Antony J. Blinken
On Transatlantic Cooperation and the Crisis in Ukraine
delivered 5 March 2015, Hertie School, Berlin, Germany
[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]
Dean [Henrik Enderlein], thank you for a wonderful introduction. Even if a little exaggerated, it was deeply appreciated. And Wolfgang [Ischinger]...itís a great pleasure to have this excuse to get together with you and to see you. We go back to the 1990s when I served in the Clinton Administration and Wolfgang was performing truly heroic service, not only for his country but for the entire international community in the Balkans, among other places. And I remember that very well. And in fact, I remember dining in your home with one of my predecessors in this job, Strobe Talbott, some -- some years ago. Since then weíve had the great opportunity to work together on other things including Wehrkunde. So Iím grateful to -- to have you here.
You mentioned, Dean, this famous photo of the bin Laden raid, when a number of us were in the Situation Room of the White House, and the famous photo with the President, the Vice President, Secretary Clinton, and others. And I was in the background of that...photograph.
We have a television show that I think is broadcast in Germany occasionally, The David Letterman Show. And a couple of nights after that photograph was taken and published, David Letterman had as a guest the then-Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen. And he pulled up the photograph and he pointed at me in the background and he said to Mullen, ďWho is that guy? He obviously doesnít belong in the photograph. Did he just come in off the tour of the White House?Ē1 And Admiral Mullen, my great friend, just laughed, and didnít say anything. So I have fond memories of that putting me in my -- in my place.
Iím -- I'm grateful today also to be joined by some colleagues from Washington, including our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and also a great embassy team, including our DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission], Jim Melville, who is doing a remarkable job. Ambassador [John B.] Emerson is back in the United States, otherwise heíd be here today. But Iím grateful to have Jim and the team with me.
And this has been the tail end now of a very productive trip thatís taken place over the course of the last week.
Youíll -- You'll understand that Americans sometimes are accused of not understanding Europe or its geography by the itinerary of the trip: It started in Paris; it went to Moldova; then it went to London; then to Berlin; and tomorrow to Kyiv. So that doesnít make a lot of sense, but somehow weíve pulled it together.
And itís been a very interesting trip. A lot of focus on Ukraine, which is what I want to talk about today -- but every other issue under the sun. And here in Germany in particular, whatís striking to me, especially thinking back even to the very productive work we did in the 1990s, is that at no time in my experience has the relationship with Germany and the United States covered more issues around the world, covered them in a deeper fashion, and covered them in a more collaborative fashion than weíre doing today. It is truly extraordinary and I have to tell you the United States is grateful for this partnership. President Obama is particularly grateful for his partnership with Chancellor Merkel. I know the Secretary of State feels the same way about his partnership with the Foreign Minister.
Iím very honored to be here at the Hertie School. And it has literally become a mainstay of European policy analysis in a very short period of time. (And Dean and I were talking about this.) This is becoming, in our parlance, the Kennedy School of...Germany, and thatís extraordinary.
In many ways, I think what weíre seeing here is, in your great diversity, in your engagement, almost a -- a practical symbol of the thriving, transatlantic community. Itís a community whose essential character is defined not by a single language or culture or religion or ethnicity, but by our common embrace of basic values: democracy, the rule of law, the dignity of every human being. These are values that we strive to live up to. We donít always succeed, but weíre constantly trying.
And these are values that are being tested right now as Russian aggression engulfs Eastern Ukraine and imperils the hope of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. This crisis that we face in Ukraine today not only challenges this great European construction project. In my judgment -- and this is why we care so much about it -- it also threatens the governing principles of the international order that we all have a stake in defending.
If you go back 14 months, people took to the streets in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine to demand an end to corruption and to insist that their leaders make good on a promise they had just broken to give Ukraine a European future. Thatís what was happening on the [Euro]maidan. These were not anarchists. These were not fascists. These were regular citizens -- students, business owners, veterans, grandmothers. The government responded with violence, with beatings, with snipers that killed more than a hundred people.
