QUESTION: It’s a pressure campaign against Taiwan. For more on all of this, let’s bring in United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Also with us, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Thank you both for joining us.
Secretary Blinken, given the war in Ukraine, how is the United States and NATO Allies viewing this rebellion in Russia? How does it change the dynamic, the geopolitical dynamic? And also, did the U.S. know this rebellion was coming?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, Mika, good morning. Great to be with you. This is, and it remains in many ways, an extraordinary moment because I think it’s further revealed the failure of Russia’s war in Ukraine, both abroad and also at home. And we’re seeing some cracks emerge, not just in what’s doing on the ground in Ukraine but back toward Moscow. If you put this in perspective, it’s really extraordinary. If 16 months ago, if we were sitting here, Russian forces were on the doorstep of Kyiv. They thought they were going to take the city. They thought they were going to erase Ukraine from the map as an independent country.
Now, fast‑forward 16 months, and you’ve got forces heading toward Moscow, mercenaries of Putin’s own making that he now has to be focused on and worried about. And almost in a nutshell, that epitomizes the failure that he’s had in Ukraine. It’s still very tough and challenging. The Ukrainians are just starting a counteroffensive to take back more of their territory. But across the board, this has been a failure for Putin and we’re now seeing internal cracks emerge, not just the external ones in terms of its prosecution of the war.
QUESTION: There’s no question, Mr. Secretary, that Vladimir Putin’s weakness and that of his military has been exposed over the last year and a half or so, but when you use the term “cracks” internally, what does that mean specifically? I think some people are skeptical that he would lose his grip on power in a country he has ruled for almost a quarter of a century at this point. When you talk about internal cracks, what do those look like and how do they potentially knock him out of power?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we don’t want to do is speculate about where this may go, and this is fundamentally an internal matter that the Russians and Putin are going to have to reckon with. But you had a direct challenge to Putin’s authority from Prigozhin. You see dissension in the ranks. And it’s not as if you need a satellite to figure that out. If you’ve got a social media account, you could see this debate, this argument going on inside of Russia for months about the prosecution of the war. Prigozhin himself questioned the very premises of the war, whether NATO or Ukraine presented a threat to Russia, which neither does. So that’s what I’m talking about. Where that goes, when and how it gets there, that’s a matter of speculation. We’re relentlessly focused on Ukraine itself, making sure that it has what it needs to defend itself, what it needs to take back the territory that Russia seized from it.
QUESTION: Putin has effectively squashed any opposition to him over the years. Do you believe there are now forces inside of Russia willing but also able to push him aside and to have a regime change inside the country?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, these are decisions, these are choices for Russians to make, not for us to make. As I said, what we’re focused on is Ukraine itself. But there’s no doubt that what we’re – what we’ve seen just in the last 48 hours are profound questions that Putin is going to have to answer, both questions internally – we’ve had a lot of questions he has to answer for externally.
Look at where Russia is now as a result of this aggression: weaker militarily, weaker economically, its standing in the world has plummeted, it’s managed to get Europe off of Russian energy, it’s managed to strengthen NATO – we even have a new member and another new member on its way. It’s managed to alienate virtually all of Ukraine and unite the country at the same time. So across the board, this has been a strategic failure for Putin. And to the extent that there are now cracks emerging internally, that only magnifies the problem he’s facing.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, good morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea.
QUESTION: Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been a tough slog. President Zelenskyy has acknowledged that. Does a weakened Vladimir Putin and a divided Russian military help Ukraine, or does a weakened Vladimir Putin perhaps encourage him to be more aggressive and increase the assaults? He has superiority in the air and there’s a lot of damage he can do, including, of course, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, the counteroffensive is in its early days, and you heard the Ukrainian secretary of defense say just, I think, yesterday that they have yet to commit the bulk of their forces to this effort. And there’s no doubt that it’s tough going because the Russians have had months and months and months to put in place defenses. But we just announced additional assistance to Ukraine yesterday. They have what they need to be successful. To the extent that Moscow is distracted by its own internal divisions, that may help. To the extent that the Wagner forces themselves are no longer on the frontlines, that could help because they have been effective. They just literally throw people into a meat grinder of Putin’s own making, but that’s had some effect. So I think there’s some opportunity here for Ukraine —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: — but it is early days. And I think this will play out not over the next days but over the next weeks and months.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, we all watched what happened in Moscow over the weekend; so did Beijing. What’s your early assessment as to how China views what has happened there – this rebellion – because of their alliance, their tacit support for Russia at this point?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, Beijing has had to walk a very challenging line on this from day one: on the one hand, finding ways to support Russia, including diplomatically, advancing its arguments, its false arguments around the world; and at the same time, trying to seem neutral and trying to present itself somehow as a peacemaker. I think that’s getting more and more challenging.
