Jan 5, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Blinken warns Russia: No progress with "gun pointed at Ukraine's head"

Annalena Baerbock and Tony Blinken
Photo: Mandel Ngan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Germany's top diplomats issued a joint warning to Russia ahead of high-level security talks in Europe next week, pledging "massive" economic consequences if Vladimir Putin proceeds with an invasion of Ukraine.

Why it matters: With Russia massing troops on the Ukrainian border and questions swirling about how far Germany is prepared to go to deter Putin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented a united front at their first press conference together in Washington.

The big picture: President Biden told Putin last week that there are two paths for dealing with the Ukraine crisis — a path of "diplomacy" or a path of "deterrence," which would entail sanctions and more military support to NATO's eastern flank.

  • Top U.S. and Russian officials will meet on Jan. 10 for a "strategic stability dialogue," which Blinken said would only cover bilateral issues.
  • That will be followed by meetings of the NATO-Russia Council on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Jan. 13.
  • Russia has stressed that it needs to see "concrete" and swift results in response to its security demands, which include legal guarantees that NATO will not expand to the east.

What they're saying: "I believe that if Russia is serious about pursuing diplomacy and de-escalation, that there are things that all of us can do relatively quickly to build greater confidence and to reduce some of the concerns that we have," Blinken said at the press conference.

  • "It's very hard to make actual progress in any of these areas in an atmosphere of escalation and threat, with a gun pointed to Ukraine's head," he added.
  • Blinken condemned Russia's "false narrative" that Ukraine is seeking to provoke a conflict, telling reporters: "That’s a little bit like the fox saying it had no choice but to attack the henhouse because somehow the hens presented a threat."

Between the lines: Blinken and Baerbock were both asked repeatedly about Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline that would circumvent Ukraine and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany.

  • The Biden administration opposes the pipeline and views it as a potential geopolitical weapon, but opted not to impose sanctions last spring to block its completion, citing the need for good relations with Germany.
  • "Some may see Nord Stream 2 as leverage that Russia can use against Europe; in fact, it’s leverage for Europe to use against Russia," Blinken argued. He said it would be "difficult" to see the pipeline becoming operational if Russia renews its aggression toward Ukraine.

Baerbock opposed Nord Stream 2 on Germany's campaign trail, but now governs in a coalition whose leading party supports the pipeline.

  • She said the new German government wants to take "effective measures" on Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine, but did not specify whether the project would be suspended.

What to watch: As Europe's biggest economic power and Russia's second-largest trade partner, Germany plays a crucial role in managing EU-Russia relations. It's not yet clear what the new government's approach to the Kremlin will be.

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