Working with Germany, working with France, working with the United Kingdom, the United States helped to broker talks between President [Viktor] Yanukovych and the opposition, and also with Russia. And they led to a deal that would have ended the violence, allowed Yanukovych to stay on for some period of time until elections could take place. But Yanukovych fled, having forfeited his legitimacy, and indeed lost the support of his own party. Western-oriented reformers filled the void -- pursuant to the constitution and with the overwhelming support of Yanukovychís party -- to try and make good on the promise of the Maidan.
President Putin saw Ukraine slipping from Russian influence. He manufactured a reverse Maidan in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, inventing separatism. There was almost nothing spontaneous or indigenous about it. And so even as Ukraine began building a peaceful, democratic, independent nation on 93 percent of its territory, Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine suffered under a reign of aggression and violence. Today, Crimea remains under illegal occupation and human rights abuses are the norm, not the exception, for many at risk groups: Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians who wonít give up their passports, lesbian and gay citizens, and others.
And of course in eastern Ukraine, itís true, citizens there before the crisis wanted more direct control over their daily lives; and they wanted respect for Russian culture and Russian language. But think about it. Before the crisis there was no violence in eastern Ukraine. The government was not abusing the fundamental rights of its citizens. Indeed, ethnic Russians in the Donbass enjoyed more rights and freedoms than most ethnic Russians in Russia.
Moscow and self-appointed separatist leaders who were Russian national[ists] manufactured a crisis, broke the peace, and unleashed what fast became a reign of terror:
So thatís whatís largely happened over the past year on one side of the equation. What has been the response from Kyiv?
Well, despite the conflict, the government has worked very hard to forge a new and better future. It signed the Association Agreement with the European Union. It held free and fair elections, not once but twice under siege and producing, for whatever its deficiencies, probably the best government that Ukraine has had since its independence. Itís been working to undertake deep and comprehensive economic and political reforms.
These include laws to enhance transparency in public procurement; to reduce the government inefficiency and corruption; to clean up Ukraineís energy sector; to make the banking system more transparent, and measures to improve the climate for business and attract foreign investment; to create a new anti-corruption agency; to strengthen the prosecutor generalís office. And today as we speak, the Rada is also moving forward on political decentralization to give Ukraineís regions more authority in advance of local elections that, under the Minsk Implementation Plan, are to be held in October. So the Ukrainians are trying despite the incredibly difficult environment in which theyíre living.
What has our response been? The United States, Germany, our European partners? Well, throughout weíve tried to do four things. Weíve tried to support Ukraine with economic assistance, security assistance, and other support. Weíve worked to reassure our NATO allies who have been deeply concerned by Russiaís actions in Ukraine. We have sought to impose costs on Russia for its actions in Ukraine. And we have worked to pursue diplomacy, which remains the only sustainable answer to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
In terms of support for Ukraine, as you know, there have been IMF [International Monetary Fund] packages worth well over 20 billion dollars to help keep reform on track because theyíre conditioned; to keep the borders protected, the energy section functioning, the economy afloat. The United States itself has provided recently one billion dollars in a loan guarantee with another billion on the way if the reforms continue. We in the United States have worked to help Ukraine defend itself with more than 120 million dollars in security assistance, including things like protective vests, night vision goggles, counter-battery radars, explosive ordnance, disposal robots, and so on.
In terms of our reassurance to NATO, we've worked very closely with our key partners -- investing money, but also working to create a virtually constant land, sea, and air presence in the front line states since the crisis erupted. We impose costs on Russia -- which Iíll come back to -- to try and convince Putin to change course. And let me be very clear about this because itís important. The purpose of that response was not to weaken Russia, was not to foment a Color Revolution, was not to topple Vladimir Putin; but simply to persuade Russia to cease its aggression in Ukraine.
