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Mar 6, 2022

Risk of escalation high at Russia-Ukraine War: Blinken

FA News Desk
File photo of Antony Blinken. Image Credit AFP
File photo of Antony Blinken. Image Credit AFP

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken had talked with James Landale of the BBC the other day in Brussels, Belgium. According to a press release of the US State Department, Secretary Blinken briefed wide aspects of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War.

Following are the excerpts:

James Landale:  Secretary Blinken, how do you think the war in Ukraine will play out?

Secretary Blinken:  It’s very hard to predict and to project going forward.  I think that what we can say is this:  We’ve seen extraordinary, extraordinary resilience coming from the Ukrainian people defending their country, defending their freedom, defending their future.  And I think in that sense, the war has certainly not gone as President Putin might have thought it and might have planned.

What that tells us about the future, I can’t say.  But what I can say, as well, is having spent here in Brussels a day with NATO Allies and partners, the European Union, G7, the commitment of the international community to do everything we can to help Ukraine defend itself and also to put excruciating pressure on Russia to end this war of choice that Vladimir Putin started is real, strong, and will have an impact.

Landale:  But do you think that Ukraine’s defeat is inevitable?  It might take time, but eventually, the sheer weight of the Russian military force will prevail?

Blinken:  Well, there’s an old saying that the only things that are inevitable in life are death and taxes, so I don’t think anything is inevitable.  But of course, it’s true that the weight of the Russian military, if it puts everything into it, far exceeds that of what Ukraine’s able to muster.  But I don’t think you can fully evaluate what the will of the Ukrainian people is and the impact that that has.

And think about it this way too:  If it’s the intention of Moscow to try somehow to topple the government and install its own puppet regime, 45 million Ukrainians are going to reject that one way or the other.

Landale:   So you’re convinced they can win?

Blinken:  Over time, absolutely.  I can’t tell you how long this will go on.  I can’t tell you how long it will take.  But the idea that Russia can subjugate to its will 45 million people who are ardently, ardently fighting for their future and their freedom that does not involve Russia having its thumb on Ukraine, that tells you a lot.

Landale:  How great is the risk of escalation?

Blinken:  The risk of escalation is certainly real.  It’s something that we care about and are focused on because the only thing worse than a war that’s contained to Ukraine is one that escalates even further and goes beyond it.  It’s exactly why, among other things, NATO has been so focused on reinforcing its defense and deterrence.  We’ve taken historic steps to reinforce the eastern flank of NATO to make sure that the Article 5 commitment has everything it needs to back it up.  And just as NATO and the United States have never sought nor will we seek a war with Russia – we’re a defensive alliance – equally, we’re committed to defending every single inch of NATO territory if it comes under attack.

Landale:  But do you fear escalation to a wider European war or do you fear escalation – the use of chemical or biological weapons?  What is it that worries you?

Blinken:  Well, the main concern right now, of course, is further escalation inside Ukraine itself.  We know the methods that President Putin has used in the past, whether it was in Chechnya, whether it was in Syria, whether it was in Ukraine itself back in 2014.  And what we’re seeing now in the last couple of days is the increasingly brutal use of force directed at civilians, civilian populations.  We’re seeing tremendous humanitarian suffering as a result.  We’re seeing Russia go after critical infrastructure that’s denying Ukrainians water, denying them electricity, denying them heat.  And those methods are, unfortunately, tragically, part of the Russian playbook under President Putin.  And I think we’re likely to see more of that.

Landale:  Do you think Vladimir Putin is rational or delusional?

Blinken:  I can’t put myself in President Putin’s mindset at all, but all I can do is two things: gauge Russia and President Putin by their actions and do everything we can to respond effectively.  But here’s one thing we do know:  What’s extraordinary is the extent to which virtually everything President Putin over the years has said he wants to prevent, he has, in fact, precipitated by his actions.  What we’re seeing now is the very alliance that he wants to try to blow apart, NATO, coming together in ways that we haven’t seen in years or even decades; a Ukrainian people that he wants to subjugate united in their opposition to Russia.  He has turned – in 2014, before Russia first went into Ukraine, to Crimea, to the Donbas, actually attitudes toward Russia in Ukraine were largely positive.  Now, 90 percent of the people hate Russia because of what President Putin’s done.

Landale:  But at the moment, his forces are on the rampage in Ukraine.  Is there any diplomatic solution to this?  What is the U.S. prepared to offer as an offramp, to use the American phrase?

Blinken:  We’ll always look for opportunities for diplomacy and for dialogue.  In fact, that’s exactly what we did in the months leading up to this war of choice.

Landale:  But do you think it’s actually possible now, despite the status of the conflict, actually?

Blinken:  It depends entirely on President Putin and on Russia.  If they show any signs of being willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy, of course, we’ll engage.  We look to our Ukrainian partners too.  They are talking to the Russians, but that’s not producing anything.

Landale:  But are you prepared to say, look, if there’s a ceasefire, we will talk about the status of Crimea, of the Donbas, maybe discuss neutrality in those kind of things?

Blinken:  We’ve made very clear that there are certain basic principles at stake that we are determined to defend.  And those principles include basic propositions that have basically undergirded peace and security for years, ever since the Second World War: one nation can’t dictate to another its policies, its choices, with whom it will associate, among others; one nation can’t exert a sphere of influence that subjugates another country to its will.  So no matter what, we’re going to uphold those principles.

Ultimately, any way forward that involves diplomacy is first and foremost going to be up to the Ukrainian people and the government that represents it democratically, and we will support whatever direction they want to go in.

Landale:  One way of resolving this would be regime change in Moscow.  Is that something you seek?

Blinken:  We don’t seek that, and in any event it’s not up to us.  The Russian people need to decide their leadership.  They need to decide whether the leaders that are there are actually advancing and representing their needs, their interests, their will.  That’s absolutely not up to us.

What I would say to the Russian people is: How in the world is this war of aggression – unprovoked, unwarranted – on Ukraine, how in the world is that advancing your interests, your needs?  How is it sending a kid to school?  How is it getting you a job?  How is it cleaning the air?  How is it dealing with the things that you care about?  It’s doing nothing for them.  On the contrary, tragically for the Russian people, they are bearing the burden of so much of this because the world has come together to put these massive sanctions on Putin and on Russia.  They’re bearing the consequence.

Landale:  Final thought.  You have made it very clear there’ll be no NATO, no U.S. intervention on the ground, no no-fly zone.  But what do you say to the people of Ukraine who are just saying we just want protection from these Russian missiles, these rockets?

Blinken:  We’re walking – working and talking to the government every single day about their needs, what we can do that would be – help them be even more effective in defending Ukraine against this Russian onslaught.  Over the last year, the United States – I’ll just speak for the United States – we’ve provided more than a billion dollars in security assistance to Ukraine, more than in any previous year.  That continues as we speak.

Landale:  But that’s not saving lives.

Blinken:  Well, I – it’s very hard to – hard to demonstrate it —

Landale:  Or is —

Blinken:  Very hard to demonstrate a negative.  The Ukrainians have been extraordinarily effective first and foremost because of their extraordinary courage and determination, but they’ve also had some means to do that.  And as I said, every day we’re working with them, working with European partners and allies, to determine what they need and what they can effectively use and how we can get it to them.

Landale:  Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

Blinken:  Thank you.  Good to be with you.  Thanks.