Response to Russian Invasion Will be ‘Severe’; Response to Other Aggression Will be ‘Calibrated’

Patrick Goodenough | January 24, 2022 | 4:14am EST
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands ahead of their talks in Geneva on Friday. (Photo by Alex Brandon / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shake hands ahead of their talks in Geneva on Friday. (Photo by Alex Brandon / Pool / AFP via Getty Images)

( – As the Biden administration continues to lay out its stance on potential Russian aggression towards Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday used two distinct adjectives – “severe” and “calibrated” – apparently differentiating between the types of Western response likely in the case of various forms of belligerence.

In the event of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the result will be a “swift,” “united,” and “severe” response from the U.S. and its allies, Blinken said on three news shows on Sunday.

But in response to Russian aggression of a different form – for example a cyber or “hybrid” attack, or an indirect attempt to bring down the government in Kyiv – the reaction will be “swift,” “united,” and “calibrated.”

Blinken used the same language on CNN’s “State of the Union,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and CBS’ “Face the Nation.”


His assertion that a Western response would be calibrated to the degree of seriousness of any Russian action comes after President Biden drew criticism last week for suggesting that “a minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would likely see NATO allies bickering over how to respond.

Given the intensive U.S. diplomacy designed precisely to build a unified front, the White House moved quickly to dismiss any suggestion in Biden’s remarks of differences among allies.

Two days later, Blinken held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, and while briefing reporters afterwards made the small talking-point shift, using the word “calibrated” to describe the type of Western reaction Russia could expect in response to “aggression short of military action.”

Underlining concerns about suspected Russian attempts to undermine Ukraine short of an overt attack, Britain at the weekend warned of an alleged plot to set up a pro-Moscow puppet regime in Ukraine.

The Foreign Office said the U.K. has intelligence that Russia was considering former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev as a “potential candidate” as it looks “to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv.”

It named four other former Ukrainian politicians – allies of former President Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia after the 2014 uprising – and charged that some “have contact with Russian intelligence officers currently involved in the planning for an attack on Ukraine.”

Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the allegations as “disinformation” and “nonsense,” Murayev called them groundless, and one of the other four Ukrainians named, former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, told the TASS news agency the claims were “baloney.” (Azarov has lived in exile in Russia for years and is wanted in Ukraine on allegations of treason.)

Response ‘in writing’

Russia last month published proposed draft “security guarantees,” calling among other things for an end to any further expansion of NATO, and for a halt to deployment of weaponry or holding of military exercises near its territory.

Moscow has been pushing for a U.S. response to its proposals “in writing,” and until now the administration has demurred.

But after his talks with Lavrov on Friday, Blinken said it was agreed that Russia would within days be provided with a U.S. or Western position “in writing.”

“I told him that following the consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week,” he told reporters. “And we agreed to further discussions after that.”

In his NBC interview on Sunday, Blinken made the point again.

“The Russians have put concerns on the table that they say they have about their security,” he said. “We’ve exchanged some ideas. We’ll be sharing with the Russians, in writing, not only our concerns but some ideas for a way forward that could enhance mutual security on a reciprocal basis.”

Host Chuck Todd asked why he thought President Vladimir Putin was insisting on a written response.

“As part of our diplomacy, we meet with people, we talk to people, we put things in writing all the time,” Blinken replied. “In this case, we’re doing it in full consultation with allies and partners, and it’s a way of being as clear as you can, putting ideas on the table.”

On “State of the Union,” CNN’s Dana Bash asked Blinken if written responses to Russia’s questions would include, for example, a commitment that Ukraine won’t join NATO anytime soon, or that the U.S. won’t deploy strategic weapons in Ukraine.

Blinken said there were areas where mutual concerns could be addressed, for instance those relating to arms control and the placement of missile systems.

But, he said he had made clear to Lavrov that “there are certain basic principles that we’re not by one iota going to compromise on, including, for example, NATO’s ‘open door’ – the right of countries to choose with whom they’ll associate, which alliances they’ll join.”

Biden said during his press conference last Wednesday that Ukraine joining NATO “in the near term is not very likely.”

He alluded both to reforms expected of NATO aspirants (“much more work they have to do in terms of democracy and a few other things going on there”) and to the difficulties of getting the consensus required within the alliance for decisions on new members (“whether or not the major allies in the West would vote to bring Ukraine in right now.”)

Wary of Russia’s firm opposition, Germany, France, and several other allies have for 15 years blocked bids by both Ukraine and Georgia to be put on a formal path to NATO membership.

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