Now as you all know very very well, competing narratives have emerged between Russia and the United States and Europe and the West about whatís happened over the last 15 or 20 years and what our intentions are -- and are not. And thereís clearly a Russian narrative that we are out to diminish Russia; weíre out to encircle it; weíre out to contain it; and weíre out to, as I said, even to foment a color revolution. And I understand, looking at things from a Russian perspective, that certain things have happened over the last 20 years that could feed that perception. Arguably, NATO enlargement could. I would argue that it should be seen in another way but I understand how Russians can see that; pulling out of the ABM [Anti Ballistic Missile] Treaty -- I certainly understand how that could create such an impression in Russia.
But the fact is over the last 20 years we collectively in the United States and in Europe have tried to do just the opposite. Weíve tried to bring Russia in. Weíve tried to integrate Russia into the international system. We invited [them] to join the Partnership for Peace in 1994; the Council of Europe in 1996; the NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1999[7?]; the Charter for European Security, the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], again in 1999; and most recently, President Obama was Russiaís greatest champion to get into the World Trade Organization. And of course in the United States alone weíve spent over 20 billion dollars since 1991 in support to Russia for non-proliferation, for the economy, for free media, and so forth.
So itís true -- we have these competing and different narratives, but from our perspective we have sought very hard and strongly to bring Russia in. Wolfgang will remember this well. The first Munich Security Conference that our Administration was able to take part in in 2009 was the one that Vice President Biden attended. And it was at that conference in February 2009 that he gave what was really the first foreign policy speech of the Obama Administration and set out the reset policy with Russia. And he made very clear that we sought to strengthen our foundation of cooperation with Russia, which had eroded in the previous years.
And thatís exactly what we did. And there were some very concrete, important results; including the work that we did on the New START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] Agreement; including work that we did together in Afghanistan; including something that lasts to this day, real cooperation in working to convince Iran to foreswear nuclear weapons. And we were, I think, hopeful that we could move the relationship forward in a concrete way, that advanced our interests and advanced Russiaís interests and advanced Europeís interests.
But itís interesting -- what got the headlines from that speech was the reset. What some people missed in the speech was the Vice President saying very clearly, even as we pursue a reset with Russia, we have certain basic principles upon which we will not compromise. We do not accept the proposition that spheres of influence are a relevant way of doing business in the 21st century, and we stand strongly for the proposition that a democratic country has the right to choose its own future, and to choose with whom it will associate. And we wonít compromise on that.2
And itís interesting now, thinking about that in -- in retrospect and everything thatís happened, it turns out that that piece of the speech was as prescient and maybe even more prescient, unfortunately, than the reset piece.
Finally, as I said, in terms of our approach to the problem, we have worked to sustain diplomacy because we do not believe thereís a military solution to the conflict. Weíve repeatedly tried to give President Putin what we call an off-ramp. When youíre driving down the highway and there are exits we call them off-ramps. Unfortunately, each time we've worked to give him an off-ramp, heís pressed the accelerator and gone right past it.
So where does that leave us today? I think the efforts that weíve undertaken together have produced some success. They created time and space for the elections that I talked about to take place in an independent Ukraine, to allow Ukraine to sign the Accession Agreement with the European Union, which was one of the causes of the crisis in the first place.
And in my judgment at least, whatís happened to date has been a profound strategic loss for Russia that will become more and more clear over time. Why do I say that?
Well, first, Russia has, and Putin has in effect lost 93 percent of Ukraine. It is now more united and more Western-oriented than ever before. And the anger and indeed even hatred directed at Russia is something that will take, unfortunately, a long time to overcome.
Russiaís actions in Ukraine have reenergized NATO in a way we havenít seen in many years.
Theyíve also energized Europeís efforts to diversify its energy supply to end its dependence on Russia.
And of course, maybe most significantly, the Russian economy is in a freefall because of the sanctions, because of oil prices declining dramatically, and because of mismanagement of the economy that was taking place well before the crisis.
