Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he doesn’t expect to see any breakthroughs in the meetings with Russia this week, reiterating that while the US is prepared to listen to Moscow’s concerns, it will be hard to achieve any progress unless Russia de-escalates tensions on the border with Ukraine.
“It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
The US and Russia are set to meet on Monday in Geneva for high-stakes talks aimed at averting a war, as Russia has continued to amass troops near Ukraine’s borders. The top US diplomat disputed the notion that there was a risk of setting a precedent in which Russian President Vladimir Putin could create leverage by building up forces on the borders with neighboring countries like Ukraine.
“It’s exactly the opposite,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “First of all, why are we here? We’re here because repeatedly over the last decade, Russia has committed acts of aggression against neighbors – Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in 2014, and now the renewed threat about Ukraine today.”
“Second, there are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security,” he continued, noting that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.”
“It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions,” Blinken said.
He said the US was prepared to discuss certain measures such as arms control and the scope and scale of military exercises but stressed that they must be reciprocal with Russia. He ruled out discussions of pulling troops from eastern Europe and guaranteeing that NATO would not expand to include Ukraine.
“When it comes to the deployment of forces and troop levels, we’re not looking at troop levels. To the contrary, if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, I think it’s a very fair prospect that NATO will reinforce its positions along its eastern flank,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.”
He also said the US has been providing “significant defensive assistance to Ukraine, including as recently as the last couple of weeks.”
On Kazakhstan protests
Blinken condemned the “shoot to kill” order issued by the president of Kazakhstan Friday amid deadly protests in the central Asian nation.
“I condemn that statement, and if that’s an actual policy, condemn that policy, the ‘shoot to kill,’” he said on “State of the Union.” Speaking on ABC’s “This Week,” Blinken called for the order to be rescinded.
“Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised – economic concerns, some political concerns,” he said on ABC.
Blinken said the US has “real questions about why it was necessary to call in this organization that that Russia leads and is a part of.”
“These ought to be things that the government of Kazakhstan can handle on its own and handle in a rights-respecting way,” he said.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.