August 19, 2022

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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Dana Bash of CNN’s State of the Union

8 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

QUESTION:  Joining me now is U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.  Thank you so much for joining me this morning.  So I want to start with those horrific images and reports from Bucha.  What is your reaction?  And do you see evidence here of crimes against humanity?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, you can’t help but see these images as a punch to the gut.  And look, we’ve said before Russia’s aggression that we thought it was likely that they would commit atrocities.  Since the aggression, we’ve come out and said that we believe that Russian forces have committed war crimes and we’ve been working to document that, to provide the information that we have to the relevant institutions and organizations that will put all of this together, and there needs to be accountability for it.

But I think the most important thing is we can’t become numb to this.  We can’t normalize this.  This is the reality of what’s going on every single day as long as Russia’s brutality against Ukraine continues.  That’s why it needs to come to an end.

QUESTION:  And the Ukrainian foreign minister said Russia aims to eliminate as many Ukrainians as they can.  Beyond war crimes, do you see this as genocide?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, we will look hard and document everything that we see, put it all together, make sure that the relevant institutions and organizations that are looking at this – including the State Department – have everything they need to assess exactly what took place in Ukraine, who’s responsible, and what it amounts to.

QUESTION:  Let’s talk about the punishment here.  The EU is already saying it will impose new, even harsher sanctions over this.  What about the U.S.?  Would the U.S. impose more sanctions, for example, on Russian oil, cracking down on all Russian banks, banning energy payments from the SWIFT banking system?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, we’re doing this every single day.  We’re tightening the existing sanctions.  We’re adding new ones.  We’re doing it in full coordination with Europeans and other partners around the world.  And one of the results is that the Russian economy is reeling.  There are forecasts by most of the major forecasters that its economy is going to contract by 10 percent this year, and that’s in stark contrast to economies like our own, which are growing rapidly.  We’re seeing an exodus of every major company from Russia.  And over the long term, the export controls that we’ve imposed means that they will not have the technology they need to modernize key aspects of their economy and their future.

So these sanctions are having a big bite now, they’re going to have a big bite going forward as long as this lasts, and we are every single day making sure that they’re not only tightened, but increased.  We announced additional sanctions just a couple of days ago.

QUESTION:  They still have a lifeline, particularly when it comes to their energy sector.  Is that something that the U.S. is considering along with its Western allies?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re in constant conversation with allies and partners about the most effective ways to tighten, to strengthen the sanctions, and at the same time, we’re very focused on making sure that Europe has the energy it needs not only to get through this year and this winter, which it has, but next year as well.  But the other thing, Dana, is this:  If you step back and look at this, this has already been a dramatic strategic setback for Russia and, I would say, a strategic defeat.

They had three aims going into this.  One was to subjugate Ukraine to Russia’s will, to take away its sovereignty and independence.  The second was to assert Russian power.  The third was to divide the West and NATO.  On all three fronts, it’s already lost.  Ukraine, its sovereignty and independence, is going to be there a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is going to be on the scene.  The Russian military has dramatically underperformed.  Its economy is reeling.  And the West, NATO, are more united than any time I can remember.

QUESTION:  Let me ask you about that military statement that you just made for a minute because the new intelligence that is out there says that they are shifting specifically to the eastern part of Ukraine militarily.  And President Zelenskyy actually said that the Russians are pulling back from Kyiv.  We’ve actually seen that now.  You’ve said it’s what they do, not what they say.  We saw that.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  What does that tell you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So we are seeing that.  It’s, I think, too early to say what that actually means because they could be regrouping and restocking and replenishing and then coming back to Kyiv.  It’s also very possible that what we’re seeing is what it seems to be, which is a focus to the East and the South.  But Dana, even there, if that’s what they’re doing, then I think that the Ukrainians have already demonstrated that unless they’re able to move every single Ukrainian out of whatever piece of territory they’re trying to hold, it’s not going to last because the will of the Ukrainian people is clear:  They will not be subjected to a Russian occupation whether that’s in and around Kyiv or whether that’s in the East and the South.

But here is the problem:  In the meantime, the terrible death and destruction that you started with is going to continue.  And that’s why it is so urgent that Russia end this war of aggression and we do everything that we can to support the Ukrainians, to put pressure on Russia, to strengthen our own defenses.  All of that is going to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table and hopefully bring this to a quicker end.

QUESTION:  There are reports that Soviet-era tanks will be transferred to Ukraine.  Can you tell me about the U.S. role in facilitating that?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Dana, I can’t get into specific weapon systems.  What I can say is this:  First, we have provided, just over the course of this administration, $2.3 billion in security assistance of one kind or another to Ukraine, just $1.6 billion in the last month alone.  That includes many different weapon systems.  And let me give you one example of this:  Between the United States and our allies and partners, for every Russian tank, there are or will soon be in Ukraine more than 10 anti-tank systems for every Russian tank.

So across the board, what we’re trying to do is to make sure that Ukrainians have the systems that they need, that they can use, and they can use right away.  And that’s what’s been happening.  It’s been incredibly effective because of the courage and bravery of the Ukrainian forces.

QUESTION:  So what you just described sounds like the U.S. facilitating those tanks going in.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We are working with countries around the world to facilitate the movement of the systems that the Ukrainians can actually use into Ukraine one way or another.

QUESTION:  This week Ukraine floated the idea of taking a Switzerland-like position of neutrality in Europe as part of a peace deal with Russia, but only if Western nations provide security guarantees if Ukraine is attacked.  Would the U.S. help provide those security guarantees?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So Dana, first, all of this is up to the Ukrainians, which is to say that if they negotiate something that meets their needs, that preserves their sovereignty, their independence, we will back it.  And we’re not going to be less Ukrainian than Ukrainians.  We’re not going to be more Ukrainian than Ukrainians.  So first and foremost, it’s up to them, to their elected representatives, to President Zelenskyy.

When it comes to the future, we and allies and partners are going to want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that this can’t happen again and that Ukraine has the means to defend itself, to deter further Russian aggression.  So we will look at anything that we can do to back up that kind of outcome.

QUESTION:  Sounds like that’s a yes because this is coming from the Ukrainians, as you know.  But they —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  No, I’m not going to get – yeah, I’m not going to get ahead of any details of what might come into some kind of agreement.  But we’re going to want to make sure that we do what we can to help Ukraine defend itself going forward, to deter future Russian aggression.  There are many things that could go into that, but I’m not going to get ahead of them.

QUESTION:  Before I let you go, the Biden administration announced this week that you will lift a Trump-era pandemic restriction called Title 42, which restricted immigration at the Southern border.  It comes as your administration says there could be up to 18,000 apprehensions of undocumented migrants per day.  Does the administration see an influx of migrants as a problem, and can you guarantee that they will be treated humanely?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Dana, first, when it comes to Title 42, all along we’ve been following the science.  That’s what this is about.  So when the CDC and others conclude that the science doesn’t warrant that, as is now happening, then we’ll take action.

Here’s my focus and the Vice President’s focus as well:  We’re focused on making sure that people throughout our hemisphere have opportunities at home going forward so they’re not faced with this really hard choice of leaving everything behind and trying to come to the United States.  So building that kind of opportunity, creating what one of my colleagues has called a “right to remain,” is our focus.

In the nearer term, the focus I have is trying to make sure that transit countries in particular take steps to make sure that it – that folks who might come or try to come to the United States through their countries can’t do that.  So that’s what I’m focused on.

QUESTION:  Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thank you so much for your time.  I really appreciate it.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks.  Great to be with you.

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