A record 151 billion dollars in capital has fled the country over the last year. Foreign direct investment has basically dried up. The ruble is at an all-time low despite Russia spending 100 billion dollars in reserves trying to defend it. Russiaís credit -- credit rating is at what we call ďjunkĒ status. The economy, which had been growing at a little over two percent before the crisis, is predicted to fall into recession this year. The sanctions that weíve designed, including particularly the sanctions on energy technology, are going to deny Russia the sophisticated technology it needs to exploit, going into the future, harder to reach energy sources. Inflationís running at 15 percent across the country. Food prices are up 40 percent. And unfortunately, this is having the effect of hurting average Russians.
Throughout all of this we have remained united -- the United States and Europe -- despite Putinís best efforts to divide us. And thatís been maybe our greatest source of strength. So thatís on the positive side of the ledger.
On the negative side is the reality that the conflict continues. And instead of working to end it, unfortunately, at least up until very recently, Russia has been continuing to fuel it.
In part, I think whatís going on is this: Precisely because President Putin doesnít have an economic card to play with his people, because he canít deliver for them economically, the one card he has left is the nationalist card. So it works in the short term. It distracts people. And you see that in his popularity and approval ratings. But the problem with playing the nationalist card is you have to keep playing it because the moment you stop, people start to look up and look around and realize that things arenít going so well. And thatís a very dangerous dynamic to be in, not only for Russia and Putin, but also for us, because how do you break out of it? How do you create incentives for Russia and for President Putin to stop the cycle of provocations that he needs to sustain his support at home? And thatís something weíre grappling with right now.
Second on the down side of the ledger is the terrible effects that the ongoing conflict is having in Ukraine itself. The human toll is significant. 1.7 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee from their homes and over 6,000 lives have been lost. The Ukrainian economy is right on the edge. Ukraine is spending money that it does not have on defense. Itís lost, for now, the Donbass, a part of its economy and that is, as you know, the manufacturing base and the export-driving base of the economy. Thatís been taken out of the picture. And when thereís a conflict going on, foreign investment is hard to attract because people donít want to invest into that kind of uncertainty.
So weíve been compelled to do everything we can in the United States and Germany, in Europe, the international financial institutions, to sustain Ukraine economically; and thatís imposing a cost on us.
So where do we go from here? Itís a first imperative that we do everything we can to end the conflict in the Donbass and restore Ukraineís sovereignty and territorial integrity. And thatís why the efforts of Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande in Minsk on February 12th to try again to end the fighting in Ukraineís east are so important and why we so strongly support them.
The Minsk package of agreements -- September 5th of last year, September 19th, and the February 12th implementing agreement -- offer the promise but not the certainty of peace, of disarmament, of political normalization, of decentralization in eastern Ukraine, and the return of Ukrainian state sovereignty and control over its territories and borders.
This package, if itís implemented, represents a fair deal, brokered and agreed to by all sides. Russia agreed to it. Ukraine agreed to it. The separatists agreed to it. The international community stands behind it. It needs to be implemented. And the critical elements of that implementation include a complete ceasefire in all parts of eastern Ukraine. That has not yet happened.
They include full and unfettered access over the whole conflict zone, including separatist-held territories for the OSCE and the monitors that they employ. It has to include a full pull-back of heavy weapons -- Ukrainian, Russian, separatist, monitored, and verified by the OSCE; the return of hostages; the removal from Ukraine of all foreign forces and weapons; and ultimately, and most critically, the restoration of Ukraineís international border. Because unless that happens, and until that happens, Russia will always have, and President Putin will always have, the possibility to turn up the dial any time he wants -- sending weapons in, sending men in, material in, and reigniting the conflict. So the critical piece, which is the last piece in the implementation plan, is getting the border back under control, giving Ukraine sovereignty over its border with Russia.
If Russia and the separatists it controls make good on these and other commitments, we can and we will start to roll back the sanctions that have been imposed on them. On the other hand, if they donít, or if they take further aggressive action, we will increase those sanctions and that pressure. The choice is clear and itís up to President Putin.
