Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Joining me now is the Secretary of State. Secretary Blinken, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Chuck. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: Let’s start with that intelligence from the British. How reliable is it, as far as you’re concerned, and why was it necessary to go public with it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Chuck, I’m not going to comment on specific intelligence reports, but what I can tell you is this: We’ve been concerned and have been warning about exactly these kind of tactics for weeks, and we’ve talked about that publicly, that Russia would try to in some way topple or replace the government. Just a few days ago we sanctioned four Russian agents in Ukraine who were engaged in destabilizing activities. This is very much part of the Russian playbook. It’s important that people look at the whole range of things that Russia could and may be preparing to do in Ukraine.
QUESTION: I gotta go – last week you – the U.S. Intelligence Community released information that he was trying to create a – sort of a false flag operation. This is from British intelligence. Again, this seems to be an unusual move to make so much of this stuff public. Who are you trying to send a message to? And I’m not going to be subtle here: Is this sending a message to our other European allies that this is real and this is serious?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, it’s mostly making clear, first of all, to the Russians that we know all of the tactics and techniques that they can bring to bear. They’re massing a huge number of forces on Ukraine’s borders. People are rightly very focused on that. But there are a whole series of other actions that they’ve taken in the past and are preparing to take potentially in Ukraine, and it’s important they be put on notice. It’s also important that people around the world, whether it’s in Europe, the United States, or beyond, understand the kinds of things that could be in the offing – a false flag operation to try and create a false pretext for going in. It’s important that people know that that’s something that’s in the playbook, too.
QUESTION: What does an exit ramp for Putin look like that allows him to save face and have the United States not compromise Ukraine’s independence?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well look, ultimately you’d have to ask that of President Putin. But what we’re doing is two things. Even as we’re building up deterrence, even as we’re building up defense for Ukraine, we’re also engaged in diplomacy and dialogue. And I met, as you know, with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva just a few days ago to try to find out if there is a real path forward on diplomacy and dialogue. The Russians have put concerns on the table that they say they have about their security. We’ve exchanged some ideas. We’ll be sharing with the Russians in writing not only our concerns but some ideas for a way forward that could enhance mutual security on a reciprocal basis.
So look, that is clearly the preferable path forward for everyone. It’s the responsible thing to do, and we’ll pursue it as long as we can. At the same time, we’ll continue to build up the defense and deterrence that is necessary.
QUESTION: Why do you think it’s so important that Putin is insisting the U.S. response is put into writing? And I’m curious: While you have verbally expressed that there’s no plans anytime soon to put – to have Ukraine join NATO, are you willing to put a – saying look, it won’t be considered for 10 years? Are you willing to put a time stamp on that, or is that capitulating too much?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, there’s no question of capitulation. The question is whether there are ways to advance our collective security. We – as part of our diplomacy, we meet with people, we talk to people, we put things in writing all the time. In this case, we’re doing it in full consultation with allies and partners, and it’s a way of being as clear as you can, putting ideas on the table. But Chuck, one thing that’s important to remember, as someone who engages in diplomacy, engaging in diplomacy doesn’t take the word “nyet” of your vocabulary.
QUESTION: I want to play what the President said at the press conference and ask you a question about it on the other side. This created a little bit of a stir. Here’s what he said: “I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera.”
What did the President say that wasn’t true?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, we have been clear that, first, in the event that there is a renewed Russian incursion, Russian forces going into Ukraine, there is going to be a swift, a severe, and united response. But we’ve also been clear that there are other things – we were just talking about this – that Russia could do short of sending forces into Ukraine again to try to destabilize or topple the government – cyber attacks, hybrid means, et cetera. And there we’ve also been clear there’ll be a swift response, there’ll be a calibrated response, there’ll be a united response. And so what we’re doing – and I’ve been engaged in close consultations with all of our European allies and partners, including in Europe last week on the phone virtually every day, to make sure that across all of these scenarios we have a clear and united response. And we will.
QUESTION: Why does it look like America is more concerned about Europe’s security than Europe?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Oh, I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s – in my own engagements with my European counterparts that have been intensive and extensive over the last couple months, I think there is a deep-seated concern across the board. And by the way, this is a concern that should extend not only to Europe and the United States, but in a sense it should concern the entire world, because what’s at stake here is not simply the relationship between Ukraine and Russia or even between Europe and Russia or the United States and Russia.
What’s at stake here, Chuck, are very basic principles of international relations that have kept peace and security since the last world wars and the cold war: the idea that one nation can’t simply change the borders of another nation by force; that it can’t dictate to that country its choices, with whom it will associate; that it can’t exert a sphere of influence to subjugate its neighbors to its will. That’s what at stake here. And if you let that go unchecked, that opens a Pandora’s box that countries far away from Europe will take into account.
QUESTION: Look, I want to bring up Germany specifically because their – the head of their navy had to respond when he said at a conference essentially that Putin deserves more respect, there’s no way that Crimea is ever going to go back to Ukraine. He resigned. But it seemed to simply put a spotlight on what everybody seems to know: Germany is the sticking point here of a united, tough response against Putin. Is there something we can do to alleviate those economic concerns that Germany has to get them on board?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: First, Chuck, that’s simply not my assessment. I sat with Chancellor Scholz just last week for an hour and listened very carefully to him. I’ve been on the phone and saw my own German counterpart, Foreign Minister Baerbock. And I can tell you that the Germans very much share our concerns and are resolute in being determined to respond and to respond swiftly, effectively, and in a united way. I have no doubts about that.
QUESTION: The diplomacy – the consistent calls for meetings right now that the Russians are doing, do you think they’re genuine about diplomacy? Or do you think they’re just essentially playing out the calendar here because they – he’s not going to upset Xi in the Olympics and essentially we’re making it look more legitimate by negotiating? Are you worried that he’s playing us a little bit?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, it’s – it is certainly possible that the diplomacy that Russia is engaged in is simply going through the motions and it won’t affect their ultimate decision about whether to invade or in some other way intervene or not in Ukraine. But we have a responsibility to see the diplomacy through for as far and as long as we can go, because it’s the more responsible way to bring this to closure.
But Chuck, we are not sitting still. Even as we’re engaged in diplomacy, even as we’re engaged in dialogue, we are building up defense, we’re building up deterrence. We’ve now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year. We have rallied allies and partners around the world. We are preparing massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again. So you have to do both at the same time: You build up your defense, you build up your deterrence on the hand; you engage in diplomacy and dialogue on the other. That’s the way that I think it makes the most sense to carry this forward.
Ultimately, we’ve given Russia two paths. It has to choose.
QUESTION: There’s been some reports that our embassy in Ukraine has made a request to send nonessential personnel home now, begin that process. Have you approved that request yet, and what would – and if not, what are you waiting for?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, this is something that we look at every single day. I have no higher responsibility than the safety and well-being of the folks who work for the State Department and who are under my care in a sense. So we’re tracking this very, very closely. We’re looking at it on a – really a daily basis. And if we need to make a determination that we should draw down some of the folks at the embassy, we’ll do that based on the security needs.
QUESTION: But right now you feel like Kyiv appears safe, at least in the near term?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: This is something, again, we’re tracking intensely hour by hour and certainly day by day.
QUESTION: Okay. Secretary Blinken, really appreciate you taking some time and sharing the administration’s perspective.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Chuck.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.