Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Ekaterina Kotrikadze of Dozhd TV

QUESTION:  First of all, thank you so much, Mr. Secretary.  It’s a really important opportunity to us.  And the first question is about the war, actually.  President Biden has mentioned that Vladimir Putin has already made a decision.  Also, we have heard that Defense Secretary Austin said that the decision – I mean the invasion is not inevitable.  So on a scale from one to five, how would you evaluate the attack is imminent or not?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, it’s hard to put a number on it, but as President Biden said, based on the information we have, it appears that President Putin has made a decision to renew aggression against Ukraine.  But of course, until the very last moment that that actually happens, we will do everything we can to try to find a diplomatic resolution to this because conflict, war, aggression is in no one’s interest.  It’s the last thing that we want; it’s the last thing that anyone needs, starting with the Russian people.  How aggression against Ukraine meets the needs and interests of the Russian people, I don’t understand.  We have so much that we should be focused on, including together: dealing with COVID-19, which is a problem for everyone; dealing with climate change; working to strengthen and build our economies so people have better lives.  This is where our energy should be focused.

So how it is that attacking another country, trying to subjugate it, does anything good for anyone, including the Russian people, I don’t understand.

QUESTION:  You are meeting your colleague, Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov, on the 23rd as I understand.  So are there any concessions the United States are ready to agree on to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’ve been working for many, many weeks now in close coordination with European partners and allies to look very carefully at what the Russian Government has put forward, the concerns that it’s raised about its security.  We’ve shared concerns about our security that we think is challenged by some of Russia’s actions.  And we’ve said we’re fully prepared to talk on a reciprocal basis about what we can do to improve security for everyone – for Russia, for the United States, for Europe.  We do have a planned meeting on the 24th, next week in Europe, but as I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov in the note I wrote back to him, that assumes that Russia does not invade Ukraine in the meantime.

QUESTION:  So is there anything in particular that you can, I don’t know, offer – if this is the right word to use – to Sergey Lavrov?  Is there anything that maybe they are giving you some signals that they would be – they would be agreeing to something, something else, that you can offer?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We have already suggested that there are many areas where we actually could work together to improve everyone’s security.  There are confidence-building measures.  There are ways to reduce risks.  There’s further arms control.  There’s the question of placement of weapons and forces that, again, on a reciprocal basis could improve everyone’s security.  And I’ve already met with Foreign Minister Lavrov, including in Geneva a couple of weeks ago.  We’re fully prepared to work on that.

But doing that as well with a gun pointed to Ukraine’s head – 150,000 Russian forces to the north, to the east, to the south – it’s very difficult to make progress in that environment.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, the Russian side is insisting that this is a genocide going on in Ukraine, and that Kyiv is actually responsible for the situation and for pushing for war, and they are repeating it on and on.  So, what makes you so sure that Kyiv is not responsible for this escalation?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first of all, the notion that there is a quote/unquote “genocide” going on is absolutely wrong and, frankly, offensive.  It’s a degradation of that word, to say the least.  It’s simply not happening.  How do we know this?  Because at least on the Ukrainian side of the line that’s been established as a result of the Russian incursion into Ukraine, we have the OSCE and monitors who verify what’s going on and what’s not going on.

And the notion that somehow there’s a threat now to Russia from Ukraine defies any logic given the size of the countries, and the notion that Ukraine is suddenly about to try to take back the Donbas, which it could have done anytime over the last eight years but it would choose now when there are 150,000 Russian forces surrounding Ukraine, defies any logic.  And unfortunately what we’re seeing is playing out exactly as I said a few days ago at the United Nations Security Council.  There is the fabrication of provocations that would be then used as a justification for Russian military intervention in the Donbas and in Ukraine more broadly.

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, what do you think President Zelenskyy should do in this situation and the circumstances?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, he has to make his own decisions as the democratically- elected leader of Ukraine, and we strongly support him and the government, the democratically elected Government of Ukraine.  But there’s another thing that defies logic – and here’s a challenge, and it’s a challenge for any system that has become, unfortunately as Russia has, an autocracy, which is that there are very few people who speak truth to power.  And, I worry that President Putin is not necessarily getting the facts and getting the truth.

If he believes that Russian forces would be accepted with open arms in Ukraine, I think he’s profoundly wrong.  And what’s happened since 2014 is very, very clear and very, very striking.  Before 2014, before Russia seized Crimea and went into the Donbas to support these separatist forces, actually in Ukraine, if you looked at public opinion polling, people had very favorable views of Russia, which is good.  Today, it’s entirely reversed: 90 percent of Ukrainians have been alienated from Russia as a result of Russia’s aggression.  Before 2014, before Crimea, before the Donbas, 25 percent of Ukrainians wanted to join NATO.  Now it’s 60 or 65 percent.  President Putin, by his actions and Russia’s actions, has precipitated what he says he wants to prevent.  And if this continues, if this goes forward, I think it will only get worse.  And the people who will suffer first and foremost are innocent Ukrainians.  If there is an attack on Kyiv, almost three million people, that will be disastrous.

But I have say, as well, I fear that Russians will suffer.  Russian forces will not be received with open arms by Ukrainians.  On the contrary.  And of course, the international community is united in making clear that if Russia commits new aggression against Ukraine, there will be very serious consequences.

QUESTION:  You have just mentioned the information that Putin gets.  So there are some concerns and confusion even in Russia in terms of the information that you get from intelligence – the intelligence services.  And I just have to ask you:  What is the level of this intel that you get?  And about the different ways and scenarios of invasion. You know, what is the level of reliability of the sources?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  All I can tell you is this:  We’re very confident in the information that we have.  And as I said at the United Nations Security Council the other day, I recognize that in the past, sometimes we’ve come forward with information that’s turned out to be inaccurate.  We’re very confident in the information we have, and we bring it forward not to start a war, but to prevent a war – a war that’s in no one’s interests, starting with the Russian people.  That’s what we’re trying to do.  And if we can find a diplomatic way to do that, I’m determined to do that.  But if we have to respond to aggression from Russia, we’ll do that as well.

QUESTION:  You are sure that all the scenarios were on the table, at Putin’s table?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  Yes, you are sure?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Yes.

QUESTION:  And the final thing, just very short:  Is there a meeting between the two presidents planned, Mr. Biden, Mr. Putin, when and where?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  President Biden is always fully prepared to meet if we think that can advance the cause of diplomacy and the cause of peace.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  I really appreciate your answers.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good to be with you.