Let me conclude with this. Why does any of this matter? Why does it matter to us? Why should it matter to you? Well, in the first instance, in the United States our concern for Ukraine is about helping a European state meet its democratic aspirations and helping to forge a Europe that is more whole, free, and at peace. If Ukraine is not whole, if all of its people are not free, and if itís not at peace, then in a sense Europe is not either..
But even more than that, it is about defending the global rules-based system that we are working together to build. We all have a stake in upholding those rules -- that borders and the territorial integrity of the democratic state cannot be changed by force. If that rule does not stand, countries around the world may presume that their interests too can be advanced at the barrel of a gun.
Another principle and rule thatís at stake -- that it is the inherent right of citizens in a democracy to make their countryís choices and to determine its future -- not any outside force or country, not the United States, not Europe, not Russia. If not, if we donít stand up for that rule, large states will be given a free pass to bully their neighbors into submission.
Another principle, linguistic nationalism -- that whoever speaks Russian is Russian, should not be allowed to be resurrected. If not, it will be open season on aggression, on conflict, and on chaos.
And finally, responsible countries must live up to their international commitments. And this is particularly, and in a very interesting way, resonant in the Ukraine crisis.
As some of you will remember, and as Wolfgang and I know from our direct experience, when the Soviet Union dissolved, it left several successor states that inherited nuclear weapons: Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine. And we worked very closely together during that period of time to convince those successor states to give up the nuclear weapons they had inherited. And in the case of Ukraine, the Ukrainians said weíll do it, but we want guarantees for our territorial integrity and our sovereignty. And three guarantors stood up and said youíve them: the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia.
Now, Russia has in effect torn up that solemn commitment that it made, and at a time when weíre trying to get the North Koreans to give up the nuclear weapons they have, and at this very moment working to convince Iran to forswear nuclear weapons -- what does that say to them? What would it say to countries around the world who we want not to have nuclear weapons or to give up the weapons they have and who may understandably seek some basic assurances from us -- what does it say to them when in the case of Ukraine, those assurances were blatantly disregarded and trampled on by one of the assuring states, in this case Russia? It sets a terrible precedent for everything that weíre trying to achieve.
So I think whatís at stake here is, on the one hand the European construction project and everything thatís gone into that, but even more, even more, rules that are central to an international system of peace, security, prosperity, and freedom. We have, I believe, a collective responsibility to uphold those rules, and thatís what weíre trying to do in the case of Ukraine.
Just as this crisis reminds us why our transatlantic alliance is so important, I think it also reminds us of why it is strong. Throughout the decades its resilience has been tested in war; itís been deepened in peace; and itís been energized by the ingenuity and the talent of new generations of Atlanticists like, I suspect, many of the people in this room.
So as you finish your studies and you think about what you want to do next, I only hope that youíll deepen your engagement in these issues and continue the work that many of us have started, to build the foundation of peace, freedom, security, and prosperity that we hope more than anything else will be our common future.
Thank you very much.
[Text below not authenticated by AmericanRhetoric.com]
Moderator: Thank you so much for your speech. Iím just skimming through the Twitter feed and the way the debate is being reacted to this, and Deputy Secretary has accepted a few questions. So I will actually ask the first question and then the next question in the room will go to a Hertie student. So be preparing that question.
My first reaction to that very powerful, a very transatlantic speech where itís clear that you pointed out the extent to which Ukraine belongs to Europe, and that would be my first question. Does Ukraine belong to what is the European Union today? Should it belong there?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Itís up to its people. It is a choice for Ukrainians to make. I think what we saw is that a majority of the Ukrainians wanted that future and their leader at the time said he would make good on that desire and he gave every indication up until the last minute, last year, that he would sign, actually the year before, right at the end of the year, that he would sign the Association Agreement with the European Union in response to the aspiration of what seemed to be the majority of Ukrainians. And in fact it was the fact at the very last minute he did an about face that helped fuel the Maidan protests.
