Euronews' Efi Koutsokosta spoke to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken following his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a OSCE meeting in Stockholm.
"You said there is evidence of Russian plans over invading Ukraine. So how close are we to a military confrontation?"
"Well, we don't know President Putin's intent. We don't know if he's made a decision to take renewed, aggressive action against Ukraine, but what we do know is that he's putting in place the capacity to do so and to do so on short notice - and that's very, very concerning. And not just to us. It's concerning to many partners throughout Europe. I was just at the NATO's summit before coming here to the OSCE, and that concern is widespread. And so it's been very important for me and for us to communicate very clearly to Russia the mistake that it would be to commit renewed aggression against Ukraine, the serious consequences that would result and our conviction that whatever differences there are, are best resolved through diplomacy, particularly through implementation of the Minsk agreements that have never been implemented."
"But you just had a meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Do you have any indication of his intentions now? What was the mood? And, do you have any message that there is a de-escalation coming?"
"We had we had a very direct, candid conversation, as we usually do. No polemics. Very, very professional. Very straightforward. And I shared with him, because it's important to be able to to share this directly, to communicate directly, not simply through television or through press releases, but to talk face to face, because I wanted him to understand the concerns that we have, the consequences that would result if our concerns are realised by Russian aggression, but also our conviction that the best path forward is diplomacy, is for Russia to de-escalate, to pull back its forces and to engage meaningfully in implementing the Minsk agreement."
"Can you say that you are closer now to a breakthrough or de-escalation?"
"What I can say is this, Mr Lavrov will report back to President Putin. I'm, of course, doing the same with with President Biden. I expect that the presidents will speak in the near future and we'll move on from there. But the first and most important thing is to just be very clear and very direct about how we see this, what our concerns are, what we're going to do and what we would prefer to do, which is to reinvigorate the diplomacy and finally resolve the occupation of these territories in Ukraine."
"So are there any concrete plans for a meeting between the two presidents?"
"My expectation is that they will speak in near future."
"You warned of severe consequences if finally Russia invades Ukraine. What do you mean with that? And how far are you ready to go? Are you ready to go beyond economic sanctions?"
"There would be high impact economic consequences. I think the universe of those consequences is well known to Moscow, and I hope that President Putin factors that into his his calculus. At the same time, the United States, other countries have been working to make sure that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.
And of course, if there are any threats to the NATO alliance, we'll make sure that we continue to strengthen our own defensive capacities. But I also put an emphasis on the word defensive. NATO's a defensive alliance, not an aggressive alliance. We're here for the protection and security of our members, but also to help partners like Ukraine defend themselves if they're at risk of aggression.
So that's what we're focussed on. But I think, again, what's most important for Russia to understand is that actions have consequences. Those consequences are real. They're not in Russia's interests, and having a conflict is in no one's interest. Let me just add this. President Biden, when he spoke to President Putin in Geneva some months ago, said that our strong preference in the United States is to have a stable, predictable relationship with Russia.
Russia moving aggressively again against Ukraine would move in exactly the opposite direction of stable and predictable. I don't think that's good for for any of us, but president was equally clear if Russia chooses to act recklessly, we'll respond."
"Would you just refer to sanctions? And I will tell you that you, the EU and the United States have already sanctions in place. So what makes you believe that this time sanctions will work because Putin doesn't seem to change course?"
"Many things we're looking at, I think, would have a very high impact and are things that we have not done in the past that we've refrained from doing, and Russia is well aware of what the universe of the possible is when it comes to that, and I'll leave it at that."
"You don't want to be more concrete what you're planning to do?"
"No, not in public."
"But Russia is wary of Ukraine joining NATO. So will the United States support Ukraine joining NATO?"
"This goes back to the founding of NATO and the Washington Treaty that made clear that the alliance's doors would be open to those who sought to join and again could meet the criteria. So we've reaffirmed that again at the most recent meeting of NATO. NATO's door is open. But this does not represent a threat to Russia because again, I emphasise ours is a defensive alliance.
It's a transparent alliance. It is not directed against Russia. It's not a threat to Russia. And in fact, unfortunately, the only aggressive actions that we've seen in the Euro-Atlantic area in recent years have been Russian aggression against Georgia and then against Ukraine. And we don't need to see a repeat of that in Ukraine again."
"We’ve seen also rising tensions along Europe's borders, in particular with Belarus and what the EU is saying is a hybrid attack with thousands of migrants being forced towards Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. So do you think that's really Russia is now the biggest threat for Europe and the West?"
"Well, by its actions, including some of the actions that it's taking in the past, as well as the threat of actions that we're seeing in Ukraine, it poses a real problem and it does not need to be and should not be that way. We're also working together in areas where our interests overlap, for example, in my conversation today with Foreign Minister Lavrov, we talked about Iran and our mutual interest in seeing that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon.
We're actually working together well with European partners as well as with China in the talks in Vienna. We are working together as well in the Caucasus where we both have an interest in Azerbaijan and Armenia, resolving in a lasting and durable way the differences over Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as their larger relationship. So I think we have to be able to work on things together where it's in our mutual interest, but things like renewed aggression on Ukraine make that very, very difficult."