Secretary Antony J. Blinken with State of the Union on CNN with Dana Bash
QUESTION: And I am now joined by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, let’s start with what you just heard from Clarissa, hearing that troops from Russia and Belarus will continue these joint exercises there beyond the scheduled end dates. What does that tell you? Does that make you more concerned about an invasion?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It does. And that tells us that the playbook that we presented, that I presented to the UN Security Council last week about Russia’s attempt to create a series of provocations to justify aggression against the Ukraine, go ahead. We have seen it in recent days. Now they are justifying the continuation of the exercises – “exercises”, in quotes – which they claim will now end, the indefinite continuation of these quoted and unquoted “exercises” on the situation in eastern Ukraine, a situation they created by continuing to escalate tensions. Meanwhile, they’ve increased the forces they have across Ukraine’s borders over the past few months, from 50,000 forces to 100,000 to now over 150,000. So all of that, along with the The false flag operations we saw unfold over the weekend tell us that the playbook we showcased is moving forward.
QUESTION: So you mentioned the false flag operation. You have this. You also have, as Clarissa mentioned, a kindergarten hit by a shell. And you have a cyberattack that has already happened. Ukraine reports dozens of ceasefire violations. Is Russia’s invasion plan already in motion?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: He – as we’ve described, everything leading up to the actual invasion seems to be taking place. All these false flag operations, all these provocations to create justifications – all of this is already happening. But you heard President Biden say this the other night: We believe President Putin has made the decision, but until the tanks actually roll and the planes fly, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have. have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from moving this forward. President Biden is ready to engage President Putin at any time in any format if it can help prevent a war. I contacted my Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, to urge him to meet us next week in Europe. The plan is still to do so – unless Russia invades in the meantime.
QUESTION: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called on the United States to impose sanctions now. He did it yesterday in Munich. I want you to listen:
“(Via interpreter) What are you waiting for? We don’t need your sanctions after the bombings happen, and after our country gets shot or after we have no borders and after we will have no economy or part of our countries will be occupied?Why would we need these sanctions then?
And he asked you to at the very least make public a list of specific sanctions. What is your answer ?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have been in very close contact with President Zelenskyy and his whole team. The vice-president in Munich met him. They had a very good meeting where the vice president reiterated all the support we have built for Ukraine over many months, including in the last year alone more support for equipment defensive lethal military in that year than in any previous year. Economic support – Just a week ago I announced a $1 billion loan guarantee for Ukraine. And we rallied others to do the same.
In terms of sanctions, we have built, with our European partners and allies, a massive package of sanctions. The G7 countries in Munich gathered, reiterated that there would be massive consequences for Russia if it continued this aggression. The purpose of sanctions, in the first place, is to try to deter Russia from going to war. As soon as you trigger them, this deterrent disappears. And until the last minute, as long as we can try to deter that, we’ll try to do that.
As for detailing what the sanctions will be, two things. First, Russia usually has a pretty good idea of what we’re going to do, but we don’t want to give the details in advance because that would allow Russia to try to plan against them. So we have very clearly – and the G7 couldn’t have been clearer – a massive package that will unfold quickly in unison between the United States and Europe and other countries beyond the Europe.
QUESTION: And Mr. Secretary, we seem to be hearing two competing notions. On the one hand, you say and the president – President Biden has made it clear that Russia has decided to invade. And then, on the other hand, you say that we don’t want to impose sanctions because that would eliminate a deterrent effect. Which one is it then? And especially given the fact that the Ukrainian leader with hundreds of thousands of troops on his border is being told that they will – Russia is going to invade at any moment, letting his country go to a forum on the world stage in order to have this kind of platform to plead with you please impose sanctions now, how is the answer not yes?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, we have already imposed sanctions. We sanctioned several —
QUESTION: More penalties.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, we have imposed – as I said, Dana, we have already imposed sanctions on actors in Ukraine who work for Russian security forces and try to destabilize the country. And again, and I – listen, I understand where President Zelenskyy is coming from. But these things are not at all inconsistent, because as President Biden said, even though we believe that President Putin has decided that the dice are cast, until the dice are actually settled and until what the tanks are actually moving, the planes are actually flying, the bombs are dropping, we are going to do everything diplomatically and with deterrence and deterrence to get President Putin to reverse the decision that we believe he has made. And part of that is making it very clear what he risks in terms of penalties.
This is why we are so strongly reiterated this weekend with the major democratic economies of the world, the G7. We’re going to use all the tools we can to try to get him out of the course he’s on. If that does not succeed, if he nevertheless goes ahead with the invasion, then the world is very clear that it is going to fall on him and Russia very, very hard.
QUESTION: What are the odds Vladimir Putin is bluffing?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: There’s always a chance, but every indication we’ve seen, every move he’s made that followed the play that we presented to the world in front of the United Nations Security Council, he follows the script almost to the letter. So I think while there’s always a chance, everything we’re seeing suggests that it’s very serious, that we’re on the verge of an invasion. We will do everything we can to try to prevent it before it happens. But equally, we are prepared, if he follows through, to impose massive consequences, to defend – to ensure the continued defense of Ukraine and to strengthen NATO.
And there again, what is remarkable is that President Putin will have precipitated everything that he sought to prevent, because all this has only strengthened NATO, reinforced its solidarity, its commitment, even reinforced NATO on its eastern flank. I was just in Munich with all the leaders of our European partners, and I think all of us who have been doing this for many years have never seen a time when NATO has been more unified and will, I think, go further demonstrate that if Putin continues the invasion.
QUESTION: President Zelenskyy also said yesterday that Ukraine’s economy is being crushed. Council on Foreign Relations chief Richard Haass said the United States should also be prepared for this standoff to drag on for months, perhaps while Ukraine’s economy collapses. What do you think of this scenario, and would Putin suffer the consequences?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, that’s also a possibility, and that’s exactly why we announced a billion dollar loan guarantee last week. This is in addition to previous loan guarantees we have provided to Ukraine, totaling $4 billion, to support its economy.
At the same time, the Europeans are doing the same, both on a direct country-to-country basis, but also the European Union making available to Ukraine, also a few weeks ago, a credit facility over a billion dollars. We are also helping Ukraine work directly and closely with the IMF to shore up its economy, pursue its reforms, and ensure it can stand up economically.
QUESTION: But would Putin face any consequences if that’s what he ultimately does, he just stifles the economy there?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are very determined, together with all our allies and partners, to ensure that Russia suffers the consequences of the actions it takes, including actions that would involve pressing Ukraine in the future.
QUESTION: Before letting you go, you mentioned that you had agreed to a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It will happen next week. Given that President Biden is saying that President Putin has decided to invade, is the meeting definitely going to happen, number one, and do you have some sort of Hail Mary’s offer to Russia for avoid war?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I contacted Foreign Minister Lavrov about a week ago, suggesting that we meet in Europe next week, and he came back and said yes. I came back and said: okay, the meeting is taking place, provided that Russia does not invade Ukraine in the meantime. So it all depends on what Russia will do in the next few days. If he doesn’t invade, I’ll be there. I hope he will be there too. And I will do my best to see if we can advance a diplomatic resolution to this crisis created by Russia and its aggression against Ukraine.
We have put on the table a number of ideas that we can pursue that would strengthen the security of Russia, of the United States, of Europe, if we commit to them on a reciprocal basis. So there are things we are ready to do if Russia is also ready to take action. This is the conversation I would enjoy having with Foreign Minister Lavrov, but it entirely depends on whether or not Russia invades.
QUESTION: Very busy day and week ahead. Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for joining me this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you, Dana. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Thank you.