So my sense is, this [the Association Agreement] is the desire of the Ukrainian people. And as I said itís their choice. Itís not Europeís choice. Itís not Americaís choice and itís not Russiaís choice. Itís their [the Ukrainiansí] choice provided of course they can meet the requirements of membership. And thereís a lot to be done there.
Now in fairness, and as I also suggested, there clearly are communities of people in the east of the country who have deep and understandable and long time affinities for Russia. Ethnic Russians but I think also Ukrainians who have deep ties of language, of culture, of history, who want to make sure that those ties remain and are respected and indeed are strengthened. That is totally consistent with a European future as well for Ukraine. Arguably, maybe we should have done more work before the effort to sign the Association Agreement was done to show that these things were compatible. But the bottom line is, I believe that itís up to the Ukrainian people, and theyíve been pretty clear about where their future lies.
Moderator: Thank you. Letís open the floor and go here, please. Weíre getting a microphone for you. There is a rule. I am very strict on rules. Rule number one, say your name. Rule number two, only one sentence.
Question: My name is Gabriel. Iím a student from Mexico.
My question regarding nature of the broader public opinion in Russia in this crisis. I wonder to what extent could the domestic pressure on President Putinís government turn the course of action of the Russian government, because I do not understand how public opinion in Europe and in Russia can differ so much on the issue of whatís going on in Ukraine.
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Itís a great question. Let me start the answer by saying that two days ago Rossiya published a piece that was illustrated and this is what the Russian people are reading every day or listening to every day. And the piece said that the new Ukrainian currency would feature a picture of Adolf Hitler and showed what this currency would look like.
Now we can laugh about that in a kind of tragic way, but thatís just a tiny example of the extraordinary propaganda machine that President Putin has unfortunately done a masterful job in building and that the Russian people are subjected to every day.
If you look at public polling in Russia, for example, throughout the crisis huge majorities of Russians, 80-90 percent, didnít believe that there were any Russians in Ukraine despite very compelling evidence to the contrary. And itís very hard if any of us were fed a steady diet of this propaganda not to be persuaded by it.
Meanwhile you have most recently with the assassination of Mr. Nemtsov, a climate of fear that is emerging in Russia, and I think thatís causing many of the most talented citizens to leave, because theyíre afraid. No Ė the quote canít be changed
You know, this will sound like a harsh statement, but I think unfortunately there is more and more truth to it. In our countries, in Germany, in the United States, you can challenge your government and win. In Russia, the perception is taking hold that if you challenge your government, you die.
So in that kind of environment, itís not a total surprise that there is this huge disconnect between public opinion and narrative in Europe and public opinion and narrative in Russia. And what to do about that is a very big challenge.
I think the other thing that youíre seeing in Russia is, as we saw in Ukraine, great dismay at corruption, public corruption. But precisely because this crisis has happened and President Putin has used it effectively, heís also managed to distract people from that.
I think you just have to keep fighting fiction with facts and hoping that the truth over time begins to penetrate. Then of course the economic situation in Russia at some point, if it continues in this direction, will create pressure I think for change, but itís very, very difficult to deal with this kind of propaganda. In a sense itís a throwback to the Cold War, but itís being done in a very, very sophisticated way.
Question: Why is the U.S. so interested in improving democracy in Ukraine? Wouldnít it be sufficient to care about democracy within U.S. borders?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Well, itís a very good question. I think that our basic experience is that, you know, Tom Friedman, one of our writers, had a wonderful line a few years ago in which he said if you donít visit the bad neighborhoods, the bad neighborhoods have a tendency to visit you. So itís really not sufficient for us in the 21st century when weíre so interconnected for there to be just a small island of democracies around the world and everyone else to be doing what they want in undemocratic ways. Because inevitably, thatís going to affect us, whether we like it or not.
