Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, it’s a great pleasure to have you with us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.
QUESTION: So you sat down with Mr. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, in Stockholm. What was your message to him?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The message was simple and straightforward, and we had a very direct conversation – not polemical, serious. And serious because we have serious concerns about the buildup that we’ve seen of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine. We’re very concerned that Russia is putting itself in the position to commit renewed aggression against Ukraine.
And I wanted to make clear directly to Foreign Minister Lavrov the serious consequence that will result if Russia actually committed renewed acts of aggression against Ukraine and as well to suggest to him that there is a much better way to resolve the differences that exist, and that’s through diplomacy, and in particular implementing the Minsk agreements that date back to 2014 and 2015, which is the best way to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the Donbas and ultimately to give Ukraine back its border.
So we had a very clear exchange on that, and I think Mr. Lavrov will report back to President Putin. I’ll do the same with President Biden. And I very much hope that Russia chooses to de-escalate, to pull back its forces, and to engage in diplomacy over what differences exist.
QUESTION: So after speaking to him, do you feel more or less worried about the situation in Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, I think it’s now incumbent, first of all, on the minister to report back to President Putin, as I’m doing with President Biden. And really it’s up to Russia now to de-escalate, to pull back its forces, and to engage in diplomacy. We are fully prepared and willing to do that to help and in particular to try to move forward on implementing these agreements that would be the way to resolve the differences over the Donbas or eastern Ukraine.
QUESTION: How serious do you think that Russia’s threat on Ukraine is?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s very serious because what we’ve seen is the massing of significant forces near the border with Ukraine. We’ve seen efforts at destabilization within Ukraine, a social media propaganda campaign against Ukraine that has gone up about ten times in terms of the volume of what we’re seeing on social media over the last month.
And the real problem is this: We’ve seen this before. It’s not that this is something new. We saw this in 2014 and ultimately we saw the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces and by those working for them. And we simply can’t take the risk that that happens again. The consequences would be terrible. It’s in no one’s interest. And so we thought it was important to make very clear to Russia the consequences that would result if it engages in aggression toward Ukraine. So I hope that that factors into President Putin’s calculus and that Russia takes another course.
Look, let me just add this: President Biden said to President Putin when they met in Geneva some months ago that our strong preference is for a stable, predictable relationship with Russia. And there are areas where we have overlapping interests and where we can and should be working together, for example, on the question of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons – both of us oppose.
But if Russia were to move in the direction of confrontation and aggression with Ukraine, that moves in exactly the opposite direction of stable and predictable in the relationship. And again, it’s in no one’s interest.
QUESTION: You’ve spoken about serious consequences should Russia actually escalate. Does that include military consequences?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’ve been very clear that there would be serious, serious consequences. We’re looking, for example, at economic measures that would have a very high impact and things that we have refrained from doing in the past when we’ve had profound differences with Russia.
Of course, it’s important that Ukraine have the capacity to defend itself, something we and many other countries have been helping with in recent years. And the NATO alliance itself – a defensive alliance, a transparent alliance – if NATO’s defensive capacities need to be reinforced as a result of Russian aggression – I just came from the NATO summit – we’ll do that as well.
QUESTION: So it includes military consequences as well?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, again, I’m not going to spell out the consequences in detail. But it’s important that Russia understand that they would be serious; they would be high impact, and just not in Russia’s interest, and also, again, not anything that any of us want to have to pursue. But we are committed to the territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. It’s something that is vitally important, not just because of Ukraine, but because it goes to some fundamental principles of international relations that are what allow us to have a more secure and peaceful international environment.
If countries are allowed to change the borders by force of a neighboring democracy and nothing is done about that, well, other countries will leap to the same conclusion that they can do that, too. If countries are allowed to dictate to their democratic neighbors what policies they have to pursue, with whom they can associate, and we do nothing about that, well, that sends a powerful message, too, and a very bad message to others in the world who might try to do the same thing. So this is about Ukraine, but it’s also beyond Ukraine.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask a question about the relationship between Sweden and the United States. You met with Swedish new prime minister today —
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes.
QUESTION: — Magdalena Andersson. And she’s the first woman prime minister here in Sweden. When will the United States have its first female president?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, one of the benefits of the job that I’m doing now is that I don’t get involved in politics, so I’ll stay away from that. But let me just what both a pleasure and honor it was to meet the prime minister, to spend time with her – obviously, someone very well known to us by her previous responsibilities as finance minister. Our Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen worked very closely with her. And I was honored – I think this is day two and a half that she’s on the job – that I had some time.
We covered a lot together and it’s simply because there’s so much that the United States and Sweden are doing together. We’re focused together on dealing with climate change. We’re focused together on dealing with COVID-19 and the pandemic. We’re focused together on how we deal with emerging technologies that are shaping the lives of our citizens. We’re focused together on standing up for democracy, which is being challenged. And the prime minister will be playing an important role in the Summit for Democracy that President Biden is convening next week virtually in Washington.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for talking to us.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great to be with you. Wonderful to be here, too. Thank you.