Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Joining me now is the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Secretary Blinken, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Chuck. Good to be with you.
QUESTION: I want to start with what President Biden said he told Vladimir Putin. He said that there would be economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen. I want to put up this graphic of all the different ways we have tried to confront Russian aggression and Putin aggression since 2014: ejection of the G8, multiple sanctions, import restrictions, expulsion of diplomats, asset seizures, cyber crime indictments, more military aid to Ukraine. None of it, Mr. Secretary, has curtailed Putin’s behavior. Why do you think these threats will do it?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first of all, Chuck, we don’t know that it hasn’t curtailed his behavior because he might well have gone further back in 2014. He seized Crimea, he invaded eastern Ukraine, might have gone even further than that had there not been a resolute response.
But right now, what the President made very clear to President Putin, what I’ve made very clear to Foreign Minister Lavrov, my counterpart, is that we are looking at and we are prepared to take the kinds of steps we’ve refrained from taking in the past that would have massive consequences for Russia. In fact, I’m here in Liverpool with the G7 countries. They are equally resolute in their determination to stand against Russian aggression, to ideally deter it, prevent it. And we’ve made clear as well that there would be massive consequences if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression against Ukraine.
QUESTION: Already though, since the President warned Vladimir Putin, Putin – Russia has only escalated its offenses. He’s escalated his rhetoric. We have reports that he’s been sending even more troop – military reinforcements to the border. Is he not listening?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ll see in the in the days and weeks ahead. Look, the President, Chuck, has made clear to President Putin on two occasions, in Geneva when they met some months ago and then just this week at the – in the video conference that I took part in, that look, our strong preference would be for a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia, but if Russia continues to take reckless and aggressive actions, we will respond – and not only us, partners and allies around the world. That’s why I was at NATO just a week ago. That’s why I’m here at the G7 meeting.
And I think what people need to understand is that Ukraine is important, and we are resolute in our commitment to its sovereignty, its territorial integrity. But there is something even bigger at stake here, and it’s the basic rules of the road of the international system, rules that say that one country can’t change the borders of another by force; one country can’t dictate to another country its choices, its decisions in its foreign policy, with whom it will associate; one country can’t exert a sphere of influence over others. That what – that’s what Russia is purporting to assert; and if we let that go with impunity, then the entire system that provides for stability, prevents war from breaking out, is endangered. That’s why this is so important. That’s why the President’s been very clear with President Putin.
QUESTION: Why hasn’t the action of Russia amassing troops and terrorizing Ukraine right now been a trigger for any punishment?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, it’s been a trigger for action. It’s been a trigger for us bringing together allies and partners around the world, starting in Europe with our closest partners, NATO – again, where I was just a couple of weeks ago – bringing people together to make very clear not only the deep shared concern but the fact that we are prepared together in a coordinated way to take very strong action if Mr. Putin continues his aggression against Ukraine.
So we now need to see whether he’s not only received the message but responds to it. And there is another way forward. That’s something else the President suggested to President Putin, and I’ve done the same with my Russian counterpart and others, and that is diplomacy. Russia and Ukraine agreed many years ago to something called the Minsk agreements, a way of defusing the crisis in eastern Ukraine, giving Ukraine its border back. And what we’d like to see now is actually Russia implementing its commitments under that agreement. We’re going to test that proposition together with our European allies and partners and see how Russia responds.
QUESTION: But the fact that he is able to amass troops at the border, get a video conference – and now, by the way, Vladimir Putin wants a face-to-face meeting. I’m curious: Is that at all on the table?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Look, the video conference is important because as much as I can do with my counterpart, as much as other colleagues in the government can do with theirs, when it comes to Russia, President Putin is the one person that that really counts. And it’s very important for President Biden to speak directly, clearly to him so that he understands from the leader of the United States exactly what he risks if he pursues aggression with Ukraine.
QUESTION: Okay. But what about – what would it take for you to agree, for President Biden to agree, to a in-person, face-to-face with Vladimir Putin? Does he have to pull his troops back from the border before that happens?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: What we are looking to see from Russia – and again, not just us, but allies and partners in Europe are looking – we’re looking to see de-escalation, we’re looking to see Russia pull back forces from the border, and we’re looking to see Russia engage in good faith in diplomacy, in diplomatic dialogue with the Europeans, with Ukraine, to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and to give Ukraine its borders back. That’s what we’re looking to see.
QUESTION: I don’t mean to sound cynical here, but we’ve heard that rhetoric for seven years through three administrations, and it just – Putin’s behavior just hasn’t changed.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, what we’ve seen in recent weeks and recent months is concerning signs of an accumulation of forces on the border, plans to commit renewed aggression against Ukraine, which is exactly why we brought countries around the world but starting in Europe together to make it very clear that there’ll be very severe consequences for that.
President Putin has to make his calculations. He has to decide ultimately what’s in Russia’s interests. He’ll make those calculations. We’ve been very clear about what will follow if he renews his aggression on Ukraine.
QUESTION: If Germany were more open to essentially shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, do you think Vladimir Putin would pay more attention? Does he think Europe basically is keeping the U.S. from doing more?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, that pipeline, Chuck, as you know, doesn’t have any gas flowing through it right now and, in fact, is a source of leverage on Russia, because to the extent President Putin wants to see gas flowing through that pipeline if and when it becomes operational, it’s very unlikely or hard to see that happening if Russia has renewed its aggression on Ukraine, if it takes renewed action. So I think President Putin has to factor that in too as he’s thinking about what he’s going to do next.
QUESTION: I want to go back though. Are our European allies the ones more hesitant at stronger action against Russia than what you and President Biden would like to do?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well look, what I can tell you is this. I’m here at the G7, the meeting of the world’s largest economies, including many European partners. We just put out a statement in the name of all of our countries that warns of massive consequences if Russia commits acts of aggression against Ukraine. I was at NATO, as I said. I found all of our allies very resolute both in their deep concern about what Russia may be doing and may be planning, as well as their determination to take strong, coordinated steps if Russia does act aggressively. That’s the best way to deter Russia.
Now, there are other steps that we’ve been taking as well. We’ve been continuing to shore up Ukraine’s defenses so that it can better defend itself if Russia commits acts of aggression. We’re also looking at what NATO can do, if necessary, to better defend itself. But at the end of the day, Chuck, what is far preferable to all of this is diplomacy and dialogue and de-escalation. And if Russia moves in that direction, then we can avoid having another crisis, we can avoid the potential for conflict, and we can move things to a better path. That’s strongly, I think, in our interest. It’s strongly in Russia’s interest.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Antony Blinken, appreciate you coming on and sharing the administration’s perspective.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me, Chuck. Good to be with you.