Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Sonia Dridi of France 24

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Thank you again, Mr. Secretary, for this interview, as you have just held a ministerial meeting to coordinate global efforts in the fight against COVID.  Why hold such a meeting at this time?  What are the concerns?  What commitments were made by the United States and other participants?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  Indeed, there were twenty countries represented today, including France, the EU, countries in Africa, like South Africa and Senegal, and countries around the world.  A leadership group is what is needed now to fill in the gaps.  We have established a very concrete action plan where we have jointly identified what is missing and together, we are determined to act, to use the unique skills of different countries and institutions to focus on addressing shortcomings.  For example, a huge international effort went into vaccine manufacturing.  Now we must distribute them better and make sure that they actually end up in the arms of those who need them.

This is due to supply chain problems as everything needed for vaccines and their distribution must be manufactured and on time.  There is also a problem of misinformation and disinformation.  We see people around the world who are susceptible to disinformation and so they do not take the vaccines that are available.  There is also the issue of supporting those working on the front lines and making sure they have what they need to be protected.  And finally, we must build a more efficient system for the future.

Of these areas, of our six lines of effort, we must work together because without this coordination, in the end, everyone will do their duty, but to truly be effective we must identify, together, the shortcomings and work together to try to fill in the gaps.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Speaking of challenges that remain in Africa, the vaccination rate hovers at 10 percent.  Scientists in South Africa recently produced a copy of the Moderna vaccine.  However, as long as patents remain, vaccination efforts in Africa are slowed down, and the end of the global pandemic is also slowed.  So, the United States had declared last year their support for waiving patent protections.  What can you do in the meantime, and is it possible to waive patent protections soon?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  This is an ongoing effort that we support.  However, we already see impressive results in Africa when there is a focused, coordinated effort.  In Uganda, for example, the vaccination rate in November was 11 or 12 percent.  There was a concerted effort with international partners, and after six weeks of effort, the rate is now 50 percent among adults.  This is what is possible when we identify what is needed in each case — each case is different.  Regarding patents, local production in addition to manufacturing in the United States or India is very important.  The issue of patents for the future is important, because, unfortunately, we know that there will be another pandemic.  We need to be better prepared and more effective.  For the moment, we are certain that we can put an end to COVID-19 when we work closely together to fill in the gaps.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  You visited the Institut Pasteur in Dakar, Senegal last November.  The Institut will manufacture COVID-19 vaccines with U.S. support thanks to a $3 million investment.  Can you give us an update on that project?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  I was very impressed by this visit to Senegal and the Institut Pasteur.  It showed not only the need, but also the production capacity that exists at the national and regional level around the world.  This will make it much more effective in the future to not be dependent on global supply chains and be able to shorten supply chains to be able to immediately respond during a crisis.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  The other big topic today is Ukraine.  According to several officials quoted by American media, the United States expects an invasion of Ukraine by Russia on Wednesday.  So, are you expecting an invasion this Wednesday?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  Alas, it is quite possible because President Putin has put in place everything necessary to carry out an act of aggression against Ukraine.  We see more and more Russian forces surrounding Ukraine: over 100,000 troops.  This is extremely worrying, including what is happening with the deployment in Belarus to the north of Ukraine.  It would be very easy for President Putin to indicate that he is ready to take the path of diplomacy.  That would start with de-escalating, by reducing the troops that are surrounding Ukraine, without provocation.  There is no reason for Russia to act like this. The only explanation we see is another act of aggression.  We also need to see this in the context of history.  This happened before, in 2014, with the annexation of Crimea and the intervention in Eastern Ukraine.  Knowing that history, we are very concerned when we see what is happening at Ukraine’s borders.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Apologies because we did not get a response to my question.  Are you saying, yes, it is possible?  I was asking about an attack on Wednesday —

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  Yes, an act of aggression starting this week is completely possible when we look at what is happening with the deployment of Russian forces in the areas surrounding Ukraine.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Would President Biden make a visit to Ukraine, as the president of Ukraine is requesting?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  President Biden is quite engaged in diplomacy right now.  He spoke today with President Zelenskyy.  He spoke previously with President Putin.  We will not speculate as we continue to pursue diplomacy.  However, it depends entirely on Russia.  Will they go ahead and withdraw forces from the areas surrounding Ukraine to allow for diplomacy to try to solve existing issues?  Or, on the contrary, will they continue not just to maintain but increase the forces already deployed around Ukraine and act with aggression as early as this week?