So as a general proposition we have a real stake in terms of our own interests, never mind our values, in democracy taking root in different countries. I think thatís all the more critical right within Europe, especially after the experience of the 20th century when we know what happened when democracy was not the prevailing rule in all of Europe, and the incredible work thatís been done since then to strengthen the foundation of democracy. To see that challenge so long after the events of the last century I think gives us great, great, great concern.
But as I tried to suggest, itís not just democracy itself. Itís some basic rules of conduct that go to having a more stable, peaceful, secure, and, in that context, prosperous international order. And those rules are being violated in Ukraine and I think we have a stake in standing up and defending them.
Moderator: As you can see, we have a very open and frank type of discussion. I go back there.
Question: My question is, can there be a diplomatic solution without a credible military threat?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Hereís the challenge. I think, in a sense if youíre playing on the military terrain in Ukraine, youíre playing to Russiaís strength, because Russia is right next door. It has a huge amount of military equipment and military force right on the border. Anything we did as countries in terms of military support for Ukraine is likely to be matched and then doubled and tripled and quadrupled by Russia. It has the ability to do that. It would be very difficult for us to do that. And then you may well get into an escalatory cycle that is hard to control and hard to predict.
Weíre better off, I think, playing to our own strengths. One of those strengths is the economic strength that we have. So the pressure that weíve exerted on Russia economically -- again, not to punish Russia, period, but to impose costs for its conduct in Ukraine and to try to get it to change course -- thatís a strength of ours, and weíve see the results combined with the falling oil prices.
One of the things that bothers me though, I have to tell you, and I think itís reflected a little bit in the debate. Itís interesting, you hear this in Europe and you hear this in the United States is, thereís a larger narrative. And yes, Ukraine has many deficiencies in governance, in its system, in its own corruption, many other problems. Itís working to correct them, but itís difficult and itís challenging. But why isnít Ukraine more of a cause? Why donít people care more about the abuse of the country, about the trampling of its sovereignty and territorial integrity, about taking the choice away from the Ukrainian people about their future?
You know, youíve had in the past the Save Darfur movement where people were mobilized and energized. You donít see that same kind of mobilization, energy, and passion about whatís going on in Ukraine. I think in part itís because the Russians have done a good job in muddying the waters and we tend to be focused on the details: have the Ukrainians made good on their commitment to move out of this town, have the separatists made good on their commitment to stop firing into that town, and we lose sight of the bigger picture and the bigger principles that are at stake, and I think thatís unfortunate. Because itís worth concentrating our minds on whatís really at stake here and acting.
But at the end of the day, I donít think at the end of the day the solution is going to be a military one. It has to be a combination of pressure. We have to continue and do more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves including militarily, but ultimately itís this combination of pressure and diplomacy that I hope will bring this to a conclusion.
Moderator: We have one more question here, perhaps the last one, and then we have to wrap up. The mike is coming.
Question: My name is [Inaudible] Wagner [ph], I work for Gazprom, a Russian company.
You just portrayed Russian gas supply or energy as unreliable or there is a need for diversification. Are you aware that Russia or the Soviet Union has served gas to Europe for more than 40 years without a single interruption? That actually we are facing a transit crisis and never a supply crisis? Are you aware of that?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Iím aware that what weíve seen in Ukraine most recently is Russia very clearly using gas as a political tool to pressure and leverage the Ukrainians. And to threaten supply disruptions in Europe in an effort to get the Europeans to press the Ukrainians to take a softer line. Thatís what IĎm aware of. We have no desire to remove Russian gas from the market, but we think that whatís been demonstrated by the use of gas as a political tool is that itís a mistake to be overly reliant on any one country in the energy environment, that Europe has a strong interest in making sure itís not overly dependent on Russia or anyone else for that matter.
But if gas were not used as a political tool and the mere threat is enough -- you donít actually have to cut supplies. If you threaten to cut supplies you can get the result that you want. If thatís the way itís going to be used, then I think thatís simply going to spur Europeans to be a lot more aggressive in looking for other sources, other routes, other suppliers.
