Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
Schloss Elmau Germany
QUESTION: Here with me now exclusively is the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Secretary. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Jake.
QUESTION: So we’re here at the G7. France and the UK, who are here, as well as other world leaders from Belgium to Mexico to Chile, have all expressed concern about what the U.S. Supreme Court did on Friday reversing Roe v. Wade. They say it sends the wrong signal globally. What signal does it send?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Jake, I’m not in the habit of commenting on Supreme Court decisions, getting into U.S. politics. This is one occasion where I did because there are so many questions being asked around the world, questions being asked by our workforce. So I put out a statement to make it clear that we’re going to continue to do the work that we’re doing around the world to advance access to reproductive health services for women and girls around the world, and at the same time, make it clear to our own employees that, consistent with the law, we will do everything we can to make sure that they have access as well no matter where they live.
QUESTION: Including if – as many businesses are saying they’re going to do, paying for their travel to states where they can get abortions if they want one?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are looking into whatever we can do consistent with the law to make sure that irrespective of where any of our people live, they have access to reproductive health care services.
QUESTION: So there are a lot of things that you’re focusing on here, but one of them is Ukraine and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And Russia does appear to be edging closer to taking over all of the Luhansk region – Sievierodonetsk has fallen, apparently. And just overnight, many missiles were launched at Kyiv, including residential areas. Russia state media says the Russian defense minister just visited Russian troops in Ukraine. Is Russia winning?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jake, let’s not confuse the tactical with strategic. When it comes to Putin’s strategic objectives, he’s already failed. His strategic objective was to end Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence, to erase it from the map, to subsume it in Russia. That has failed, and a sovereign, independent Ukraine is going to be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene. Meanwhile, there is a tactical, ferocious battle going on in eastern Ukraine with the Russian aggression, with Ukrainian forces pushing back, and that line has shifted. There are gains one way, gains another way, but what’s really important is the strategic proposition that Putin will not succeed in what he’s tried to achieve.
Not only that, he’s also tried to divide NATO. We’re about to go to a NATO Summit where the Alliance is going to show greater unity, greater strength than in my memory. In Ukraine itself, here at this meeting of the G7, as well as at NATO, we will continue to do collectively everything we can to make sure that the Ukrainians have what they need in their hands to repel the Russian aggression.
QUESTION: Do you think the attack on Kyiv overnight and this morning was part of a direct provocation against the meeting of the G7?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve seen sporadically, even – ever since Putin lost the battle for Kyiv and had to shift his focus just to eastern and southern Ukraine, that they’ve occasionally launched missiles at a distance basically to terrorize people. They struck an apartment building. There are reports that they struck a kindergarten. That has no purpose other than to try to terrorize Ukrainians.
QUESTION: The G7 just announced a new ban on Russian gold imports.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: The U.S. said that Western sanctions against Russia would devastate its economy, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. The ruble is at its highest in years; oil profits are soaring. When are these sanctions going to start having the effect that the West and President Biden has promised?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, they were already having a dramatic effect – well, first, let’s take gold, the thing that we’re just announcing. That is the second most lucrative export that Russia has after energy – it’s about $19 billion a year – and most of that is within the G7 countries. So cutting that off, denying access to about $19 billion of revenues a year, that’s significant.
But beyond that, Jake, everything that we’ve done from the start – in imposing these unprecedented sanctions and the export controls – is having a profound impact on Russia. Even as it gets oil revenues with higher prices, it’s unable to spend them because of the export controls. It can’t acquire what it needs to modernize its defense sector, to modernize its technology, to modernize its energy exploration, which means that over time each of these areas is going to go in decline.
Already, we’re seeing predictions that the Russian economy will shrink by eight to fifteen percent next year. The ruble is being propped up artificially at great expense. A thousand companies, major international companies, have left Russia. They had products that were still on the shelf when they left, but those supplies have now dwindled. Russians were no longer being able to buy what they’re used to buying. The standard of living for Russians is dropping.
All of this is having an effect immediately, but it’s also having a cumulative effect. We’ve seen a brain drain from Russia – 200,000 Russians, among the most educated, working in some of the most important industries, have left. Many foreigners working in those same industries have left. All of this over time accumulates, accumulates, accumulates.
QUESTION: So there was a House resolution, bipartisan, in favor – expressing the desire that Brittney Griner be freed, the WNBA star who’s now been detained in Russia for 129 days. American former Marine Paul Whelan’s been there for almost four years. After the U.S. brought Trevor Reed home in a prisoner swap, my understanding is that there might be another prisoner swap in the works right now. CNN is reporting that there is a – there are discussions going on and that you and President Biden and others are in favor of a swap: Griner and Whelan in exchange for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Is that going to happen?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: As a general proposition, Jake, I’ve got no higher priority than making sure that Americans who are being illegally detained in one way or another around the world come home, and that includes Paul Whelan and that includes Brittney Griner. That includes people in a number of other countries. In fact, I spoke to Brittney Griner’s wife just a few days ago. I spoke to the families of many detained Americans this week —
QUESTION: They really want to talk to President Biden.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And some of them have, but we have a regular dialogue with them and no higher priority. I can’t comment in any detail on what we’re doing except to say this is an absolute priority.
QUESTION: So the White House says President Biden’s upcoming meeting with Saudi officials in Riyadh next month will include the kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. President Biden, as you remember, during the campaign, promised to make Saudi Arabia and MBS a pariah for the murder of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for The Washington Post. Is cheaper oil worth breaking that promise?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Jake, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, what we said is we needed to recalibrate the relationship to make sure that it more effectively reflected our own interests, our own values, but not rupture it, because we’ve got a multiplicity of interests involved and our values. And so when it comes to the relationship broadly, Saudi Arabia’s been an important partner in dealing with extremism. It’s been an important partner in contending with challenges posed by Iran.
It’s also absolutely critical to helping end what has been one of the worst wars and atrocities in recent memory, and that’s the war in Yemen. By most accounts, that’s the worst humanitarian situation on Earth, and that’s saying something. Saudi Arabia’s engagement in doing this now has been absolutely critical to getting what we haven’t had for eight years, which is a truce. The truce has been extended. Humanitarian assistance is getting to people who need it. The guns have been silenced. That’s important.
And when it comes to our values, we had – we inherited the murder of (inaudible) Khashoggi. We made sure – I made sure that the report, with accountability and making clear the responsibility for his murder, was put out in public with the imprimatur of the U.S. Government on it. We initiated something called the Khashoggi Ban to make sure that countries that try to repress those criticizing them from third countries, including from the United States, are penalized for doing that. We’ve used that ban something like 70 times since we put it forward.
And of course, energy is part of the equation too. So for us, it’s about making sure that we put all of this together, that we are working to advance all of these interests consistent with our values. If we are able to end the war in Yemen, that will be a dramatic step forward for human rights, for freedom, for democracy as well.
QUESTION: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, thanks so much for your time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Jake. Good to be with you.