QUESTION: (Via translation)  And Washington has publicly exposed Russia’s intentions and even their plans.  The United States is running a fairly aggressive communications campaign.  Is this a strategy to disrupt Moscow’s calculations?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  Yes, because people need to understand the tools that the Russians have used in the past and are still using today, including carrying out false flag operations to justify an intervention that they had planned in advance.  This is absolutely something they would do, and shedding light on it is perhaps a way to avoid it.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Now we’re going to switch to English if we can have an answer on the question on COVID.

(In English)  What is the U.S. doing to support African countries, in the meantime, while you are waiting for the COVID?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We just completed a meeting on COVID with 20 leading countries and institutions including France, including Senegal, South Africa.  All coming together to try to advance what we’re calling a global action plan.  We’ve identified the gaps that exist in making sure that we can get to the end of COVID-19.  And, together, having identified the gaps, we’re determined to try to fill them.  So, it’s getting shots in arms.  We’ve been doing a good job on producing vaccines, now we have to get them into arms.

It’s making sure the supply chains that are necessary for all the different inputs are strong and resilient, and building those out.  It’s dealing with the problem of disinformation and misinformation so people feel confident in taking the vaccines.  It’s supporting the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines, making sure they have the protection they need to do their jobs.  It’s building back a stronger global health system.  All of these things together are –we know now what needs to be done.  The only way to do it effectively though is to do it in a coordinated way.  And that’s exactly what these 20 countries and institutions are doing.  When it comes to, for example, making sure as well, in the future, that vaccines can be produced locally, that we have manufacturing and the licensing that’s necessary to do that.  That’s something we’re also working on and determined to see happen.

QUESTION:  And so according to many reports the U.S. believes that Russia could invade Ukraine on Wednesday.  Is that still your assessment?  And what is the U.S. goal with making all this in the public?  Is it to call Putin’s bluff?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  We’re deeply concerned that Russia could take action against Ukraine as early as this week.  Everything we’re seeing in terms of the deployment of Russian forces around Ukraine, on every side of Ukraine, leads us to that conclusion.  Russia, instead of de-escalating, has been escalating, putting more and more forces in.  And so we are deeply concerned about that.  The path to diplomacy remains open.  We are doing everything we possibly can to convince Russia that it should take the diplomatic path, the path of dialogue, to resolve whatever differences exist peacefully, but, if it pursues aggression, we’re fully prepared for that, in close coordination with all of our European allies and partners.

QUESTION:  (Via translation)  And hasn’t this crisis strengthened the ties between the United States and its European allies?  Because there was still a lack of trust in the United States at the beginning of the Biden administration due to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the submarine crisis.  So, do you feel that you have regained the trust of your European allies?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I think this crisis has absolutely reinforced transatlantic solidarity.  We see that every single day.  And that’s a product of two things.  It’s a product of the threat, unfortunately, posed by Russian aggression.  But it’s also the product of the intense consultations and coordination that we’ve had throughout, going back several months.  We looked and added up and we’ve had just, in the last few weeks, more than 200 engagements—meetings, video conferences, telephone calls across the Atlantic with European partners, with the EU, with NATO, with the OSCE, with individual countries.  And all of this, I think, is pushing us closer together.  It’s a reminder of the values that we share, the interests that we need to defend together.

QUESTION: (Via translation)  Perfect, thank you very much, it was excellent. Your French is still as good as ever.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: (Via translation)  Oh, that’s nice.

QUESTION:  (Via translation)  And thank you for the time.  We know it’s a very busy week.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  (Via translation)  Glad to see you again, thank you.