our European partners and allies.  We’re waiting for a response from Russia.  I spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday.  He said a response is forthcoming in the next few days.  I hope it comes.  We’ll take a hard look at it and then we’ll see where we go from there.  But we remain committed to seeing if we can find a diplomatic resolution.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s the responsible thing to do.  It would avert a war.  But again, it really is President Putin’s choice to make, and what we’re seeing on the border remains deeply, deeply concerning.

QUESTION:  It appears from some of the comments from American officials over the last several days that you’re concerned that President Zelenskyy of the Ukraine is not taking this threat seriously enough.  Is that true?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh no, I think President Zelenskyy’s taking it very seriously.  He’s trying to maintain calm.  He doesn’t want his people to panic.  That’s the right thing to do.  But I think the Ukrainians are taking it very seriously.  And of course, if there is renewed aggression by Russia, the consequences would be terrible, and first and foremost terrible for the Ukrainian people.  So he recognizes that.  We have been supporting Ukraine.  We’ve provided more defensive assistance to Ukraine last year than we did in any previous year. Just the other day we put out a $1 billion loan guarantee to help bolster their economy.  Other countries are doing the same.  We’re there to support Ukraine.  We’re there to help it defend itself if there’s Russian aggression.

QUESTION:  But the President ruled out American troops.  Can the Ukrainians handle the Russians on their own?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The Ukrainians have real capacity aided by many countries, including the United States.  I think they’d make life very difficult for the Russians if they went in, but again, the – by far the more responsible course is to avoid conflict in the first place, which is why we’re continuing to do everything we can to see if there’s a diplomatic resolution, at the same time making it very clear to Russia that it will face massive consequences for renewed aggression, not only in terms of continued support for Ukraine’s defense, not only in terms of bolstering NATO itself – which is exactly what President Putin says he wants to prevent – but also in terms of very serious economic and financial sanctions.

QUESTION:  But the president of Ukraine also said that perhaps this idea of joining NATO is something – he called it a dream, I think was the word that he used.  Maybe that’s the likely outcome of this, that it’s something for the far, far, far distant future.  Is that accurate?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, the main point is that that should be up to the people of Ukraine and its elected government.  If they want to seek to join NATO, again, NATO has an “Open Door” policy.  It’s in its founding documents.  That principle is sacrosanct.  And so it really is up to them, and of course, it’s up to the Alliance itself in terms of admitting new members if they meet the requirements.  I think President Biden and others have said that’s not happening tomorrow, but the principle that if Ukraine seeks admission to NATO, it needs to be considered and the Alliance will make that decision – that remains front and center, and it’s not a principle we’re going back on.

QUESTION:  Final quick question:  Is the threat today greater than it was yesterday?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  You know, from day to day, George, you can’t say it’s higher or lower.  It’s there.  It’s there; it’s real.  We haven’t seen a pullback.  We’d like to see one.  If we see one we would welcome it.  We’re prepared for diplomacy.  We’re prepared for aggression.  We’re prepared either way.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thanks as always for your time and your information.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, George.

U.S. Department of State

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