Blinken: Standard for lifting sanctions is an 'irreversible' Russian withdrawal In an interview with NPR, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the top U.S. diplomat, warns of the further devastation of Ukrainian cities.

Blinken sets a standard for lifting sanctions: an 'irreversible' Russian withdrawal

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken says merely stopping the invasion of Ukraine may not be enough for Russia to get relief from sanctions. He made that comment in an interview with my co-host Steve Inskeep. Blinken is a central player in the diplomatic effort responding to Russia's attack on Ukraine. And Steve spoke with him via Skype last night.


In our conversation, Blinken laid down a marker for Vladimir Putin's Russia. To get out from under the sanctions that are devastating Russia's economy, Russia must stop its invasion. But more than that, the peace must somehow be permanent, irreversible, Blinken says. There's no sign that Russia is interested and also no sign that Russian troops are remotely near their goals, which explains why Blinken said recently that people need to be ready for a lasting war.

You said, and I'll just read this, we have to be prepared, unfortunately, tragically, for this to go on for some time, meaning the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I want to explore some of the implications of that. Do we need to be prepared for the reality of the continued destruction of Ukrainian cities?

ANTONY BLINKEN: Steve, I'm afraid that we do. We've seen the brutality that Vladimir Putin has brought to this. We know his track record in Chechnya. We know the track record of what he's aided and abetted in Syria. I think we have to expect the same. And part of the reason we have to expect the same is that this has not gone according to Putin's plan. It's - he anticipated that somehow they would go into Ukraine; the Ukrainians would either somehow welcome them or at least fold their tents and move out. And, of course, exactly the opposite has happened. You've got more than 40 million Ukrainians who are standing strong in opposition to Putin, to Russia, and who will never be subjugated to Russia.

INSKEEP: But we're talking about this now going on for some time, watching this ongoing destruction for some time. How hard is it going to be to watch that destruction and continue saying no to some of the kinds of aid that President Zelenskyy is asking for?

BLINKEN: Well, let's focus on what we're saying yes to because it's been extraordinary. The support that we've provided, other countries have provided in coordination with us in terms of security assistance, the stuff that is actually working, that is getting into Ukrainian hands, that's making all the difference in them being able to defend themselves, being able to shoot down Russian planes and take out Russian tanks - that's been an extraordinary effort. And as I said, it's ongoing. We're about thanks to Congress to get another $13.5 billion, a big chunk of which will go to that effort. We're coordinating efforts around the world to get this kind of assistance in. And that's happening, and that's working. Second, we're exerting extraordinary pressure on Putin and Russia itself. One of the reasons that President Biden is going to Europe next week, going to NATO and meeting with other European leaders is to sustain that effort, sustain the effort for Ukraine and against Russia.

INSKEEP: Are you prepared to send more kinds of armaments, such as longer-range anti-aircraft missiles like the old Soviet S-300s?

BLINKEN: In short, we're looking at everything that we believe can be effective. And that's the main thing. We want to make sure that what we're providing, what others are providing can get there, get into Ukrainian hands and be used effectively.

INSKEEP: You mentioned, Secretary Blinken, the sanctions against Russia. Of course, if the war goes on for some time, the sanctions go on for some time, they begin to feel permanent. How is the world likely to be a different place if Russia is permanently unplugged from the global economy?

BLINKEN: Well, Steve, two things - first, sanctions in and of themselves are not designed to be permanent. They're a tool. And if you get the result that you're trying to achieve, the sanctions go away. And so my strong hope would be that this war gets brought to an end, that Putin stops the aggression, and then the sanctions ultimately stop. But, yes, there are certainly changes that we're seeing and changes that can be profound.

One of the changes is that Europeans are looking really hard, and not only looking but starting to act on energy diversification, on energy security and weaning themselves off of Russian oil, Russian gas. That would be a major change. One of the things we're doing is denying Russia the technology it needs to modernize its country, to modernize key industries - defense and aerospace, its high-tech sector, energy exploration. All of these things are going to have profound effects and, again, not just the immediate effects we're seeing, but increasing and growing over time.

INSKEEP: Some of these changes would seem almost irreversible at this point, Mr. Secretary. Are you still prepared to tell Russia that if the shooting stops, the sanctions can all stop, that everything can go back to the way that it was?

BLINKEN: If the war ends, Ukraine's independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty are restored, then many of the tools that we're using to get to that result - of course, that's the purpose of them. They're not designed to be permanent.

INSKEEP: But here's the part of our conversation where Blinken used the word irreversible in his own way. He set a standard for what Russia would have to do to get out from under sanctions. Blinken says Russia must not only abandon its invasion but must somehow change the situation in a way that the invasion could never happen again.

