Making a brief visit to Chicago on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said while Ukrainians have suffered tremendously, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has inflicted “extraordinary damage” on his own citizens and military and that U.S.-led sanctions will take a dramatic toll on Russia’s economy.
“The question that one would really love to ask the Russians if we could speak more directly and clearly to them is, ‘How is what Putin is doing in Ukraine, how has that changed your life for the better? Has it done a single thing that makes you better off?’” Blinken said.
“Putin has already lost in terms of what he was trying to accomplish. What he was trying to accomplish was to erase Ukraine and topple (Ukraine President Volodymyr) Zelenskyy, erase Ukraine as an independent country, subsume it into Russia. That has failed. That can’t succeed,” he said. “Where that settles is a profound question, and what damage is done in between now and then, we don’t know.”
But Blinken, speaking at the 10th anniversary of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, insisted that international coalition support against Russia’s aggression has “grown consistently stronger” in spite of a current dispute between the U.S. and Germany over sending tanks into Ukraine.
Germany has indicated it will not send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine, or let other countries with its tanks do so unless the U.S. agrees to send Ukraine its M1 Abrams tanks. The U.S. has said there are no plans to send the tanks to Ukraine, given the costs for training and maintaining them.
“We just sent Ukraine a large number of Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which are basically light tanks. The French have done some of the same. The British have actually sent them combat tanks. Others are looking to do that,” Blinken said. “They need to be able to maintain them and they’ve got to be able to use them effectively. All of that goes into these decisions.”
Blinken said the U.S. government has sent Ukraine more than $30 billion worth of military support and about $60 billion in overall aid, including humanitarian assistance. Europeans have done “much the same,” he said.
Blinken’s comments came in an interview with the institute’s founder, longtime Democratic political consultant David Axelrod. Blinken was a fellow at the institute in 2017.
Earlier Friday, Blinken held a roundtable discussion with leaders from the Ukrainian diaspora at the Ukrainian Cultural Center and toured the “Children of War” exhibit of children’s art at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.
“I think the first reaction you have, if you have children, is: These could be my kids,” Blinken, the father of two young children, said of the art exhibit. “What if this was my kid?
“And what Putin is trying to do with the daily assault is to anesthetize all of us to normalize this, for people to basically say, ‘OK, this is happening and we just accept it,’” he said. “That’s what we really have to avoid. We have to make sure that we collectively continue to make clear that, no, this is not normal. This is not acceptable. And if we allow this to go forward with impunity in Ukraine, then you open a Pandora’s box, where would-be aggressors around the world will say, ‘I can get away with it.’”
Blinken, who is scheduled in coming weeks to go to China for high-level talks, also expressed concerns that China is taking a more aggressive stance in asserting sovereignty rights over the democratic engagement of Taiwan rather than continuing the current status quo relationship over the island territory.
“They say, ‘This is a sovereign issue for us.’ Our response: This is an interest to the United States and to countries around the world,” he said. “If something happens with the actions (China) takes, 50% of every container ship that is moving around the world every day goes through the Taiwan Strait, 70% or more of the computer chips manufactured in the world … are manufactured in Taiwan. If that gets disrupted, the entire world economy will suffer.”
China, he said, was the leading world competitor to the U.S., “but competition is one thing. Conflict is another. And it’s strongly in our interest to make sure that even as we compete very, very vigorously, we avoid competition veering into conflict.”
Blinken hailed U.S. foreign policy under the administration of President Joe Biden as one of reengagement and rejuvenation of alliances and partnerships after four years of a Donald Trump administration that led to uncertainty among allies.
“We’re in a better place in the world than we were,” he said.
Still, he acknowledged the chaotic U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in February 2020, following a Trump agreement, was fraught with problems and is being subjected to a high-level review in advance of a likely investigation by the new Republican-led U.S. House.
Still, Blinken said, Biden “ended the longest war in American history and the result of that is that there will not be future generations of Americans going to fight and die in Afghanistan. I think that’s a good thing.”
Blinken also said warnings of a resurgence of terrorism emanating from Afghanistan have not been borne out and that the U.S. has been “able to get” terrorists there who pose a threat.
But Blinken also noted the Taliban has been “either unable or unwilling to make good on things they said it would do” when it made human rights and other commitments to the U.S. and others in the international community after taking over Afghanistan.
That, he said, starts with “making sure that they were actually protecting the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls. That has been a dramatic step backwards and we’re working to deal with that as best we can.”