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Macron’s Call for EU Talks With Kremlin Unnerves European Allies

French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the European Union to pursue its own talks with the Kremlin is raising fears of a split developing in the Western response to the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine.

Macron has struggled in the past to convince his EU partners of the need for Europe to take regional security into its own hands and depend less on the United States. His speech to European lawmakers Wednesday, though, in which he called for the bloc to negotiate its own security and stability pact with the Kremlin, was welcomed by Russian state-owned media.

But some Central European and Baltic leaders said Macron’s comments were ill-timed and risk encouraging the Kremlin to try to play the U.S. and EU against each other, and cause a divide as the U.S. calls for Western unity.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister, said he was at a loss to understand what Macron means about coming up with “a new order of security and stability.”

“These next few months, rather, seem to call for firm defense of the existing post-1989 order,” he tweeted.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Russia could “attack at very short notice.” Also, there have been reports that Russia has moved Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to the border, placing them within striking range of Kyiv. Russia has deployed an estimated 127,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, according to Ukrainian intelligence assessments.

 

Some Russian detachments currently in Belarus, a Russian ally, have been moved closer to the Ukrainian border, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of independent Russian researchers, who say Russian military hardware has been spotted in Belarus’s Gomel region, a short distance from Ukraine. Russian officials deny they have any intention to attack Ukraine and that Russian forces are in Belarus for joint military exercises.

In his speech before the European Parliament, Macron said: “It’s good for Europe and the U.S. to coordinate, but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.” He said Europeans should build a new framework “between us, Europeans, share it with our allies in NATO, and propose it for negotiation to Russia,” he told EU lawmakers.

Additionally, Macron emphasized that borders should be inviolable, and that the EU must not allow Russia to veto Ukraine or any other state from joining NATO, a key Russian demand.

Macron’s floating of an EU security pact with Russia is “exactly the wrong thing to do,” tweeted Edward Lucas, of the Center for European Policy Analysis, a U.S.-based think tank, and author of the book “The New Cold War.”

EU officials say they were blindsided by Macron’s call for Europeans to conduct their own dialogue with the Kremlin that’s distinct from the United States. Western diplomats said the French leader had not consulted other national leaders before the speech. On Thursday, senior EU officials sought to reassure Washington.

 

Macron aides also scrambled to walk back some of the French leader’s comments, with one saying Paris is very much in favor of close coordination with the U.S. And he said Macron’s call for a new security framework would help reinforce “the unity of the NATO alliance.”

The EU has not been directly involved in the most substantive talks with the Kremlin over Ukraine and a series of other Russian demands, including an end to NATO enlargement and a rollback of any NATO military presence in the former Communist states of central Europe that have joined the Western alliance.

Russian officials held meetings last week with the U.S. and with NATO, though EU representatives participated in a meeting of the 57 states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Twenty-one of the EU’s 27 members also are NATO members.

Asked whether the European Commission backed Macron’s proposal for separate talks with Russia, a spokesperson said the EU was formulating is strategy “within the framework of the ongoing contacts and coordination, both within the EU and between the EU and the transatlantic partners such as the U.S., Canada, NATO and the OSCE.”

EU and NATO allies have been unanimous in rejecting Russian demands for Ukraine never to join the Western alliance, but there have been signs of divisions among them about how the West should seek to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine and what steps to take if Russia does so.

 

Current and former Western diplomats have told VOA that while there’s broad agreement among Western powers about sanctioning Russia in the event of a military incursion, there is not yet a final deal on the details.

And there have been disagreements between NATO allies on re-arming Ukraine, with Baltic NATO allies Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia pushing for weeks to be allowed to transfer American-made lethal weapons, including anti-armor and ground-to-air missiles, to Ukraine. Midweek they received a go-ahead from the U.S. State Department. But Germany is opposed to large arms transfers to Ukraine, fearing it risks escalating the East-West confrontation.

U.S. President Joe Biden hinted Wednesday at the challenge of keeping all the NATO allies united. Biden reiterated warnings that Russia would face devastating Western sanctions, if an attack went ahead. But at a press conference in Washington, he also said: “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and we [in NATO] end up fighting about what we should do, not do.”

