QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is just back from consultations with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and he joins us this morning from the State Department. Good morning. Mr. Secretary, these all look like signs of escalation.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, there is a path of diplomacy and dialogue, which is clearly the preferable one, the most responsible thing to do. There is also the path of Russian aggression and massive consequences for Russia if it engages in that aggression. And so I tried to make clear both paths in my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva this week, and we’ll see if we can advance the diplomacy. But even as we’re doing that, we’re preparing, building up defenses, building up deterrence, if Russia chooses the other path.
QUESTION: But if Russia’s demands are non-starters, what exactly are you negotiating? Because Russia is creating these facts on the ground. They are setting the terms here, it seems. Are they just using you to buy time or to build a predicate for invasion?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that’s exactly why, even as we engage in the diplomacy to explore whether there are ways on a reciprocal basis of building up collective security, answering some of the concerns that Russia may have, Russia answering the many concerns that we have – even as we’re doing that, we are building up defense and deterrence. We have rallied allies and partners across Europe in a very intense way over the last weeks to make very clear that there would be massive consequences for renewed Russian aggression. We provided more military assistance to Ukraine last year than in any previous year.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been going after agents of Russia in Ukraine seeking to destabilize the government. I just approved the transfer of U.S.-origin military technology in other countries to Ukraine. So we are proceeding on both paths at the same time. We’ll be ready either way. The choice is Vladimir Putin’s.
QUESTION: But what are you negotiating? If Russia’s demands are non-starters – I mean, President Biden has already said Ukraine’s not going to join NATO anytime soon. You’ve made this offer of reciprocal military exercises. What’s left to talk about?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Margaret, we started this effort at diplomacy and dialogue about ten days ago. And in the course of that, Russia has put some ideas on the table, in writing, to both the United States and NATO. We’ve been in very close consultation with allies and partners on what they put forward. We are now sharing our own ideas as well as our own deep concerns. And we’ll see if, in the mix there, there are things that we can do – again, on a reciprocal basis – that would actually advance collective security in a way that answers some of what we’re hearing and Russia answering a lot of what they’re hearing from us.
And as Russia looks at that and as it considers the massive consequences that would befall it if it pursues aggression, it will have to make a decision. It will have to put those things in the balance and decide what the best path forward is. I know what the most responsible path forward is. Whether President Putin agrees remains to be seen.
QUESTION: Right. Well, he hasn’t de-escalated, it appears, to date despite all of what you just laid out. If you are focused on deterrence, why not do what Ukraine is asking you to do and sanction now, take action now? Why keep it as a punitive matter after the fact?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, we are, as I said, taking action now. We’ve built up across these many weeks a very strong coalition of countries that has made it very clear it will take very significant action if Russian commits renewed acts of aggression.
QUESTION: Right. And Ukraine is saying you could go harder. You could be stronger.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We provided – we provided very significant military assistance to Ukraine. We’ve been taking action against Russian agents in Ukraine. But as to the sanctions, the most important thing we can do is to use them as a deterrent, as a means of dissuading Russia from engaging in further aggression. Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect. So what we’re doing is putting together a whole series of actions that would figure into President Putin’s calculus.
QUESTION: Right, right. But I mean, even President Biden said at his press conference this week he’s having – he spent a lot of time trying to get NATO Allies to actually be on the same page when it comes to anything short of invasion. I mean, it seems like Putin’s easiest strategy would be to hit on that weakness. That’s how you divide NATO Allies. I mean, just yesterday the head of the German navy had to resign because of pro-Putin statements. This doesn’t look like the Alliance is completely knit together here.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, we’ve been very clear that if there is any further Russian aggression in terms of sending Russian forces into Ukraine, there will be a swift, there will be a severe, and there will be a united response from the United States and Europe.
Second, we’ve been equally clear that Russia engages in other tactics short of sending forces into Ukraine or other countries – hybrid actions, cyber attacks, efforts to bring a government down. And there, too, I am very confident, based on the many consultations I’ve had with European allies and partners, that there will be a swift, calibrated, and also united response.
QUESTION: Is the fact that you need Iran – need Russia to help you with the Iran negotiations tying your hands?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Not in the least. And again, it’s important to put this in perspective, too, Margaret. This is about more even than Ukraine and Russia, more even than Europe-Russia, the United States-Russia. It really is and should be a global concern because there are some basic principles of international relations at stake that have helped keep the peace and security in Europe for the last decades.
QUESTION: Right. Well, and –
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And it goes to very basic principles. One nation can’t change the —
QUESTION: Exactly. But Vladimir – well, Vladimir Putin obviously has no regard for those principles and hasn’t, I mean, in the past eight years that he’s been invading and taking parts of Ukraine. When you get to that bigger “What is this all about?” question, the State Department said this week they were concerned about the possibility of Russia moving nuclear weapons back into Belarus. I mean, you have high-precision equipment being moved towards Ukraine. Is this about something more than just that country?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, this is exactly why, even as we’re engaged in diplomacy, we are very much focused on building up defense, building up deterrence, both for Ukraine, NATO itself. NATO itself will continue to be reinforced in a significant way if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression. All of that is on the table. But again, when it comes to these principles, Margaret, the principle that one nation can’t simply change the borders of another by force, that it can’t decide for another country —
QUESTION: Russia already has.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: – its choices, its decisions. Well, that’s what we’re standing resolutely against. And it hasn’t. It’s tried to say that NATO’s door should be shut on Ukraine. It’s not. It remains open. We stand by that principle.
QUESTION: How significant is the insider threat to President Zelenskyy and his government?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is, again, part of the Russian playbook. It’s something we are very focused on, and that’s why we’ve been speaking about it. We’ve raised this publicly in recent weeks. We want to put people on notice and on guard that this is something Russia could do, just as we’ve talked about the possibility of a so-called false flag operation where Russia creates a provocation inside of Ukraine and uses that as justification to take aggressive action.
QUESTION: Before I let you go, does the timing of the Olympics have any effect on Putin’s calculus? Russia invaded Georgia during the Olympics back in 2008. Any impact here?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: You’d have to ask him. I don’t think so. I think that Russia will make its decisions based on President Putin’s calculus of what’s in their interest. If there is aggression, there’ll be massive consequences. So the choice is his.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we’ll be watching. Thank you for your time today.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.