Blinken Sees 'Two Paths' in US-Russia Talks: Dialogue/Diplomacy or Confrontation/Consequences

By Susan Jones | January 10, 2022 | 4:25am EST
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - The United States is not planning to pull U.S. troops out of Eastern Europe, nor has it ruled out Ukraine's future membership in NATO, as Russia has demanded, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN's "State of the Union" with Jake Tapper on Sunday.

"Neither of those is on the table, Jake," Blinken said.

"There are two paths before us," Blinken said on the eve of talks between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva.

He told CNN on Sunday:

There's a path of dialogue and diplomacy to try to resolve some of these differences and avoid a confrontation. The other path is -- is confrontation and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression on Ukraine.

We're about to test the proposition about which path President Putin is prepared to take. We have important conversations between us starting -- starting tomorrow, as well as -- at NATO, as well as at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

We're going to listen to Russia's concerns. They're going to have to listen to our concerns. If they are proceeding in good faith, we think we can make progress in addressing concerns on both sides that would reduce tensions and deal with improving security.

We will do that in close coordination with European allies and partners. We have made very clear to Russia that there's going to be nothing about Europe without Europe. But, ultimately, this is up to President Putin to decide which path he's going to follow.

The talks taking place on Monday will focus on Russia’s "unprovoked military buildup along Ukraine’s borders and our joint efforts to encourage Russia to choose diplomacy and de-escalate," the State Department said last week.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is leading the U.S. delegation at Monday's talks. On Tuesday, Sherman will travel to Brussels "for consultations with NATO leadership, NATO allies and EU officials," the State Department said.

On Wednesday, Sherman will take part in a NATO-Russia Council Meeting. And the U.S. diplomatic effort will continue on Thursday, at a meeting of the OSCE -- the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Tapper pressed Blinken on what concessions the U.S. is prepared to make: "What about moving heavy U.S. weaponry out of Poland, moving it further west? Or what about moving missiles? What about limiting the scope of U.S. military exercise? Are any of those on the table?" Tapper asked:

"I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming -- in the coming week," Blinken said.

We're going to be able to put things on the table. The Russians will do the same, both directly with us at NATO, at the OSCE. And we will see if they're grounds for moving forward.

But here's what I can say. First, any progress that we're going to make is going to have to happen on a reciprocal basis, by which I mean, if the United States and Europe are taking steps to address some of Russia's concerns, Russia will have to do the same thing.

Second, nothing's happening without Europe. And, third, 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.

Blinken said the U.S. has watched Russia commit "acts of aggression" against its neighbors "over the last decade" and up to the present moment:

He also raised "the principle that one country can't change the borders of another by force; the principle that one country can't dictate to another its foreign policy...and its choices, including with whom it will associate; the principle that one country can't exert a sphere of influence to subjugate its neighbors.

"All of that is on the table," Blinken said.

That's exactly why not only are we standing up, but we have rallied countries -- not just in Europe, but indeed beyond, to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated, will not stand. So, the choice is Russia.

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. We have done that in the past. We did it with the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that, unfortunately, Russia has violated and the previous administration pulled out of.

We have done it in the context of the conventional forces in Europe agreements, including, for example, having confidence-building and transparency and other measures put in place on the way exercises take place. And those are certainly things that can be revisited if, if Russia is serious about doing it.

Blinken said the U.S. as well as the G7, the European Union and NATO have all made it clear that there will be "massive consequences" for a Russian invasion of Ukraine -- "economic, financial, other measures," Blinken said. "I'm not going to telegraph the details, but I think Russia has a pretty good idea of the kinds of things it would face if it renews its aggression."

President Biden last month said he won't send U.S. troops to fight in Ukraine: "The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now,” Biden said.

However, the Biden administration "will continue to provide and supply Ukraine with defensive military equipment to be able to defend itself," Blinken said on Sunday. "And it's also clear that, in the event of further Russian aggression, NATO is going to have to further reinforce its eastern flank."

Blinken said he "can't tell" whether a Russian invasion of Ukraine is "likely or not."

"I can tell you this. We're committed to dialogue and diplomacy to see if we can resolve these challenges peacefully. That is by far the preferable course. It's by far the most responsible course.

"But, equally, we're prepared to deal very resolutely with Russia if it chooses confrontation, if it chooses aggression. We will see. It is now up to President Putin to decide which path he wants to follow.

"We're prepared again, starting this week, to talk through all of this, to hear their concerns, for them to hear ours, to see if we can make progress."

Russia's TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as saying: "The United States needs to be prepared to make compromises. Russia has come here with a clear position, which contains a number of aspects that, in my view, are easy to understand and are formulated so clearly, particularly at the top level, that it is impossible to deviate from our approaches."

Russia is demanding an end to NATO's eastward expansion as well as an end to military exercises close to its borders.

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