Ukrainian officials reacted angrily to Biden’s comments, saying they fear the U.S. leader was inadvertently giving Russian leader Vladimir Putin the green light to mount an incursion short of a full-scale invasion. Ukrainian officials said they were surprised Biden distinguished between incursion and invasion.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told the Wall Street Journal: “Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You’re either aggressive or you’re not aggressive.” He added: “We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a clarification amid the Ukrainian backlash, saying, “President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies.” 

At a joint press conference in Berlin on Thursday, neither Secretary Blinken nor his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock directly addressed Macron’s comments. Both foreign ministers emphasized the intensity of consultations between all Western allies

“The coordination and consultation amongst us allies couldn’t be more intensive than it is,” said Baerbock.

Blinken added: “All of these engagements are part of wide-ranging, ongoing consultations with our European allies and partners — more than a hundred in recent weeks alone, including with Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, the Bucharest Nine, as well as many bilateral conversations with individual countries — to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.”

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Explainer: How Sweeping EU Rules Would Curb Tech Companies

Online companies would have to ramp up efforts to keep harmful content off their platforms and take other steps to protect users under rules that European Union lawmakers are set to vote on Thursday.

The 27-nation bloc has gained a reputation as a trendsetter in the growing global push to rein in big tech companies as they face withering criticism over misinformation, hate speech and other harmful content on their platforms.

Here’s a look at the proposed EU rules, known as the Digital Services Act, and why they would make an impact:

WHAT IS THE DIGITAL SERVICES ACT?

The legislation is part of a sweeping overhaul of the European Union’s digital rules aimed at ensuring online companies, including tech giants like Google and Facebook parent Meta, protect users on their platforms and treat rivals fairly. It’s an update of the EU’s two-decade-old e-commerce directive.

“The Digital Services Act could now become the new gold standard for digital regulation, not just in Europe but around the world,” the lead EU lawmaker on the bill, Christel Schaldemose, said during a debate Wednesday. “Big tech nations like the U.S. or China are watching closely to see what we’re now going to agree.”

The proposals are one-half of flagship digital regulations drafted by the bloc. EU lawmakers are also working on a separate proposal, the Digital Markets Act, which is aimed at reining in the power of the biggest online “gatekeepers.” Both still face further negotiations with EU bodies before taking effect.

WHAT WILL IT COVER?

The Digital Services Act includes a raft of measures aimed at better protecting internet users and their “fundamental rights online.” Tech companies will be held more responsible for content on their platforms, with requirements to beef up flagging and removal of illegal content like hate speech or dodgy goods and services sold online like counterfeit sneakers or unsafe toys.

But lawmakers have been battling about the details of such takedowns, including whether court orders would be required.

Online platforms will have to be more transparent about their algorithms that recommend the next video to watch, product to buy or news item at the top of people’s social media feeds. So-called recommender systems have been criticized for leading people to more increasingly extreme or polarizing content.

Some amendments to the legislation proposed giving users the option of turning recommendations off or using third-party systems.

There are also measures to ban platforms from using “dark patterns” — deceptive techniques to nudge users into doing things they didn’t intend to — as well as requiring porn sites to register the identities of users uploading material.

ARE THERE ANY CONTROVERSIAL POINTS?

One of the legislation’s biggest battles is over surveillance-based advertising, also known as targeted or behavioral advertising. Such ads would be banned for children, but digital and consumer rights groups say the proposals don’t go far enough and have called for prohibiting them outright. That idea has faced fierce resistance from the digital ad industry dominated by Google and Meta.

Surveillance ads track online behavior, such as the websites visited or products bought online by a user, to serve them more digital ads based on those interests.

Groups such as Amnesty International say ad tracking undermines the rights that the legislation is supposed to protect, because it involves a massive invasion of privacy and indiscriminate data harvesting as part of a system that manipulates users and encourages ad fraud.

WHAT HAPPENS TO OFFENDERS?

The EU’s single market commissioner, Thierry Breton, took to Twitter on Wednesday to portray the proposed rules as the start of a new era for tough online enforcement.

“It’s time to put some order in the digital ‘Wild West,'” he said. “A new sheriff is in town — and it goes by the name #DSA,” he said, posting a mashup of video clips from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western film.

Under the Digital Services Act, violations could be punished with hefty fines of up to 6% of a company’s annual revenue. Some amendments have pushed for raising that amount.

