Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

CNN International: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken Says U.S.' Written Response to Russia Has Been Delivered; Blinken Says U.S. Is Coordinating with Allies on Economic Sanctions; Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Says NATO Is Prepared to Listen to Russia's Concerns but Has Increased Readiness of Forces. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired January 26, 2022 - 13:00   ET



ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So we've been clear to Russia that there are two paths: a diplomatic one but also a path of defense and deterrence and if Russia chooses aggression, a path that will lead to massive consequences.

And so even as we've been engaging in the diplomacy, which is my job and responsibility, we have been very resolutely preparing for Russia to take the other path, the path of aggression.

And as I laid out, the work that we've done over the past couple of months in bringing allies and partners together around massive consequences for Russia -- should it renew its aggression -- and the very detailed work that's been done on that, the shoring up of -

QUESTION: But they are being aggressive now -- sorry.

BLINKEN: Let me finish what --


BLINKEN: -- and then come back to you -- the shoring up in very significant ways of our support for Ukraine, including the defensive military support; the draw-down that the president issued in December, which has now -- is now being delivered to Ukraine; the additional steps to make sure that defensive military assistance was being made available to Ukraine, including the authorizations that I signed a week ago to allow other countries that have U.S.-origin military equipment to share it with Ukraine; the work we're doing to bolster Ukraine's economy; the work we're doing to shore up Europe on energy if there are disruptions as a result of conflict; and, of course, the orders that the President gave, the Secretary of Defense gave earlier this week, to make sure that we are fully prepared on a moment's notice to reinforce NATO's eastern flank in the event of renewed Russian aggression -- all of those things have been happening very deliberately and effectively over the last many weeks.

So these two paths -- and the approach that we've taken, these are mutually reinforcing. The work that we're doing on defense, on deterrence, bringing allies and partners together, I think reinforces our diplomacy. And at the same time, it's very important that we pursue the diplomacy

whether or not -- you may well be right -- that Russia's not serious about this at all.

But we have an obligation to test that proposition, to pursue the diplomatic path, to leave no diplomatic stone unturned because, for sure, it's far preferable to resolve these differences, peacefully consistent with our principles, than it would be to have renewed aggression, renewed conflict and everything that will follow from that.

But the point is we're prepared either way.

PRICE: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Secretary. I just want to ask you a little bit about the unified approach with Europe.

What do you make of Germany's stance?

For example, they ruled out sending lethal weapons to Ukraine; they prevented Estonia from delivering arms. And today there was news out that they are sending helmets to Ukraine, a delivery the Kyiv mayor said was a joke.

Would you say that you're happy or satisfied with Germany sending helmets to Ukraine instead of arms shipments?

And if I may just ask about the President's comments yesterday, he said that he would consider sanctioning Putin personally if he decides to invade.

How advanced are these plans?

And then again, going back to unity with Europe, has the United States discussed this with Europe and are they on board?

Thank you.

BLINKEN: First, let me say, as a general matter and I -- at the risk of patting ourselves on the shoulder, I have to say I was struck when I spoke to the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union a couple of days ago, that partner after partner -- this was in the EU context but I've heard the same thing at NATO -- referenced the -- and the word that was used was "unprecedented" coordination and consultation with allies and partners on this issue and on this challenge.

And one result of that unprecedented coordination and consultation is, as I see it, very strong solidarity in terms of the consequences that will befall Russia if it renews aggression against Ukraine. And that is across the board and that includes Germany.

And I was just in Germany just -- as you know very well, meeting with Chancellor Scholz and spending a lot of time with my German counterpart, Foreign Minister Baerbock. And as I said before, I'm absolutely confident in German solidarity in

being with -- together with us and other allies and partners in confronting renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Now look, different countries have different authorities. They have different capabilities. They have different areas of expertise. And we're bringing all of those to bear but doing it in a way that is complementary.

And it speaks to the shared commitment that we have to defend Ukraine's territorial integrity, its sovereignty and its independence.

When it comes to sanctions, I think, as you heard the President say, everything is on the table.


BLINKEN: I can tell you this: the steps that we will take together, swiftly, will go directly to things that President Putin cares deeply about, including Russia's ability to engage economically and financially; including its ability to develop technology for the sectors that it cares most about, like defense, like high tech.

And, as the President said, everything is on the table and I'll leave it at that.

NED PRICE, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: Take a final question from Kylie.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I'm just wondering if this document should be considered a proposal from President Biden to President Putin. And if you can also shine a little bit of light on President Biden's role in crafting this message.

