May 21, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Bettina Schausten of ZDF “Heute Journal”

8 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Berlin, Germany

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) After talks in Berlin and before the meeting with his Russian counterpart in Geneva tomorrow, I would now like to welcome the American Secretary of State, Mr. Blinken. Good evening.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good evening.  Great to be with you.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) First of all, how high do you think is the risk of Russia invading Ukraine?  What’s your take this evening?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The risk is real; the risk is high.  Russia has massed considerable forces on Ukraine’s border, 100,000 troops.  It continues to send forces near Ukraine, including most recently to Belarus.  So the risk is very serious, and it’s not just the fact that there are forces massed there.  Unfortunately, Russia has done this before, in 2014 when it seized Crimea and when it sent its forces into eastern Ukraine.  So we have to be very, very focused on that, as we are.  At the same time, quite honestly, the only person who can tell you what Russia will do is President Putin.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, you will be meeting his foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov, tomorrow on neutral ground in Geneva.  What’s your main message?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, my main message is that we – and when I say we, I mean not just the United States, but Europe, NATO, the European Union, the G7 countries, all of us who have been in extraordinarily close communication, coordination, consultation – all of us together are basically proposing two paths out of this crisis that has been created by Russia and its actions.

One path is through diplomacy and dialogue, where together we try to address the concerns that we may all have about security here.  The other path, if that’s what Russia chooses, is confrontation and consequences, massive consequences for Russia, in terms of the response that will come from our countries.  And I am going to see Foreign Minister Lavrov having come from Kyiv and now having come from Berlin where I’ve been able to consult not only with our German partners, but also with other partners from France, the United Kingdom, et cetera.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, you said consequences, there would be consequences.  President Biden yesterday initially said that in the case of a minor incursion of Russia into Ukraine, there would be limited reactions by NATO.  And in the meantime he’s corrected that, but for clarification what’s the U.S. American red line?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s not a question of a red line.  And by the way, when it comes to consequences, it’s not just the United States saying it.  We have very clear declaration statements from the G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, from the European Union, and from NATO making clear that – and this is the language used – massive consequences in the event of renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.  If a Russian soldier crosses into Ukraine, then we have a profound problem, a clear attack on Ukraine, whether it’s one soldier or a thousand soldiers.

Now, what the President was referring to yesterday was that there are scenarios short of Russian forces going into Ukraine that could have very, very similar effects to what Russia might try to accomplish; for example, trying to create a coup that removes the government, using hybrid methods, using special forces, things that are not as easily seen.  And what we’ve been working on in very close coordination, again, for many weeks now is making sure that for each of these possible scenarios, for each of the different kinds of action Russia could take to commit new aggression against Ukraine, that among all of us – the United States, Europe – we’re fully coordinated and that we have a plan to deal effectively with each scenario.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So for all of these scenarios, that’s what I understand.  Now, will you offer any kind of security guarantees to Lavrov?  Will you show any kind of goodwill towards Russia?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Oh, we’ve shown goodwill not just in recent weeks but over many years, consistently reaching out to Russia, wanting to work with Russia, because a Russia that’s focusing its energies and resources and talents as a great nation in actually working with us to try to solve some of the problems that affect all of our citizens, whether it’s dealing with COVID or climate change, the impact of new technologies – all of these things we would like nothing better than to work with Russia.  And for many years, NATO has reached out to Russia to develop a transparent and more positive relationship.

Unfortunately, we’ve been consistently rebuffed.  And the fact is in recent years, it’s not NATO that is the problem.  It’s a defensive alliance that operates in full transparency and it’s a voluntary alliance.  It is Russia.  Russia attacked Ukraine; Russia attacked Georgia.  Russia has forces in Moldova against the will of its people.  So Russia has posed the real challenge to European security.  We would like nothing better than to develop a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia.  President Biden has said that directly to President Putin, and there are certainly areas where we can work together.  But it depends on what Russia does or doesn’t do.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, what do you expect in this context from the Europeans and, concretely from Germany?  Should Germany also be delivering weapons to Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Every country makes it own decisions about the manner in which it provides assistance to partner countries like Ukraine.  In the case of the United States, we have provided defensive military equipment to Ukraine for years.  We’re continuing to do that.  But it also, I think, puts into stark relief one of the almost ironies of the situation, which is, when you think about it, Russia’s actions over the years have precipitated everything that President Putin says he wants to prevent.

Before Ukraine – before, excuse me, Russia seized Crimea and went into eastern Ukraine in 2014, support in Ukraine among the people for joining NATO was about 25 percent.  Now it’s 60 percent.  NATO reinforced its eastern borders as a result of Russian aggression.  And in terms of defensive equipment being provided to Ukraine, that really started to happen after 2014 after Russia’s aggression in reaction, in response, to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.

Different countries are helping Ukraine in different ways.  That’s fine.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) So you also accept that Germany would point to its history and refrain from delivering weapons?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Again, these are sovereign decisions for all allies and partners to make, the – how they choose to provide assistance.  But what’s clear is this:  We are in the closest possible coordination and collaboration when it comes to dealing with the challenge being posed by Russia toward Ukraine right now.  I can’t remember a time in my own experience where there’s been closer consultation on an issue of major importance and a challenge to our common security, and on that we couldn’t be working more closely together.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, you’ve just also talked to Federal Chancellor Scholz, who called the pipeline Nord Stream 2 a private industry project.  And could you convince him that’s it’s not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first of all, it was both an honor and a pleasure to be able to spend time with the chancellor.  We had a very productive, thoughtful conversation about a wide variety of issues.  And what we know among many things is that when it comes to not only the big challenges of our time, but when it comes to how we address them, working in partnership through alliances, in multilateral organizations, Germany and the United States are completely aligned.  And for the United States, we have no better, more capable partner than Germany.

When it comes to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, our views on this are – have been known and well known for a long time.  We oppose the pipeline.  But I’ve heard the chancellor say as recently as a few days ago that in the event of Russian aggression against Ukraine, there will be severe costs and everything will be on the table.  And of course, the United States and Germany agreed this past summer when Chancellor Merkel was in office on our common approach to energy, supporting Ukraine to try to develop its own energy security and independence, but also our commitment to not allow energy to be used as a weapon by Russia.  And I know the chancellor has reiterated his commitment to that agreement.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, Mr. Secretary, where will we be tomorrow evening after your talks with Lavrov in the best of cases?  What can it bring about?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I – look, I don’t anticipate any breakthroughs, but here’s where we are.  We’ve had intensive conversations with Russia both directly between the United States and Russia, something we call the Strategic Stability Dialogue, at NATO through the NATO-Russia Council, and then at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.  And we’ve now had a chance to reflect on what we’ve each heard.  I think the Russian team has had a chance to consult with President Putin.  All of us have had a chance to consult among ourselves, all of the allies and partners.

And this is an important moment, I think, to take stock of where we are with Foreign Minister Lavrov, to see what conclusions Russia draws from these diplomatic conversations, to tell Russia exactly where we are – and where all of our allies and partners are, because we’re speaking with one voice – and to explore whether we can really continue to pursue the diplomatic path to resolving this crisis.  That’s the – that’s the question.  And I think we’ll know more tomorrow – at least I hope we’ll know more tomorrow – about whether Russia is genuinely committed to trying to resolve these differences diplomatically through dialogue or not.  Either way, we’re prepared and we’re united.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) Now, the American Secretary of State Mr. Antony Blinken in our Heute Journal news show.  Thank you very much for being here.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

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