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Explainer: What Are US Military Options to Help Ukraine?

President Joe Biden is not planning to answer a further Russian invasion of Ukraine by sending combat troops. But he could pursue a range of less dramatic yet still risky military options, including supporting a post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.

The rationale for not directly joining a Russia-Ukraine war is simple. The United States has no treaty obligation to Ukraine, and war with Russia would be an enormous gamble, given its potential for expanding in Europe, destabilizing the region, and escalating to the frightening point of risking a nuclear exchange.

Doing too little has its risks, too. It might suggest an acquiescence to future Russian moves against other countries in eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, although as NATO members those three have security assurances from the United States and the rest of the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Europe this week to speak with officials in Ukraine, consult NATO allies and then meet Friday with his Russian counterpart, has asserted “an unshakable U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” But he has not publicly defined the limits of that commitment.

How far, then, might the United States and its allies go to help Ukraine defend itself if the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders leads to an invasion?

 

WHY NOT CONTEST A RUSSIAN INVASION?

Going to war against Russia in Ukraine could tie up U.S. forces and resources for years and take a heavy toll in lives with an uncertain outcome at a time when the Biden administration is trying to focus on China as the chief security threat.

On Wednesday, Biden said it was his “guess” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will end up sending forces into Ukraine, although he also said he doesn’t think Putin wants all-out war. Biden did not address the possibility of putting U.S. ground troops in Ukraine to stop an invasion, but he previously had ruled that out.

Biden said he is uncertain how Putin will use the forces he has assembled near Ukraine’s border, but the United States and NATO have rejected what Moscow calls its main demand — a guarantee that the Western alliance will not expand further eastward. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also intervened in eastern Ukraine that year to support a separatist insurgency. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.

The stakes in Ukraine are high — militarily and politically. Lawmakers have intensified their criticism of Biden’s approach to Putin. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Biden of “handwringing and appeasement,” but he has not urged sending combat troops. Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an urgent “nonstop airlift” of military equipment and trainers into Ukraine.

Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who served as the top NATO commander in Europe from 2013 to 2016, said in an interview he does not expect or recommend that the United States send combat troops into Ukraine. Instead, Washington and its allies should be looking for ways to help Ukraine defend its own airspace and territorial waters, where it faces overwhelming Russian superiority, he said.

“Those are things we should be considering as an alliance and as a nation,” he said. “If Mr. Putin is allowed to invade Ukraine and there were to be little or no consequence, we will see more of the same.”

 

WHAT ARE BIDEN’S OTHER OPTIONS?

Given its clear military inferiority, Ukraine could not prevent Russian forces from invading. But with help from the United States and others, Ukraine might deter Putin from acting if he were convinced that the costs would be too high.

“The key to thwarting Russian ambitions is to prevent Moscow from having a quick victory and to raise the economic, political, and military costs by imposing economic sanctions, ensuring political isolation from the West, and raising the prospect of a prolonged insurgency that grinds away the Russian military,” Seth Jones, a political scientist, and Philip Wasielewski, a former CIA paramilitary officer, wrote in a Jan. 13 analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Biden administration has suggested it is thinking along similar lines.

 

HOW IS THE U.S. SUPPORTING UKRAINE’S MILITARY NOW?

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says there are about 200 National Guard soldiers in Ukraine to train and advise local forces, and on Tuesday he said there are no plans to augment their number. There also are an undisclosed number of U.S. special operations troops providing training in Ukraine. Kirby wouldn’t say whether the U.S. soldiers would pull out in the event of a Russian invasion, but he said the Pentagon would “make all the appropriate and proper decisions to make sure our people are safe in any event.”

The administration said Wednesday it is providing a further $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Since 2014 the United States has provided Ukraine with about $2.5 billion in defense assistance, including anti-tank missiles and radars.

 

HOW MIGHT THE U.S. HELP UKRAINE AFTER AN INVASION?

It’s not clear. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the U.S. would “dramatically ramp up” support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty.” But he did not spell out how that might be done.

The administration says it also is open to sending military reinforcements to NATO allies on the eastern front who want American reassurance.

Jones and Wasielewski say that in addition to implementing severe sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, the United States should provide Ukraine with a broad range of military assistance at no cost. This would include air defense, anti-tank and anti-ship systems; electronic warfare and cyber defense systems; small arms and artillery ammunition, and other items.