Moderator: We take a question here and then there was a question in the back please.
Question: Oliver Leffler [ph], MPP program here. Friends of mine have been increasingly concerned about the future of the transatlantic relationship in light of the spy scandal and dissatisfaction with the TTIP negotiations. How should I respond to them?
Deputy Secretary Blinken: Look, itís interesting. Weíre working now, as you mentioned, on T-TIP. There are a lot of myths about what it would produce and some misinformation, and I think one of the obligations that those of us who support the effort have is to better explain it and to better help people understand some of the myths that have arisen. Because whatís going on is quite extraordinary. Right now weíre working in Asia on a new free trade agreement, the Trans=Pacific Partnership. That, I believe, stands a very good chance of being concluded before the end of the year. And if and when it is concluded it will cover 40 percent of world GDP and it will facilitate trade with high standards -- labor, environment, and other critical social issues. And itís going to fuel growth and that in turn will create more jobs.
And weíre trying to work, in a similar way on T-TIP. Now we already have a much higher base in Europe because of the relationships we have. But there too, when T-TIP comes into play, if it does, youíre going to be covering 70-75 percent of world GDP in these agreements that again raise the standard, not simply in facilitating trade, but making sure the way we trade and the obligations that are undertaken actually advance human dignity, as well as human prosperity.
So I think thereís a lot at stake and thereís a very strong case to be made but itís actually incumbent upon leaders to make it.
We have and we will always have frictions in our relations and there will always be a crisis of some kind in the relationship. You can go back and look at the history of this, and almost every decade thereís been something.
I wrote as a dissertation and as a book about the -- something Wolfgang will remember but most of you are too young to even know about -- which is the so-called Siberian Pipeline crisis in which in the wake of Afghanistan the United States tried to stop Europe from building a gas pipeline between Siberia and Europe. Ironically, the argument in my book was in favor of the pipeline -- as said my friend from Gazprom.
Parenthetically that book, when it was reviewed, which is a warning to all of you, someone said itís the kind of book that once you put it down itís very hard to pick up again. So I donít recommend it to any of you. But this was just one of the many crises that we had in the alliance. So thereís always going to be something.
But if you look at whatís happening every single day between our countries, from the United States perspective, for all of the talk of the rebalance to Asia, and maybe that was the wrong word to choose. And itís real because theres an incredible dynamism in Asia and we want to be part of it. Whenever we are looking for a partner to deal with challenges, to seize opportunities, to advance our security, to deepen our prosperity, the first place we look is still Europe. That is where the most natural affinity lies. That is where we have a strong history of cooperation and a strong set of common values despite disagreements over things including over the issue of the NSA program.
So I think when you look at those fundamentals, when you see that weíre doing more business together than ever before, that more and more students are spending time in our respective countries, that more and more people are traveling back and forth, that weíre more connected on a minute-by-minute basis than weíve ever been in our history. To me, that is a tremendous source of strength and great evidence that the relationshipí, for whatever the clouds of the moment, is one that is really mostly blue skies.
Moderator: What a beautiful word of conclusion. We have to end. My last question is, when you will be back in 10 years, where will Ukraine be? One sentence.
Deputy Secretary Blinken: One sentence? Tony Blinken. Ukraine. Ukraine in ten years I think will be an increasingly thriving part of Europe.
Moderator: Very good. We keep it here. Thank you very much. My thanks go to the embassy and Mr. Melville, go to the entire team of the State Department, to my dear colleague Wolfgang Ischinger and to you, the Deputy Secretary. Thank you so much.
1Consistent perhaps with the thrust of Letterman's remarks. Verbatim quotation: "This guy's not supposed to be there, right? He's not -- He's not supposed to be in there. He just wandered in off the [White House] tour."
2 Relevant quotation from Biden's Speech: "We will not agree with Russia on everything. For example, the United States will not -- will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances." [Source: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-vice-president-biden-45th-munich-conference-security-policy
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Page Updated: 12/14/20
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