Thu, 19 May 2022

Blinken to VOA: Russia Has a Clear Choice to Make

Voice of America
20 Jan 2022, 04:37 GMT+10

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in Kyiv Wednesday with VOA's Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze about his talks with Ukrainian leaders and the prospects for heading off a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. The following is a transcript of that interview. It has been edited for clarity. Watch the video here.

QUESTION: 'Good afternoon. Today we are in Ukraine. It's been invaded and threatened by Russia. Putin is demanding the West to leave Ukraine for its Russian sphere of influence. Today, we have a chance to talk about the crisis with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity and for your time...'

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: 'It's good to be with you.'

Q: So, your administration said that Russia can invade at any moment. What is your administration ready to do to defer Russian aggression? And what would be the three major steps you're ready to do if Russia will invade tomorrow?'

BLINKEN: 'Well, first, we've, we've offered Russia a clear choice, a choice between pursuing dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, or confrontation and consequences on the other hand. And we've just been engaged in an intensive series of diplomatic engagements with Russia, directly between us through the strategic stability dialogue at NATO, with the NATO Russia Council at the OSCE, the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, and my hope remains that Russia will pursue that diplomatic path. It's clearly preferable.'

Q: 'Still, what are US...'

BLINKEN: 'But, but to your point, we've also - we've equally made clear that if Russia chooses to renew its aggression against Ukraine, we - and not just we, the United States, we, many countries, throughout Europe, and even some beyond - will respond very forcefully and resolutely and in three ways. First, we've been working intensely on elaborating extensive sanctions, financial, economic, export controls, and others....'

Q: 'Doesn't that include...'

BLINKEN: 'I'm not going to get into the details what they are, but we're doing that in very close coordination with European allies and partners. A second consequence would almost certainly be further assistance, defensive military assistance, to Ukraine. And third, it's almost certain that NATO would have to reinforce its own defenses on its, on its eastern flank. And you know, what's so striking about this is that, when you think about it, President Putin, going back to 2014, has managed to precipitate what he says he wants to prevent, because among other things, NATO had to reinforce itself after Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, the Donbass after that happened. So, we've laid out the consequences clearly for Russia, but also, also the far preferable path of resolving differences diplomatically. And we'll see which path President Putin decides to take.'

Q: 'It's still the question of, is the Swift - cutting Russia from Swift is on the table, and personal sanctions against, personally, Putin and his family is on the table?'

BLINKEN: 'What I can tell you is this, and it's not just me saying this. The G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, the European Union, NATO have all each declared as institutions, as a collection of countries, that there will be and I quote, 'massive consequences' for Russia, if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. We've also said that the measures that we're looking at go well beyond steps that we've taken in the past including in 2014. I'm not going to detail them here or telegraph the steps we take. But I can tell you, the consequences will be severe. But again, I want to insist on the fact that it would be far preferable not to have to go down that path. We're fully prepared to do it. But the preference is to see if we can resolve differences, address concerns in both directions through diplomacy.'

Q: 'Russia asked for a written response to demand never to accept Ukraine into NATO, - are you preparing such a written response, and what kind?'

BLINKEN: 'So, we had the last week of these important engagements, as I, as I noted, and we now have an opportunity, both Russia and, and all of us - the United States our European partners - to take back what we heard from each other. The Russians have gone back and, presumably, are consulting with President Putin. We've done the same, in my case, with President Biden. The Europeans have done the same with their leaders. And the next step in this process is for me to have a chance to meet with Foreign Minister (Sergey) Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, and to see what how, how Russia has responded to what's already been, been discussed. They'll hear, they'll hear from us. Before that though, I was determined to - President Biden's instruction to come here to Kyiv, to consult with our Ukrainian partners. And then tomorrow in Berlin to meet with some of our closest European partners. That's exactly how we proceeded all along. We've done everything in very close consultation before and after any of our engagements with Russia.

Q: 'However, you didn't answer my question about, are you preparing the written response to Russian?'

BLINKEN: 'Right now the next step is to meet with Prime Minister Lavrov. Let's see where, where we are after Friday, and we'll take it from there.'

Q: 'And I had that question about Mr. Lavrov, you're, you're scheduled to meet him. Did you see any signs that the Kremlin is changing its position at this point?'

BLINKEN: 'I can't say that I see any, any direct evidence of that? Unfortunately, we can see, we continue to see Russia having amassed very significant forces on Ukraine's borders, that process seems to continue. On the other hand, the fact that we are meeting in Geneva, the fact that we will be discussing the conversations and exchanges that we've had over the last 10 days, also suggests to me that diplomacy remains an open possibility, one that we're determined to pursue as long and far as we can. We want to leave no diplomatic stone unturned, because, again, that's just a much better and more responsible way to deal with these problems.'