BLINKEN: We will want to make sure, they will want to make sure that anything that's done is, in effect, irreversible, that this can't happen again, that Russia won't pick up and do exactly what it's doing in a year or two years or three years.

INSKEEP: Are the United States and its European allies capable of isolating China in the way that you've isolated Russia if China were to aid Russia beyond some certain point?

BLINKEN: Well, China's already on the wrong side of history when it comes to Ukraine and the aggression being committed by Russia. The fact that it has not stood strongly against it, that it has not pronounced itself against this aggression flies in the face of China's commitments as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council responsible for maintaining peace and security. It's totally inconsistent with what China says and repeats over and over again about the sanctity of the United Nations charter and the basic principles, including the sovereignty of nations. And so we're looking to China to speak out, to speak up and to be very clear. Second, of course, if China actually provides material support in one way or another to Russia in this effort, that would be even worse. It's something we're looking very carefully at. But I think this is doing real damage to China reputationally in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, in other parts of the world - something it has to pay a lot of attention to.

INSKEEP: Now, when Blinken talks about reputation, he hints at another aspect of this war - the way that it looks to the world. Russia once seemed so effective at spreading its own story and its own disinformation. But that's been overwhelmed by images of refugees, of hospitals bombed, of civilian areas smashed in Ukraine.

BLINKEN: We're also seeing journalists in the crossfire, people doing their jobs to bring the truth to the world. We've seen a Fox team that was - had two of its members killed...


BLINKEN: ...One injured - someone I know very well. Two of his colleagues lost their lives in this attack. And another very prominent filmmaker lost his life just the other day.

INSKEEP: Do you have reason to think that Russian troops are targeting journalists?

BLINKEN: We are looking very hard at the targeting that the Russian forces are doing, including whether they are deliberately, intentionally targeting civilians, journalists, anyone else. The deliberate targeting of civilians, journalists and others would constitute a war crime. So it's something that we're very focused on.

INSKEEP: Of course, there's an information war going on here, and this too would go on for some time. The Ukrainians have been very effective in getting their message out. The United States, it would seem, has been effective in getting its message out. But let me ask about another aspect of this. How, if at all, does the United States intend to counter voices at home who have routinely repeated Russian talking points on TV?

BLINKEN: Well, Steve, happily in my job, I don't do politics. I certainly don't do domestic politics. But what we have seen is this, or at least what I've seen is this. I've spent a lot of time talking to members of Congress. There's incredibly strong bipartisan support for this effort, the effort to support Ukraine, the effort to punish Russia for what it's doing and put pressure on it. I saw that not just in Washington in the halls of Congress. I saw it recently at the Munich Security Conference, where there was a very strong delegation from Congress - bipartisan, both houses.

INSKEEP: You don't need to worry about the wing of the Republican Party that has been openly sympathetic to Putin over the years?

BLINKEN: Again, I don't do politics at home.

INSKEEP: Understood.

BLINKEN: I would just hope that as everyone looks at this, Americans and beyond, the picture is very clear. It couldn't be more clear. We have an aggressor. We have a victim. We have a country in Russia that is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a security council that came into being with the main purpose, the main mission of maintaining international peace and security, a country now that has done more than any other to blow up that international peace and security by an unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. That's what the world should be focused on because, you know, Steve, it speaks not only to Ukraine and to the suffering of its people. It actually speaks to the entire world because these basic principles that Russia is violating, that Russia is aggressing are the principles necessary to actually keep the peace, keep security, keep international stability. If we allow them to be violated with impunity, we open a Pandora's box of conflict, of confrontation, of war that we tried to close after two world wars. That's what Russia's threatening right now.

INSKEEP: Final thing, Mr. Secretary, do you have any channel that is open to Vladimir Putin right now to communicate about any way to end this war?

BLINKEN: Well, various leaders, countries have sought to communicate with him, may even remain in communication with him. Of course, the Ukrainians are talking to the Russians. We over many months offered President Putin offramps to...


BLINKEN: ...Avoid this aggression in the first place and even since the aggression has been committed. Tragically, each and every time, instead of taking it off ramp, he's pressed the accelerator. So diplomacy ultimately is going to have to be a part of the solution to this. But that really depends on Vladimir Putin engaging in meaningful diplomacy.

INSKEEP: But when I say do you have a channel, I mean the United States. Does the United States have any channel open to Putin here?

BLINKEN: There are always ways of communicating. Let me leave it at that.

INSKEEP: Secretary Anthony Blinken, thanks so much - enjoyed it.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Steve. Good to be with you.

INSKEEP: The secretary of state spoke last evening here in Washington.


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