“The United States and NATO should be prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine’s resistance no matter what form it ends up taking,” they wrote. This aid could be delivered overtly with the help of U.S. troops, including special operations forces, or it could be a CIA-led covert action authorized by President Biden, they added.

That would carry the risk of putting U.S. personnel in the line of fire — and drawing the United States into the very combat it’s determined to avoid.

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Europe, US Aim to Ensure Mali Doesn’t Become First of Many Dominoes

Frustrations are growing in and around Mali, where regional and international efforts to speed up the interim government’s transition to democratic elections appear to be at a dead end. Still, key players from Europe and the United States are refusing to give up, warning what is at stake goes much beyond Mali itself. More from VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin.

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Biden Draws Lines With Russian Leader Over Ukraine Moves

President Joe Biden ends his first year in office as tensions with Russia hit a fever pitch. He warned his Russian counterpart to choose a diplomatic resolution and to not invade neighboring Ukraine — a message his secretary of state also is pushing in Kyiv this week. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington.
Producer: Kimberlyn Weeks

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Blinken Reassures Ukrainians Amid Threat of Russian Invasion

On a visit to Kyiv, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reassured the people of Ukraine that the United States stands with them in the face of a potentially imminent Russian invasion. After meeting with Ukraine’s foreign minister Wednesday, Blinken spoke with VOA in Kyiv about the U.S. diplomatic effort to calm the situation. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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Teen Pilot One Stop from Finishing Round-the-world Solo Flight

A 19-year-old British-Belgian pilot landed her plane on Wednesday at an airstrip near Frankfurt, Germany, one stop away from becoming the youngest woman to fly around the world solo.

Zara Rutherford told reporters she wanted to “sleep for a week” after she climbed out of the single-seat Shark ultralight aircraft at Egelsbach airfield a few kilometers from Frankfurt. If all goes as planned, Rutherford will land Thursday in Kortrijk, Belgium, where her journey began August 18. 

The nearly 51,500-kilometer journey took her across the Atlantic Ocean, over Iceland and Greenland, and into New York City. Down the U.S. East Coast and the Caribbean to Columbia then back up through Central America and up the U.S. West Coast to Alaska and across the Bering Strait to Russia, south to South Korea, Indonesia, India, the Mideast and back to Europe.

The trip was all the more challenging as she flew without the aid of flight instruments or a pressurized cabin. 

Weather, minor equipment issues and visa problems in Asia set her back from her schedule by several days. But at this point, Rutherford told reporters she is glad to be almost done.

She said her big goal is to use her experience to encourage other young women to go into flying or study science, technology and mathematics “and other fields they might not have thought about.” 

Rutherford plans to go to college next September in either Britain or the United States to study engineering.

If she lands in Belgium as planned Thursday, Rutherford will have broken a record set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she set the existing record for the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo in 2017. 

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters. 

 

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Blinken to VOA: Russia Has a Clear Choice to Make

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in Kyiv Wednesday with VOA’s Eastern Europe bureau chief Myroslava Gongadze about his talks with Ukrainian leaders and the prospects for heading off a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. The following is a transcript of that interview. It has been edited for clarity.  Watch the video here.

 

QUESTION: “Good afternoon. Today we are in Ukraine. It’s been invaded and threatened by Russia. Putin is demanding the West to leave Ukraine for its Russian sphere of influence. Today, we have a chance to talk about the crisis with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Thank you. Thank you for this opportunity and for your time…”   

   

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: “It’s good to be with you.”   

   

Q: So, your administration said that Russia can invade at any moment. What is your administration ready to do to defer Russian aggression? And what would be the three major steps you’re ready to do if Russia will invade tomorrow?”   

   

BLINKEN: “Well, first, we’ve, we’ve offered Russia a clear choice, a choice between pursuing dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, or confrontation and consequences on the other hand. And we’ve just been engaged in an intensive series of diplomatic engagements with Russia, directly between us through the strategic stability dialogue at NATO, with the NATO Russia Council at the OSCE, the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe, and my hope remains that Russia will pursue that diplomatic path. It’s clearly preferable.”   

