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Deputy National Security Adviser Explains U.S. Options In Ukraine


I'm joined now by White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken. Welcome to the program.

TONY BLINKEN: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And we just heard one analyst say that direct military response to Russia's movement inside Ukraine is not going to happen. Those are his words. What would a red line be for the United States? Or is the U.S. out of the business of declaring red lines?

BLINKEN: What we're focused on is not sending troops into Ukraine, it's getting them out of Ukraine and getting the Russian troops out, getting international observers and monitors in, and having the Russians and Ukrainians deal directly with each other to resolve this problem. That's what we're focused on. I think the president was very clear about it a short while ago in his comments after the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.

BLOCK: And if diplomatic or economic pressures don't work, what then?

BLINKEN: Look, I don't want to get into hypotheticals. But let me say this, the president has been leading the effort to mobilize the international community. He spent the last few days repeatedly on the phone to world leaders to build support for the effort to condemn what Russia has done. And we've been coordinating potential action. Going forward, if Russia continues on the course that it's on, we're preparing various measures. And we're coordinating closely with allies to make sure that anything we do has a maximum impact.

BLOCK: You said you're preparing various actions. Would there be any scenario under which the United States would accept a Crimea that remains in Russian hands? In other words, going back to the pre-1954 agreement when it was ceded to Ukraine.

BLINKEN: Ukraine and its territorial integrity and sovereignty is a basic principle that the international community is standing strongly for. That's the proposition that's at stake here, and the principle that Ukrainians have to decide their own future, not us, not Russia, not Europe, not anyone else. There's a clear path forward. We've said from the outset that Russia has a clear interest and a long history with Ukraine, including Crimea.

If it has real concerns, genuine concerns, about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Crimea - and, by the way, we've seen no evidence to support any of the allegations Russia has made. But if it does have genuine concerns, there's an easy way to resolve those concerns, and it doesn't involve sending military force into Ukraine.

What it does involve is dealing directly with the Ukrainian government and having international monitors from the United Nations or the OSCE go in. Those are organizations of which Russia is a leading member. It can take part in any missions, and it can make sure that its interests are upheld.

BLOCK: When you're saying there's no evidence of those provocations, you're saying those were fabricated, ginned up by Russia to justify their action?

BLINKEN: That would appear to be the case. We've looked very hard at all of the allegations, and we found no evidence to support them.

BLOCK: What's your assessment of what President Putin's end goal is here?

BLINKEN: Look, I honestly don't know what his end goal is. I think it's very hard to assess. Again, if what we're talking about are legitimate Russian interests in Ukraine based on long-standing ties of culture, of language, economic ties, and so forth, as we've said from the outset, there is nothing in contradiction between sustaining those ties and having Ukraine come closer to Europe based on the will of its people. Indeed, a successful Ukraine that's more integrated in the international economy, that's more integrated with Europe is actually good for Russia.

And hopefully, at some point, the Russians will come to that conclusion themselves. But meanwhile, if they don't and if they persist on this course, what we're going to see, unfortunately, is the increasing isolation of Russia, which is not in Russia's interest and, I would say, not in President Putin's interest.

BLOCK: Tony Blinken, I want to have you respond to comments today from Senator John McCain in a speech to Jewish leaders. He said the situation in Ukraine is - and these are his words - the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength anymore. How do you respond to that?

BLINKEN: Look, I'm not going to get into the politics of this other than to say that what we've seen in recent months and in recent days is President Obama mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine and to deal with the challenge that Russia is posing in Ukraine. He has brought world leaders together. He's brought the G7 together. He's brought NATO together. He's coordinating closely. It's very important that when we talk about taking action, that we actually do it in a smart way, that we bring others along. That's the best way to maximize the impact of what we're doing.

BLOCK: That's White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken. Thanks very much.

BLINKEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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