Interview took place May 19, 2022
QUESTION: You were in Kyiv recently, about a month ago, and you said that Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding. What is your assessment now?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That remains the case. Here’s what’s important. Putin’s number one objective in going into Ukraine was to erase its independence, erase its sovereignty, to bring Ukraine fully back into the Russian fold, to make it part in some fashion of Russia. That’s already failed. And I can safely say, as I’ve said before, that an independent, sovereign Ukraine is going to be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene. So by that measure, Putin’s own measure, he has already failed.
He also tried to divide the West and divide NATO. It’s had exactly the opposite effect. The Alliance is more united than it’s been. Other new countries are knocking on the door to join. It’s – everything that President Putin has tried to prevent for – in what he sees as Russia’s interest, he’s actually precipitated by his actions.
QUESTION: How did he miscalculate this so badly?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s very hard to fully put yourself in the mind of anyone else, least of all —
QUESTION: What are you hearing, intelligence-wise?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we had, of course, very good information about Russia’s planned aggression in the first place, which we shared with the world.
But we don’t have a way of reading his mind of knowing exactly what he’s thinking. All we can do is judge him by his actions, by Russia’s actions. That’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Is there a way back for Putin into the diplomatic fold, into polite society around the globe?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, the first order of business is to stop the aggression, and that’s what we’re focused on. What comes after that, we’ll see. What we’ve seen in the brutalization of Ukraine is something that people will remember and take account of for a long time, beyond even when this aggression ends. And one of the things that’s going to be very important, irrespective of anything else, is to do whatever we can to try to ensure that this can’t be repeated, whether it’s in a year, or two years, or five years.
QUESTION: I want to talk about this food shortage crisis we’re seeing. How has – exactly has Putin’s invasion of Ukraine exacerbated the situation and how much worse has it made things around the world?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, start with this: Just a couple years ago, there were about a hundred million people in the world who were food insecure, were not getting what they needed for their basic sustenance. That jumped up to about 160 million people this year before Russia’s aggression. And now, by objective analysis from the World Bank and others, Russia’s aggression is likely to add about 40 million people to that list.
And the reason is this: Ukraine is one of the leading producers of, among other things, wheat in the world – Russia, of course, is a large producer itself – and in Ukraine there are literally tens of millions of tons of wheat that are stuck there because Russia’s blockading Ukraine’s ports. There are about 85 ships right now with grain, wheat in them that can’t get out. So all of this has had the effect of creating less food on the – on world markets, prices have gone up, and that’s had ripple effects way beyond Ukraine virtually in every part of the world.
QUESTION: U.S. inflation is high here right now. Food prices are up 9.4 percent in just the last year according to the Department of Labor. If this Russia blockade continues in Ukraine, should we expect to see prices keep climbing here in the U.S. domestically?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One of the effects that we’ve seen across the board with commodities, with energy, from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, yes, is rising prices. We’ve seen that on the energy side. We see that on the food side. It’s one of the reasons that we’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can to bring this war to an end. Unfortunately, thus far, Russia’s shown little interest in that.
But that’s why we have to continue our support for Ukraine to give them the strongest hand that they can play in repelling the Russian aggression, and ultimately the negotiating table, because eventually there will be one.
QUESTION: When do you see this conflict ending? I think that’s the question a lot of people have?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I don’t have a proverbial crystal ball on that. I think the indications that we have now is that, unfortunately, tragically, this is likely to go on for some time, certainly for some months. Russia’s aggression has been pushed back from Kyiv, from western Ukraine, from northern Ukraine, but there is still very intense fighting along the south and the east of Ukraine.
But the other tragedy is this: How is what Putin is doing doing anything for the Russian people? How is it making their lives better? How is it answering their needs? It’s not.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about something that broke just this morning. Last week, journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank. Her news organization Al Jazeera holds Israeli’s military responsible for this. Today the Israeli media is reporting that the IDF is not going to be conducting a criminal investigation into her death. Her family is asking the U.S. to lead this investigation. Will you?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There should be a thorough investigation of her death. I’ve spoken to her family —
QUESTION: Who will conduct that? Who do you want to see conduct that?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That remains to be seen, but we need a thorough investigation and a credible investigation into the death. We’ll look to see who’s best placed to do that. That does need to happen. And her death was a real loss, a loss for Palestinians, a loss for the broader international community. She was an extraordinary reporter over many, many years,
QUESTION: And for the free press, too.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And for the free press, indeed.
QUESTION: If it were to be revealed that the Israeli military was responsible for this killing, what kinds of consequences would there be?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals and prejudge the future, but again, there needs to be an investigation. And if wrong was done, there needs to be accountability.