Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Stefan Kornelius of Süddeutsche Zeitung

QUESTION:  And you’ve pretty much said so much over the past days that I’m not sure what we else can add, but let me start with after the President last night gave that shrill warning.  What’s left to prevent war?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, I think as the President also said last night, while we’re convinced that President Putin has made his decision to go, until that – it actually happens, we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to diplomacy.  So we’ll continue to try and see if we can affect his thinking.  I think that’s very difficult, but it’s certainly my own obligation in terms of conducting our diplomacy to see if there’s still a possibility.  But I think the President was very clear.

And here’s the thing:  Either way, we are prepared, and that’s not an accident.  I was struck yesterday at the session with my friend and colleague Annalena Baerbock when Christoph Heusgen at the outset of our session said that in his experience he’s not seen greater coordination, collaboration, consultation between the United States and Europe in general, as well as between the United States and Germany in particular.  And that doesn’t just happen.  It’s the product of a very deliberate effort on both sides to do that, and I think in my own experience I agree with that assessment.  I have not seen this level of coordination before.

And that means that whether we’re proceeding with whatever diplomatic opportunities may still be left, we’re doing it in a fully coordinated way.  And if it comes to confronting Russian aggression, we’re also fully coordinated and the response will be swift, unified, and consequential.

QUESTION:  Which stone is not unturned?  What – sort of concretely spoken their diplomatic idea now to re-engage in talk.  Foreign Minister Lavrov was very explicit in his letter two days ago.  You have answered to it.  Where do you see an opening?  What’s sort of left to talk through?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  As things stand right now, I proposed a few days ago that Foreign Minister Lavrov and I see each other again next week in Europe.  He responded a couple of days later and said yes, and I in turn responded and said good, I look forward to seeing you, provided, of course, Russia has not invaded Ukraine in the interim.  So depending on what happens in the coming days, I’ll see him.

We have the texts that we’ve exchanged.  They’re – I think are some very concrete ideas for discussion that we put forward that on a reciprocal basis could strengthen security for Russia, for the United States, for Europe, and so we’ll continue to see if Russia is willing to engage on those.  At the same time, in the Russian response they continue to hold to positions that are fundamentally at odds with our basic principles and that we are – that we’re committed to.

QUESTION:  One of the demands is to withdraw American troops from the front line.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  That’s right.

QUESTION:  Is this something you could accomplish (inaudible)?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  So when it comes to things like shutting NATO’s open door or bringing NATO back to its pre-1997 positions, the answer is no.  When it comes to finding ways to build confidence, to reduce risks, to pursue arms control; to look at whether, when it comes to the positioning of weapon systems and forces or exercises on a reciprocal basis, there are steps that we can take that would strengthen collective security, the answer is yes.  We’re fully prepared to engage on all of those as we’ve discussed in detail with European partners and allies.

The question is really what is Russia actually seeking.  Is it to address in a practical way legitimate security concerns that all of us have or is it to reconstitute the Soviet empire or, short of that, to reassert a sphere of influence or, short of that, to Finlandize countries around it?  If that’s what we’re talking about, there’s not a lot to work with.

QUESTION:  What’s the impact of such a war, if it would happen, for the order in Europe?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, two things.  There is no doubt that a war would have terrible and devastating consequences, first and foremost for those immediately involved, innocent Ukrainians.  It would have consequences, of course, for Russia, including the very severe consequences that would be imposed by many countries.

But it’s also, I think, a profound challenge to the international order, because what’s at stake here is not – yes, of course, it’s Ukraine and its future, its territorial integrity, its sovereignty, its independence.  But more broadly what’s at stake are some fundamental principles that are the foundation of peace and security, principles that emerged from two world wars and a cold war, principles like one country cannot simply change the borders of another by force; that one country can’t dictate to another its choices, its policies, with whom it will associate; that one country can’t exert a sphere of influence to subjugate neighbors to its will.  Those principles are important not only in Europe, they’re important around the world.

And that’s why what’s happening now and the threat that Russia is posing, first and foremost to Ukraine but more broadly to those principles, should be of concern to countries around the world.  It’s why I went to the United Nations Security Council a few days ago to make it clear that that’s what’s at stake, and the Security Council, of course, is responsible for the maintenance of peace and security.

QUESTION:  What happens the day after it would start?  Is there sort of a game plan in —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  There is, and it’s fully coordinated among European partners, both European Union, NATO, on a bilateral basis as well.  And I think, again, we’ve been very clear that there will be a swift and united response when it comes, for example, to sanctions.  There will be a swift and united response when it comes to, depending on the exact situation, reinforcing further Ukraine’s defense.  There will be a swift and united response when it comes to reinforcing NATO and its eastern flank.

And one of the striking things here, Stefan, is that when you step back for a minute and try to put this in context, what President Putin has done over the last eight or nine years is to precipitate everything he says he wants to prevent.  And if you go back to 2014, before Russia went into Ukraine, into the Donbas and seized Crimea, favorability ratings for Russia in Ukraine among the Ukrainian people were very high, 70 percent.  Now it’s entirely reversed and he’s managed to alienate the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians against Russia.  Support for joining NATO before 2014 in Ukraine was probably 25 percent; now it’s 60 or 65 percent because of what President Putin did.

And when it comes to NATO itself, President Putin’s actions have concentrated minds and concentrated action at NATO in ways that we haven’t seen in years, including defense budgets and including the entire reinforcement of the eastern flank.  Before 2014, if you look at the evolution, the level of U.S. forces in Europe was coming down.  Armaments and equipment was also coming down after the end of the Cold War.  Everything that’s happened in terms of NATO’s reinforcement is a direct product of the aggressive actions taken by President Putin.  So this is what he says he wants to prevent; he’s precipitated it, and if he goes into Ukraine, I think it will only reinforce that.  Minds have been concentrated in Europe, across the Atlantic, and beyond in ways that they haven’t been in recent years because of Russia’s actions.

MR PRICE:  (Inaudible) final question —

QUESTION:  You’re not extremely specific on sort of the – on their target list or what – the sanction list.  Nevertheless, it is your – is it your understanding that Nord Stream 2 will be (inaudible) closed, and will the U.S. be prepared to (inaudible) its own oil supply from Russia on that list?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first, of course, our position on Nord Stream 2 is longstanding and well known.  And what I can say is – and I certainly don’t want to speak for anyone, but when asked about Nord Stream 2 in the context of Russian aggression, Chancellor Scholz said there would be a strong, united response.  I’ll let those words speak for themselves.

QUESTION:  The oil?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  And I am convinced across the board that as a result of all of the work we’ve done together – the incredibly close coordination between the United States and Germany on every aspect of this, on the diplomacy, on the response – that we will have a strong, united effort no matter what President Putin does.

QUESTION:  Including oil supply for the U.S.?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  I don’t want to get into specifics, but I can tell you that we – we will have a very strong, united response.

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much.

QUESTION:  Thank you.