Q: 'The Minsk agreement is seen as the only valuable solution for this crisis. However, Russia and Ukraine have a different reading of the agreement. What has to be done to implement the agreement or is it time to renegotiate?'

BLINKEN: 'I don't think there's any, any need to renegotiate, because, as you say, there's an agreement. In fact, there are actually three of them because Minsk evolved 2014-2015. And there are a number of very clear steps that both of the parties have to take. I think it's fair to say, looking back that many of those steps Ukraine has either implemented or begun to implement, there are some that hasn't yet tackled. I think, unfortunately, it's equally fair to say that Russia has done virtually nothing in terms of the steps required in the Minsk agreement. So, the first question is whether Russia is serious about resolving the Donbass through the Minsk process, if it is, I agree with you, I think that's the best and right now really the only way forward. France, Germany, are an important part of this so-called Normandy format. And they're supposed to be upcoming meetings in that process. And, again, it's a test of whether Russia is serious about it. The one positive sign that we've seen in the last few weeks when it comes to Minsk is a loose ceasefire that is clearly an improvement over where things were, that takes us back to where we were in 2020. But the real question is, is Russia serious about implementing Minsk? If it is, we're prepared to facilitate that, we're prepared to support that, we're prepared to engage in that but in support of this Normandy process that France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are engaged in.'

Q: 'Since you mentioned Germany-you mentioned Normandy Format. There's a lot of talks about U.S. joining that, that Normandy Format, is there any reconsideration of U.S. doing so?'

BLINKEN: 'I don't think it's a question about us joining the format, the question is whether it's useful for us to try to facilitate things, to support it in any way that we can. If the answer to that is yes, we're fully prepared to do that. And we, of course, shared that with our allies and partners France and Germany. But we've also said that to Russia, and of course to Ukraine.'

Q: 'The U.S. National Security Advisor recently said that if Russa wants Nord Stream to start operating, it will have to stop aggression in Ukraine. Is the United States ready to accept the completion, and activation of the pipeline for Russia to withdraw troops from the borders?'

BLINKEN: 'We continue to oppose the pipeline for reasons that are well known and long known. We think that it actually undermines Europe's energy security and obviously does tremendous potential damage to Ukraine, including giving Russia the option to avoid the existing pipeline through Ukraine. That results in a lot of transit fees for Ukraine, and the list goes on. Having said that, the pipeline is actually complete, the construction has been completed. It's not operational, and to Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor's point, right now that pipeline is as much, if not more leveraged, for us as it is for Russia because the idea that if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, gas would flow through that pipeline is highly, highly improbable. So that's an interesting factor to see whether it affects Russia's thinking as it's deciding what to do. '

Q: 'And I have two questions on domestic agenda, Ukraine's domestic agenda if I may. President Zelenskiy promised President Biden personally to fight corruption. He promised to appoint the special anti-corruption prosecutor before the end of 2021. However, many Ukrainians argue that there is sabotage, of anti-corruption reform. Is the United States as a Ukraine strategic partner satisfied with the reform progress in Ukraine? And is Ukraine at risk of losing the U.S. support if the government does not meet its commitment to reform?'

BLINKEN: 'I had a chance to spend time with President Zelenskiy today, we had a very good conversation about virtually all of these issues, including the question of reform, and President Zelenskiy has been pursuing reform, including most recently, judicial reform. But there are other things that need to happen, including, finally the appointment of this Commissioner, that should and could take place anytime, so we are looking for that to see that happen. It's challenging, there are external pressures, there are internal pressures, but he has been on the path of reform. And ultimately, Ukraine's progress, which we are determined to support, is contingent on reform so we look to the president to continue those efforts, we very much support him in those efforts, and will continue to support Ukraine as it makes those efforts.'

Q: 'Thank you so much. They're showing me that I have to cut. I have one more question. Across from the building where we're doing this interview today, on the court hearing treason charges brought against the former President Poroshenko, many experts, and former Russian politicians expressed their concern, and some say the charges are politically motivated. Do you think these charges and the process is justified at the time?'

BLINKEN: 'Well, I can't get into the details of this, of this particular case. All I can say is this. It's very important that in any proceeding, whether it's this one or any other, that things go forward through an independent judiciary, pursuant to the rule law, and as we would say, without fear or favor, no selective prosecutions. That's a general rule that we would apply anywhere and everywhere. Second, this is a time where there's a premium on national unity precisely because of the threat that Russia is posing. And it's important for Ukrainians to come together, whatever political differences they may have. One of Russia's methods is to try to divide, to create divisions, to create distractions. And it's important for Ukrainians to come together to resist that and to deal with the challenge posed by Russia as one, as one country with an incredible future that the United States strongly supports but one that's being challenged.'

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