   

Q: “Still, what are US…”   

   

BLINKEN: “But, but to your point, we’ve also – we’ve equally made clear that if Russia chooses to renew its aggression against Ukraine, we – and not just we, the United States, we, many countries, throughout Europe, and even some beyond – will respond very forcefully and resolutely and in three ways. First, we’ve been working intensely on elaborating extensive sanctions, financial, economic, export controls, and others….”   

   

Q: “Doesn’t that include…”   

   

BLINKEN: “I’m not going to get into the details what they are, but we’re doing that in very close coordination with European allies and partners. A second consequence would almost certainly be further assistance, defensive military assistance, to Ukraine. And third, it’s almost certain that NATO would have to reinforce its own defenses on its, on its eastern flank. And you know, what’s so striking about this is that, when you think about it, President Putin, going back to 2014, has managed to precipitate what he says he wants to prevent, because among other things, NATO had to reinforce itself after Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, the Donbass after that happened. So, we’ve laid out the consequences clearly for Russia, but also, also the far preferable path of resolving differences diplomatically. And we’ll see which path President Putin decides to take.”   

   

Q: “It’s still the question of, is the Swift – cutting Russia from Swift is on the table, and personal sanctions against, personally, Putin and his family is on the table?”   

   

BLINKEN: “What I can tell you is this, and it’s not just me saying this. The G7, the leading democratic economies in the world, the European Union, NATO have all each declared as institutions, as a collection of countries, that there will be and I quote, ‘massive consequences’ for Russia, if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. We’ve also said that the measures that we’re looking at go well beyond steps that we’ve taken in the past including in 2014. I’m not going to detail them here or telegraph the steps we take. But I can tell you, the consequences will be severe. But again, I want to insist on the fact that it would be far preferable not to have to go down that path. We’re fully prepared to do it. But the preference is to see if we can resolve differences, address concerns in both directions through diplomacy.”   

  

Q: “Russia asked for a written response to demand never to accept Ukraine into NATO,  – are you preparing such a written response, and what kind?”   

   

BLINKEN: “So, we had the last week of these important engagements, as I, as I noted, and we now have an opportunity, both Russia and, and all of us – the United States our European partners – to take back what we heard from each other. The Russians have gone back and, presumably, are consulting with President Putin. We’ve done the same, in my case, with President Biden. The Europeans have done the same with their leaders. And the next step in this process is for me to have a chance to meet with Foreign Minister (Sergey) Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, and to see what how, how Russia has responded to what’s already been, been discussed. They’ll hear, they’ll hear from us. Before that though, I was determined to – President Biden’s instruction to come here to Kyiv, to consult with our Ukrainian partners. And then tomorrow in Berlin to meet with some of our closest European partners. That’s exactly how we proceeded all along. We’ve done everything in very close consultation before and after any of our engagements with Russia.

 

Q: “However, you didn’t answer my question about, are you preparing the written response to Russian?”    

 

BLINKEN: “Right now the next step is to meet with Prime Minister Lavrov. Let’s see where, where we are after Friday, and we’ll take it from there.”   

 

Q: “And I had that question about Mr. Lavrov, you’re, you’re scheduled to meet him. Did you see any signs that the Kremlin is changing its position at this point?”   

 

BLINKEN: “I can’t say that I see any, any direct evidence of that? Unfortunately, we can see, we continue to see Russia having amassed very significant forces on Ukraine’s borders, that process seems to continue. On the other hand, the fact that we are meeting in Geneva, the fact that we will be discussing the conversations and exchanges that we’ve had over the last 10 days, also suggests to me that diplomacy remains an open possibility, one that we’re determined to pursue as long and far as we can. We want to leave no diplomatic stone unturned, because, again, that’s just a much better and more responsible way to deal with these problems.”   

 

Q: “The Minsk agreement is seen as the only valuable solution for this crisis. However, Russia and Ukraine have a different reading of the agreement. What has to be done to implement the agreement or is it time to renegotiate?”   

