Jan 23, 2022 - World

Blinken: U.S.-Russia could still find consensus

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is seen during a news conference in Geneva.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva last week. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday there are still areas in which the U.S. and Russia may be able to find consensus, such as on arms control and the placement of missile systems in Europe, despite their standoff over Ukraine.

Why it matters: Even with those diplomatic possibilities, the secretary said the U.S. will not compromise "by one iota" on Russia's highest priority demand — freezing NATO expansion, especially for Ukraine and Georgia — which would breach the alliance's "open-door" policy.

Driving the news: During a round of Sunday show appearances, Blinken warned Russia is seeking to reestablish a "sphere of influence" to "subjugate" its neighbors to its will.

  • That violates international norms that have helped keep peace in Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said.
  • It also heightens the stakes far beyond the borders of Ukraine, the secretary argued on CNN's "State of the Union."
  • "If we allow those things to go forward and stand with impunity, then that opens a Pandora’s box that countries well beyond Europe will see and maybe decide to act on."

Between the lines: Blinken spoke ahead of a critical week for the fate of Ukraine, as Russia awaits written answers to a set of security demands that would uproot the post-Cold War international order.

  • Two weeks of intensive diplomacy, including Blinken's request for a last-minute meeting in Geneva last Friday with his Russian counterpart, have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
  • With Russian forces continuing to amass on all sides of the Ukrainian border, Blinken faced questions about whether the fruitless negotiations are simply buying the Kremlin time.
  • "Engaging in diplomacy doesn't take the word nyet out of your vocabulary," the secretary said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Go deeper: Some experts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to read the written U.S. responses with his own eyes, due to the centralized nature of the Russian system — in which one man dominates decision-making and even top diplomats may be in the dark.

  • Blinken told CNN "as we're doing it, we're building up our defense, we're building up our deterrence, to make sure that Russia understands that if it doesn’t follow the diplomatic course, if it renews its aggression, there will be very significant consequences."

The bottom line: Days after President Biden's "minor incursion" gaffe set off alarm bells in Kyiv, Blinken stressed on CNN that "a single additional Russian force" crossing the border would trigger a "swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe."

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