Having said that, when I was in China, we had conversations about the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We agreed that it was something that we needed to keep talking about. There may come a point, if there is an opening, for genuine diplomacy and negotiation where China could play a positive and productive role. That’s still, alas, I think far in the future. But I think the – some of the tensions between the dual roles that China is trying to play are more and more apparent.
QUESTION: You obviously met with President Xi just under two weeks ago; had a meeting that you called productive, the handshake moment, and everything that came with it. A couple of days later, President Biden referred to President Xi as a dictator. Do you share that view of President Xi? Is he a dictator?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: One of the reasons that I went to China at the President’s behest was to make sure that we had clear, sustained lines of communication to make sure that we can work through our differences to try to prevent the competition that we’re in from veering into conflict, and also to see if we can find areas where it makes sense for us to cooperate. But one of the things that I said to our Chinese counterparts is, we are going to say and we are going to do things that you don’t like. You do and say a lot of things that we don’t like. And we’re going to have to work through that. That’s what we’re doing.
QUESTION: And so that is – does that make him a dictator?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The President speaks for all of us. He speaks candidly. He speaks clearly.
QUESTION: Katty Kay has a question for you, Mr. Secretary. Katty?
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, good morning. I’ve just come back from a week in Europe, and I was struck by the degree to which people were asking me about two things: one, which is whether Donald Trump would come back again, and that raises concerns about the degree to which allies might start hedging in terms of their policies around China, even around Ukraine, wondering where America is going to head in 2024; but also this split between Europe and America, which is pretty evident, over the question of China. And I was wondering what you’re hearing from European allies and what you’re saying to try and bring them on board with China and what you’re saying to them about their concerns about Donald Trump coming back again, possibly.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Katty, first, great to see you too. And I hate to do this, but I’ve got to differ with you. I actually think we have more convergence on the approach to China with Europe, as well as with key partners in Asia, than we’ve seen at any time in recent memory. If you look and listen to what senior leaders in Europe are saying, including Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union Commission, we could be exchanging speeches, exchanging talking points because we’re exactly on the same line, both in the challenge that China presents as well as what we’re doing about it. And across the board, we are working very closely together to deal with that challenge.
In fact, one of the things that’s evident to me from my conversations in China is that they’re concerned with the fact that we have this unity of purpose and unity of action with key European allies, as well as in Asia. I don’t see that changing.
Look, all we can do is to focus on the moment we’re in and the responsibilities that we have right now. None of us have a crystal ball when it comes to the future, especially when it comes to politics. And at the end of the day, the more successful we are, the more effective we are, both in delivering for our own people and demonstrating that our policies work, the more likely it is they’ll be sustained in the future.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there is reporting that a big focus of your conversations in Beijing were on Taiwan, with China very concerned about a more aggressive, more nationalistic, more independence-minded president, politician being elected in their upcoming elections. And you were stating your own neutrality about a foreign election. What is your impression about their timeline, President Xi’s timeline regarding invading or trying to take over Taiwan? CIA Director Burns had said it would be within the next five years. He said that a year ago, and now President Xi has got his third term. Is that more eminent?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Andrea, the main concern that we’ve had with Beijing’s approach to Taiwan is that it seems bent on changing the status quo that’s prevailed for more than 50 years and has actually been a successful part of the relationship that we’ve had with China, making sure that we could maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, making sure that any differences were resolved peacefully, that no one on either side engaged in any unilateral effort to change the status quo. And we’ve had concerns going back to 2016, not just the last months, that China was acting more aggressively when it comes to Taiwan.
So we had a very direct, very lengthy conversation about this. They have concerns about our policy. I clarified to the extent it needed to be clarified that our policy hasn’t changed. We abide by, we stick to the long standing “one China” policy. And as I said, our expectation is that any differences will be resolved peacefully.