 

BLINKEN: “I don’t think there’s any, any need to renegotiate, because, as you say, there’s an agreement. In fact, there are actually three of them because Minsk evolved 2014-2015. And there are a number of very clear steps that both of the parties have to take. I think it’s fair to say, looking back that many of those steps Ukraine has either implemented or begun to implement, there are some that hasn’t yet tackled. I think, unfortunately, it’s equally fair to say that Russia has done virtually nothing in terms of the steps required in the Minsk agreement. So, the first question is whether Russia is serious about resolving the Donbass through the Minsk process, if it is, I agree with you, I think that’s the best and right now really the only way forward. France, Germany, are an important part of this so-called Normandy format. And they’re supposed to be upcoming meetings in that process. And, again, it’s a test of whether Russia is serious about it. The one positive sign that we’ve seen in the last few weeks when it comes to Minsk is a loose ceasefire that is clearly an improvement over where things were, that takes us back to where we were in 2020. But the real question is, is Russia serious about implementing Minsk? If it is, we’re prepared to facilitate that, we’re prepared to support that, we’re prepared to engage in that but in support of this Normandy process that France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are engaged in.”   

 

Q: “Since you mentioned Germany—you mentioned Normandy Format. There’s a lot of talks about U.S. joining that, that Normandy Format, is there any reconsideration of U.S. doing so?”   

 

BLINKEN: “I don’t think it’s a question about us joining the format, the question is whether it’s useful for us to try to facilitate things, to support it in any way that we can. If the answer to that is yes, we’re fully prepared to do that. And we, of course, shared that with our allies and partners France and Germany. But we’ve also said that to Russia, and of course to Ukraine.”   

 

Q: “The U.S. National Security Advisor recently said that if Russa wants Nord Stream to start operating, it will have to stop aggression in Ukraine. Is the United States ready to accept the completion, and activation of the pipeline for Russia to withdraw troops from the borders?”   

 

BLINKEN: “We continue to oppose the pipeline for reasons that are well known and long known. We think that it actually undermines Europe’s energy security and obviously does tremendous potential damage to Ukraine, including giving Russia the option to avoid the existing pipeline through Ukraine. That results in a lot of transit fees for Ukraine, and the list goes on. Having said that, the pipeline is actually complete, the construction has been completed. It’s not operational, and to Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor’s point, right now that pipeline is as much, if not more leveraged, for us as it is for Russia because the idea that if Russia commits renewed aggression against Ukraine, gas would flow through that pipeline is highly, highly improbable. So that’s an interesting factor to see whether it affects Russia’s thinking as it’s deciding what to do. ”  

   

Q: “And I have two questions on domestic agenda, Ukraine’s domestic agenda if I may. President Zelenskiy promised President Biden personally to fight corruption. He promised to appoint the special anti-corruption prosecutor before the end of 2021. However, many Ukrainians argue that there is sabotage, of anti-corruption reform. Is the United States as a Ukraine strategic partner satisfied with the reform progress in Ukraine? And is Ukraine at risk of losing the U.S. support if the government does not meet its commitment to reform?”  

   

BLINKEN: “I had a chance to spend time with President Zelenskiy today, we had a very good conversation about virtually all of these issues, including the question of reform, and President Zelenskiy has been pursuing reform, including most recently, judicial reform. But there are other things that need to happen, including, finally the appointment of this Commissioner, that should and could take place anytime, so we are looking for that to see that happen. It’s challenging, there are external pressures, there are internal pressures, but he has been on the path of reform. And ultimately, Ukraine’s progress, which we are determined to support, is contingent on reform so we look to the president to continue those efforts, we very much support him in those efforts, and will continue to support Ukraine as it makes those efforts.”  

   

Q: “Thank you so much. They’re showing me that I have to cut. I have one more question. Across from the building where we’re doing this interview today, on the court hearing treason charges brought against the former President Poroshenko, many experts, and former Russian politicians expressed their concern, and some say the charges are politically motivated. Do you think these charges and the process is justified at the time?”  

   

BLINKEN: “Well, I can’t get into the details of this, of this particular case. All I can say is this. It’s very important that in any proceeding, whether it’s this one or any other, that things go forward through an independent judiciary, pursuant to the rule law, and as we would say, without fear or favor, no selective prosecutions. That’s a general rule that we would apply anywhere and everywhere. Second, this is a time where there’s a premium on national unity precisely because of the threat that Russia is posing.  And it’s important for Ukrainians to come together, whatever political differences they may have. One of Russia’s methods is to try to divide, to create divisions, to create distractions. And it’s important for Ukrainians to come together to resist that and to deal with the challenge posed by Russia as one, as one country with an incredible future that the United States strongly supports but one that’s being challenged.” 

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