Blinken warns of "massive consequences" for Russia if Putin invades Ukraine
Washington — As tensions along Russia's border with Ukraine continue to escalate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Sunday there will be "massive consequences" for Russia if its military forces invade Ukraine.
"Russia will make its decisions based on President [Vladimir] Putin's calculus of what's in their interest," Blinken said in an interview with "Face the Nation." "We are working very hard to affect that calculus, both in terms of offering a diplomatic path forward that could enhance collective security for all of us and equally a path of defense and deterrence, that makes very clear that if there's aggression, there'll be massive consequences. So the choice is his."
Despite diplomatic negotiations led by the U.S., more than 100,000 Russian troops have moved to Russia's border with Ukraine, while satellite imagery shows tanks, artillery and support equipment also beginning to amass. With tensions rising and warnings of a potential invasion have grown, experts believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will wait until February, when the ground freezes, to attack Ukraine. Russian forces are also moving into Belarus, providing troops with another angle to advance into Ukraine.
While much focus has been on a military incursion, Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova predicted an invasion would be preceded by cyberattacks. Ukrainian government servers were hit with a massive cyberattack earlier this month that brought several government websites down.
Blinken was in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, with the hopes of deescalating the crisis, although there was no breakthrough. The secretary of state, though, said he and Lavrov "agreed that it's important for the diplomatic process to continue."
The Biden administration has continued to warn that an invasion into Ukraine would bring economic sanctions against Moscow, though President Biden last week told reporters his "guess" is that Russia will "move in."
Russia, meanwhile, has pushed for commitments from NATO, including a withdrawal of NATO troops from Bulgaria and Romania, and for the alliance to vow not to admit Ukraine as a new member. But the U.S. and its allies have said the last demand is a nonstarter, as NATO's membership is not for Russia to decide.
Even as Russia has continued to escalate tensions with Ukraine, Blinken said the U.S. has been building up defense and deterrence in anticipation of Putin taking military action.
"We have rallied allies and partners across Europe in a very intense way over the last weeks to make very clear that there would be massive consequences for renewed Russian aggression. We provided more military assistance to Ukraine last year than in any previous year. We've been going after agents of Russia in Ukraine seeking to destabilize the government," he said. "I just approved the transfer of U.S.-origin military technology in other countries to Ukraine. So we are proceeding on both paths at the same time, we'll be ready either way. The choice is Vladimir Putin's."
While the threat of sanctions remains on the table for the U.S., Ukraine is urging the Biden administration to slap Moscow with them now. Blinken, though, said doing so would cause the U.S. to lose leverage.
"The most important thing we can do is to use them as a deterrent, as a means of dissuading Russia from engaging in further aggression," he said. "Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect. So what we're doing is putting together a whole series of actions that would figure into President Putin's calculus."
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