QUESTION: Joining us now, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Mr. Secretary, thank you for being on with us this morning.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good morning, Mika.
QUESTION: Russia suggested yesterday it was pulling back its forces. What does U.S. intel say about this?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, there’s what Russia says and then there’s what Russia does, and we haven’t seen any pullback of its forces. They remain massed in a very threatening way along Ukraine’s borders. It would be good if they followed through on what they said, but so far, we haven’t seen it.
QUESTION: Jonathan Lemire.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State, good to see you. In fact, on that, the NATO secretary general, as you may know, just in a short time ago, said he – NATO has seen no evidence of any sort of pullback, and in fact, has seen further escalation, more troop buildup in the region. What more can you tell us about that, and what would you need to see from Moscow to have any suggestion there that Vladimir Putin is actually going to de-escalate?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Jonathan, that’s exactly right. I saw what NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said, and we continue to see not only these forces mass – we continue to see critical units moving toward the border, not away from the border. So what we need to see is exactly the opposite. We need to see these forces moving away. We’ve heard what the Kremlin said about this. As President Biden said yesterday, we’d welcome that, but we haven’t seen it on the ground.
And the bottom line is this: We’re prepared either way. We’re prepared to engage in diplomacy with Russia if it’s serious about it. We’re also prepared for renewed Russian aggression.
QUESTION: Mike Barnicle.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, back to basics here. What would be the upside for Putin by invading the Ukraine?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mike, that’s a great question because what we’ve seen from President Putin is basically to precipitate everything he says he wants to prevent. He says he wants NATO further away from Russia. NATO has only gotten more united, more solidified as a result of the threat of Russian aggression, and of course, for defensive reasons, is moving more forces closer to Russia. And so we’ve seen that.
We’ve seen Russia’s actions alienate more and more of the Ukrainian people from Russia. That’s exactly what Putin says he doesn’t want. So it’s an excellent question, one best asked of him, because what he’s doing and what he’s threatening actually counters and undermines Russia’s stated interests.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, we’ve been talking about how actually this crisis has brought NATO Allies closer together than they’ve been for quite some time. Can you highlight some of the things that our NATO Allies have done? Because we actually have a constructive relationship with them and some – where some troops, where some weapons have been sent to counter this threat?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, Joe, it’s – it really goes back to something that President Biden has been doing from day one, and that is working to revitalize, re-energize our alliances and partnerships, because we know virtually every problem we have to confront, we’re going to be stronger and more effective if we’re doing it in unison with other countries than if we’re doing it alone.
So we invested a lot in that over the last year and it’s paying off now, just in this case alone with Ukraine and Russia’s threats. There have been more than 200 engagements, meetings, phone calls, video conferences with NATO, with the European Union, with the OSCE, with allies and partners throughout Europe, even beyond. And as a result, they’re all stepping up. We have allies who are ready to join in imposing massive consequences on Russia if it renews its aggression. Various partners have helped bolster Ukraine’s defenses. Other partners have stood up for Ukraine’s economy and bolstered that.
And so we’re seeing countries step up in different ways, but all to the end of supporting Ukraine, standing up for the principles that are at stake here as a result of Russia’s threats, and doing it in unison, in coordination with us.
QUESTION: Well, we saw the Germans foot – dragging their feet a little bit at the beginning of this crisis, but yesterday the German chancellor in Russia seemed to be delivering a unified message, again, with the rest of NATO.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That’s right.
QUESTION: And a unified NATO is certainly a frightening specter for Vladimir Putin because he’s been used to being able to work one member off the other. I’m curious what your assessment is of the Germans. Are they doing everything that they can do right now to be good NATO partners?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Joe, keep this in mind: Other than us, Germany is the number-one supporter of Ukraine economically. They’ve provided more assistance to Ukraine than any other country in Europe. That’s very meaningful. At a time when all of these tensions are sort of talking down Ukraine’s economy, Germany’s assistance makes a big difference.
So different countries are doing different things in different ways, but all toward the same end: supporting Ukraine, supporting the principles that are being threatened by Russia, supporting us in trying to engage in diplomacy, but also being ready if Russia chooses aggression.
QUESTION: Now we had Richard Haass on earlier this morning talking about the fact, even if there’s not an invasion, we may have cyber attacks, may have other sort of attacks. I’m curious, are we ready, are we ready to go? Are we prepared for those attacks and countering those attacks, and have we let the Russians know that those attacks too will lead to a dead end for them?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yes. I was with President Biden in Geneva some months ago when he met with President Putin, and that was the time, you’ll remember, when there were these ransomware attacks directed against us, the Colonial Pipeline and other things. And they were talking about that and President Biden said to President Putin, you understand how important this is to us, and I can only imagine sitting where you are with all of that energy infrastructure if someone engaged in a ransomware or a cyber attack against you; you wouldn’t like it.
QUESTION: Yeah, we were – Mr. Secretary, we were saying earlier, it was like, nice gas field you have there; shame if anything would happen to it.
I wanted to ask you about the other actor in this scenario, though, and that’s President Zelenskyy in Ukraine. And there’s some mixed messaging from him at this point. We know he’s trying to – he’s been trying to downplay the threat to the Ukrainian people, which has been a marked difference from what we’re hearing from you and the West. Give us the state of that relationship. How often are you talking to him? What is he saying to you about the threat he sees?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: We’re in constant contact with our Ukrainian counterparts, including President Zelenskyy, including my counterpart, the Foreign Minister Kuleba, and others. And look, of course, President Zelenskyy understandably doesn’t want his people to panic. He’s trying to keep things calm. I understand that. But they’re taking this dead seriously and so are we. We’ve provided to Ukraine over the last year more security assistance than in any previous year. Just the other day, we provided a billion-dollar sovereign loan guarantee that helped bolster their economy. So we’re doing this in lockstep with them and we want to make sure that we’re there for them, others are there for them in this hour of need.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I downloaded some of your songs in the past. I must say when I —
QUESTION: When I’m driving in my car and Apple would just pop up – a song would just pop up as a suggestion, and for some reason you come up more than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or anybody else. And I was thinking about this the other day. When you put out a playlist and there were some people on the – let’s just say the Trump right, they were so outraged as if you couldn’t, like, listen to music, have a life, and manage the State Department. You seem to be doing so very effectively. But thank you for putting out the playlist. We’re getting good music selections and somehow we’re managing to survive as a republic at the same time.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Joe, right back at you. I’ve got a lot of your songs downloaded over the years.
QUESTION: Of course he does.
QUESTION: There it is.
QUESTION: There you go. Blinken listens.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I love the intros and outros for every segment, listen carefully every morning to figure out what you’re going to play.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: And yeah, you’ve got to have a little music in your life.
QUESTION: Got to have a little music in life.
QUESTION: I love that. U.S. Secretary of State —
QUESTION: You know why he plays my music?
QUESTION: In case —
QUESTION: Because it’s good.
QUESTION: It’s like he —
QUESTION: I love your music.
QUESTION: It makes you mentally tough. If you can get through that, you can get through any crisis staring you in the face.
QUESTION: Okay. Antony Blinken, thank you very much. (Inaudible) following this.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, (inaudible).
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
QUESTION: We appreciate it.