But what Beijing needs to understand is this is not just a concern for the United States; it’s a concern for virtually the entire world. You’ve got 50 percent of the commercial container traffic – world trade – going through that strait every single day. You’ve got 70 percent of the semiconductors that the world relies on for our smartphones, for our automobiles, for our dishwashers made on Taiwan. If there were to be a crisis of China’s making over Taiwan and you took all of that offline, you’d have a global economic crisis. And that’s why country after country is making it clear to China that their expectation is that China will manage this responsibly. Certainly, that’s what we’re working to do. It’s really important that we have these clear, candid, direct, lengthy exchanges on this so that they know exactly where we’re coming from, and they can also share what concerns them.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, the President is heading overseas in about two weeks’ time, going to Europe, the NATO Summit in Vilnius being the centerpiece. Preview, if you will, what his message is going to be there. But more importantly, Finland is coming in, Sweden is (inaudible) on the verge, with Türkiye having objected in the past but President Erdogan having now gained re-election. Are you confident that he will drop his resistance to Sweden joining the Alliance? And if so, could it even happen at that summit?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well first, Jonathan, I think the message for Vilnius is clear, and it’s been the message that we’ve had all along, which is our greatest strength among allies is in our unity. And the unity that we’ve seen from day one – from before day one – of the Russian aggression has been extraordinary, and I think some people had doubts about whether it could be sustained. On the contrary, it’s stronger than ever, and that can be seen in NATO itself, which is stronger than it’s ever been. As you said, it’s already admitted one new member, Finland, and I’m confident that Sweden will be joining Finland very soon. And we’re working on that.
That too has been a profound failure of Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. It’s extraordinary. No one would have imagined before the Russians went in that Finland and Sweden would be members of NATO. I don’t think anyone would have imagined that NATO itself would be growing stronger and stronger. And the irony is NATO has never presented a threat to Putin. It doesn’t have any designs on Russia. It’s a defensive Alliance, and yet Putin’s obsession with it has actually created a stronger Alliance.
QUESTION: We’re already 16 months into the war. February 24th of last year is when Vladimir Putin invaded. It’s already been a long war, and many people talking about potential off-ramps for Vladimir Putin, ways to end this war in a peaceful manner. But the Ukrainians say: Well, we’re not gonna give up anything; we were the ones invaded; I’m not giving territory to Vladimir Putin for his war of aggression. So as you sort of game this out and talk to leaders on both sides and in Europe, what is a reasonable way – what is a reasonable path to peace from where we are right now?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, Willie, you’re exactly right that we have one of these rare instances – because so much of what we do around the world is in shades of grey. This is pretty black and white. You’ve got an aggressor; you’ve got a victim. And one thing we can’t lose sight of when we’re talking strategy, we’re talking how does this end, we’re talking the events of this weekend – we can’t lose sight of what this actually means day-in, day-out, the human dimension. Just yesterday, the Russians went at another civilian area in Kramatorsk, destroyed a pizzeria where people were eating their meal. Just pick one day in April, an attack on a city called Uman hundreds of miles from the frontlines – early morning, before dawn, civilian building destroyed by Russian missiles. A father, a guy named Dmytro, runs to his children’s room, opens the door to their room – Kyrylo, 17, Sofia, 11 years old – opens the door – the room is gone; his kids are gone – just two of the six children killed that one day in April.
So let’s not lose sight of this. But stepping back from that, we’ve all been very clear that this ultimately is going to end with diplomacy, with a negotiation. The main impediment to that right now is President Putin’s conviction that he can somehow outlast Ukraine and outlast the rest of us. That’s not going to happen. And I think one of the things you’ll see at NATO is a demonstration of our enduring commitment to Ukraine, not only in the moment, not only in the immediate terms of helping it with the counteroffensive, but also in helping it build up over time a strong deterrent and defense force so that Putin can’t repeat this in a year, in two years, in five years.
The sooner President Putin internalizes that, the sooner there’s a chance to get to a genuine negotiation. The terms of a settlement ultimately have to be up to the Ukrainians, but we know some basic principles. Peace has to be just and durable, and by just I mean that it has to account for the basic principles at the heart of the UN Charter – territorial integrity, sovereignty – these have to mean something. We can’t validate someone’s seizure of another country’s territory by force. That would be a Potemkin piece.
QUESTION: So Mr. Secretary, I just want to build on Willie’s point there. Given the Ukrainian determination, where are we in this war? Are we still in the beginning stages? Are we looking at another winter ahead? And is there any concern that the U.S. Congress or support around the world might wane?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Everything I’m seeing, Mika, is that the support remains, it remains strong, it remains bipartisan, and it remains transatlantic, and beyond transatlantic. We have about 50 countries, including well beyond Europe, who are all supporting Ukraine. And my strong sense is that people remain deeply committed to this, deeply committed to making sure that Ukraine emerges and emerges with a just and durable peace. That’s the focus. No one can tell you when this is actually going to end. What we can tell you, what I can tell you is that our commitment is there and we’re determined to make sure that Ukraine comes out in a good place, in a place that is genuinely just and durable.
QUESTION: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you very much for coming on Morning Joe. And Andrea Mitchell, thank you as well. We’ll see you at noon on Andrea Mitchell Reports right here on MSNBC. Thank you both.