Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
QUESTION: Hey, Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for doing this. I had a question basically about how President Biden is approaching this moment, this kind of perilous moment. I think we’ve – you mentioned what people back home are hearing, and I think they do hear from some lawmakers that they feel like President Biden is acting too scared of Putin, that in some of the moves on the jets, for example, that he’s being too cautious. And President Biden has this long history dealing with Putin on this issue of Ukraine and in general. So I’m wondering if you could speak at all to how he views Putin, like, as sort of an adversary in this moment and if that’s informing any of that caution that we’re seeing.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure, thanks. Let me say a couple of things. First of all, there may be a natural tendency sometimes to look at something that we’re not doing, which of course jumps over what we are doing. And let me start there because it’s important.
Well before the aggression that Russia committed took place, we saw this coming; we worked very hard to try to keep it on a diplomatic track, dialogue, avert this aggression. But even as we were doing that, we were preparing for the possibility and, increasingly, the likelihood that Russia would reject diplomacy and dialogue and pursue the aggression. And so well before they went in, over the previous year, President Biden provided more security assistance to Ukraine in that year than in any previous year. And as a result, the Ukrainians had in their hands when the Russians came in the very kind of equipment that has been incredibly effective in dealing with planes attacking from the air, tanks firing from the ground, missiles and rockets, et cetera. All of that stuff – the anti-air equipment, the anti-armor equipment – much of that was already there because he had made that commitment and followed through on it.
Similarly, we said for months that if Russia committed an act – this act of aggression, there would be massive consequences, including unprecedented economic sanctions. And I think some folks thought, well, that sounds good but what are we really going to see if it happens. I think we’ve demonstrated that when we said there would be massive consequences, there were, there have been. As a result of these sanctions, done in an unprecedented way in terms of their coordination with other countries, we’re basically seeing Russia’s economy in a freefall. The ruble is through the floor. Russia’s credit rating is junk status. The stock market’s been closed for three weeks. We’ve seen an exodus of virtually every leading company, brand, firm from Russia over the last few weeks such that basically in the space of a few weeks, 30 years of Russia opening to the world and creating greater economic opportunity for our people has vanished as a result of President Putin’s terrible actions.
So all of that’s happening, and of course we remain the leading provider of humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians, whether in Ukraine or those who have been forced to flee. So when it comes to the things that are making the Ukrainians most effective in dealing with this onslaught from Russia, we’ve been providing it, and you heard the President yesterday describe in some detail another $800 million in security assistance and everything that that actually translates into. So that’s really important.
The Pentagon, when they looked at this, we – there’s a lot of talk about the airplanes. And by the way, President Zelenskyy is, as I think we’ve all seen, extraordinary and his leadership is both inspiring and genuinely heroic because he’s remained right in harm’s way leading his people. And if I’m in his shoes, I’m going to be doing – I’m going to be asking for everything that I can possibly get. I totally understand that. We have to make judgments and determinations about what makes the most sense when it comes to the airplanes, for example. The Pentagon made a determination that these would actually not be the most effective things that Ukraine could get, that what is effective is exactly what we’re doing and doing even more of, which are these anti-air and anti-armor systems that are actually shooting down planes and destroying tanks and armored vehicles. That’s what’s working.
Second, I’d just say this: We obviously have an incentive in trying to end this war as quickly as possible, not expand it, including to places beyond Ukraine. And at the end of the day, all of us, every single one of us, except for one person, can – has the freedom to say oh, we should do this, that, or the other thing, and in very good faith, but only one person bears the ultimate responsibility for making that decision, for deciding, and with the responsibility of what is in the interest of the United States and our people, and that’s the President. The buck stops there. So I can advise something; Senator X can advise something, Congressman Y, a newspaper columnist, whatever. But ultimately the responsibility, the burden of the decision falls on the President, and he is best placed to make the judgment about what’s ultimately in the interest of the American people. That’s how he’s looking at it.
So we’re determined to support Ukraine, and we are. We’re determined to exert extraordinary pressure on Russia, and we are. But the most important thing is he’s got to do all that, making a judgment about what’s fundamentally in our interest, and that’s how he’s proceeded.