QUESTION: And joining me now is the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Chuck.
QUESTION: Let me start with the news of the Russians pulling back from Kyiv, focusing, it appears now, on the East where they’ve had a bit more military success. Are we in a new phase in this war?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Chuck, we may be. I think this is evidence that Russia’s original plans to take over the whole country, including Kyiv, have been dealt a devastating setback. They are regrouping. They may be focusing on the East. But let’s keep in mind they still have the ability to wreak massive death and destruction, including in places like Kyiv, with airpower and missiles. And at the same time, they may be regrouping; they may be recalibrating. We’re focused on what they’re doing, not what they’re saying. And if it’s a refocus on the East, there’s still a tremendous amount that’s going to be ahead of us. As President Biden said recently, this could go on for some time, and the question is how much death and destruction Russia wreaks in the meantime.
QUESTION: Are we going to help Ukraine reinforce sort of now the Central and Western part of the country, reinforce Kyiv so that essentially the Russians don’t even think about coming back?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, we’re doing that every single day. Just over the course of this administration we’ve provided more than $2.3 billion in security assistance – in the last month alone, $1.6 billion – the very kinds of things that have made the Ukrainians incredibly effective in dealing with this Russian onslaught, in pushing it back, in setting it back. And look, what we’ve already seen is a strategic setback and maybe even defeat for Russia.
Russia had three goals going into this: to subjugate Ukraine to its will, to deny its sovereignty and its independence; to assert Russian power; and to divide the West, divide the alliance. And on all three fronts, it’s failed. Ukraine is now more united. It’s – a sovereign, independent Ukraine is going to be there a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene. Russian power has actually been vastly diminished. The military has greatly underperformed. Its economy is reeling. And of course, NATO, the West, are more united than in any time in recent memory. So on those grounds alone, we’ve already seen a dramatic setback for Russia.
QUESTION: You have just described a situation – and Richard Engel was telling me that there are people in Ukraine going, hey, we’ve got Putin in as weak of a spot as we’ve had him in a long time. This is actually not the time to suddenly negotiate a way for him to get out of this. So – and nobody wants to see more war. At the same time, nobody – I don’t think a lot of people, including the President of the United States, wants to see Putin remain in power after this. So can we really end this with giving Putin some sort of gain in the Donbas?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, the – how this war ends is up to two things. It’s up to the Ukrainian people and their elected representatives, including President Zelenskyy. We’ll support whatever they want to do in terms of how this war comes to an end. And as to Mr. Putin’s future, that’s up to the Russian people.
QUESTION: But do you acknowledge he’s in a weak moment? I mean, is this a moment – is this a moment that we’re – if he’s – if we – if we let him lie and he wreaks havoc again, are we going to regret not taking advantage of this moment?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, it’s up to, in the first instance, Ukrainians when it comes to what’s going on in Ukraine, and Russians when it comes to what’s going on in Russia. And here’s the thing: Even though he’s been set back, even though I believe this is already a strategic defeat for Vladimir Putin, the death and destruction that he is wreaking every single day in Ukraine, the images that are on our TVs and on social media every single day are terrible. And so there’s also a strong interest in bringing those to an end.
QUESTION: I want to ask about the Zelenskyy – potential Zelenskyy-Putin face-to-face in Turkey. How realistic is that? And does President Zelenskyy – does he have the ability to negotiate sanctions relief with Putin?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So how realistic it is, very hard to say. The Ukrainians have sought a direct engagement with President Putin for President Zelenskyy. President Putin has rejected that repeatedly. We’ll see if he goes forward with anything. But again, our focus is on making sure that we’re doing everything possible to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table, including with a potential meeting between President Zelenskyy and President Putin. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’ve been supporting Ukraine. We’ve been imposing extraordinary pressure on Russia. We’ve been solidifying our own alliance. All of that goes to strengthening Ukraine’s hand when it comes to any negotiations with Russia.
QUESTION: Again, I want to go back to – what is – can Zelenskyy negotiate sanctions relief at all here or not?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: The entire international community that’s come together to impose those sanctions on Russia will be looking to see what Ukraine is doing and what it wants to do. And if it concludes that it can bring this war to an end, stop the death and destruction, and continue to assert its independence and its sovereignty, and ultimately that requires the lifting of sanctions, of course we’re going to look at that. The purpose of the sanctions, Chuck, is not to be there indefinitely. It’s to change Russia’s conduct. And if, as a result of negotiations, the sanctions, the pressure, the support for Ukraine, we achieve just that, then at some point the sanctions will go away. But that is profoundly up to Russia and what it does going forward.
QUESTION: The restrengthening of the ruble – and I understand there’s some market manipulation there to do that – but there clearly is some signs that the ruble is strengthened. Obviously, Europe – there are plenty of European countries that continue to pay Russia for oil and gas. Is there more that can be done to tighten – to tighten these sanctions again? Because it looks like he’s found some ways around them.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Chuck, first, virtually all of the forecasts show Russia’s economy contracting by 10 percent this year. That is dramatic, especially at a time when other economies, including our own, are rebounding dramatically. Second, when it comes to the ruble, it’s more than a little manipulation, it’s a lot of manipulation. People are being prevented from unloading rubles. That’s artificially propping up the value. That’s not sustainable. So I think you’re going to see that change. We’ve seen the most extraordinary exodus of virtually every leading business from around the world leaving Russia – everything from McDonald’s to Toyota. And that’s having not just an immediate impact, but a long-term impact.
And then the export controls that we’ve imposed on Russia, denying it the technology it needs to modernize industry after industry, that’s going to have an increasing bite. Having said that, to your point, we’re working every single day with partners and allies around the world to make sure that we’re tightening the sanctions, closing any loopholes, adding new ones.
QUESTION: Whose side is time on here? If this is a six – if this is going to drag out another six months, can Ukraine’s military hold up? Can the European alliance hold up? Can Putin survive economically?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Chuck, when it comes to the fundamentals, which is to say Putin’s objective in subjugating Ukraine to his will, on denying, taking away its sovereignty and independence, time is certainly not on Vladimir Putin’s side because, as I said, a sovereign, independent Ukraine has demonstrated it’s going to be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene. The real question, though, again, is what happens in the meantime. If this goes on, how much death, how much destruction is there? And that is terrible.
So we have a strong interest, the Ukrainians have a strong interest, in ending that. We’re all working toward that. The way to do that is to give Ukraine the strongest possible hand, to put as much pressure as we possibly can on Russia while we’re strengthening our own defenses. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.
QUESTION: Secretary Antony Blinken, appreciate you coming on and sharing the administration’s perspective.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thanks, Chuck. Good to be with you.