BLINKEN: Sure. Kylie, again, the document that we've shared with Russia today is -- does a few things.

First and foremost, it states very clearly the principles that we're committed to and that we will defend one way or the other.

Second, it lays out our own concerns and allied concerns about actions that Russia has taken, is taking, not just with regard to Ukraine but more broadly in the European theater, that we believe undermine security.

Third, it addresses concerns that Russia raised in the document that it provided to us a couple of weeks ago.

And finally, it suggests areas where, based on reciprocity, we believe we could advance our collective security; again, in ways that address our concerns and in ways that address some of Russia's concerns. That's what this does.

This -- it's not a formal negotiating document. It's not explicit proposals. It lays out the areas and some ideas of how we can -- together, if they're serious -- advance collective security. President Biden was intimately involved in this document. We've reviewed it with him repeatedly over the last weeks, just as we were getting, as you know, comments, input, ideas from allies and partners.

It was vital that we work on this document even though it goes to bilateral matters. And what NATO is providing presumably goes to the -- some broader issues that involve NATO and Russia.

But allies and partners were intimately involved as well. And we took on board many of the comments they've made and integrated them into the document.

But the President has been deeply involved in this from the get-go, reviewing various drafts of the proposal, making his own edits and, of course, blessing the final document that was delivered to Russia today.

PRICE: Thank you.

QUESTION: And just to follow-up on that, given that Biden himself, U.S. Biden administration officials have said a invasion is potentially imminent, the stakes are incredibly high here. And you guys have also said that Putin is the decision maker.


QUESTION: So why not address this directly to him, given the situation you're facing right now?

BLINKEN: I'm not sure what you mean by address it directly to him. This is a document that was prepared on behalf of the United States, by its government, being delivered to Russia and to its government, upon which President Putin presides.

I have no doubt that our Russian counterparts and my counterpart, Foreign Minister Lavrov, will share the document with President Putin. And --


QUESTION: And everyone else.

BLINKEN: -- putting things in -- perhaps everyone else.


BLINKEN: You may be right.

And of course, it's -- these are also complex issues. And putting things in writing is also a good way -- as we do all the time across the board -- is a good way to make sure we're as precise as possible and the Russians understand our positions, our ideas, as clearly as possible.

Right now, the document is with them and the ball is in their court. We'll see what we do. As I've said repeatedly, whether they choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue, whether they decide to renew aggression against Ukraine, we're prepared either way. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

BLINKEN: Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken speaking at the State Department there after the U.S. essentially delivered a letter to the Kremlin addressing some of Russia's security demands.


ASHER: The secretary essentially outlining a carrot and stick approach toward Russia, reiterating a diplomatic path forward for Russia. And the U.S. is open to dialogue. The U.S. prefers the path of diplomacy.

And also outlining there are key areas, in fact, where NATO allies, including the U.S. and Russia, can actually work together to address some of Russia's key security concerns. But -- there is a but here and this is important. Blinken said that Russia needs to de-escalate. Russia needs to de-escalate and tone down the rhetoric.

Secretary Blinken also said that NATO is going to be delivering their own letter to the Kremlin, addressing Russia's security concerns as well, that there is no daylight between the various NATO allies between how best to respond to Russian aggression.

And he ended and saying, listen, regardless of how Russia responds, who knows how Russia is going to respond, the U.S. is ready either way. I want to bring in international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, who is joining us live now from Moscow, and John Harwood at the White House.

Nic, let me start with you. Your assessment of Secretary Blinken's comments there.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, I think he was very careful at the end there to say what this written response to Russia wasn't; not a formal negotiation, he said, not an explicit proposal.

You know, Russia was really looking here, it appears on the surface, to engage the United States in a process of negotiation. They put forward a document and they demanded, they demanded, they wanted this written response. And now they have it.

But the terms that they appear to want it in will be, you know, a counterproposal to Russia. And then you have two proposals on the table and you hammer out, you know, some ground in between.

Maybe some of this is in the semantics. But in diplomacy, semantics count. And I think what, you know, Secretary Blinken has said here is very clearly, we're giving Russia some ideas. We're giving Russia ideas of the areas we can compromise in, some arms control and some troop agreement, some reciprocity, some transparency, if you will.

These things will take a long time to do. But that's the area. The big hurdle there and the big barrier for the Russians, I think, on this, he said that NATO would continue its open door policy.

And that has been a very clear red line for Russia. And it's difficult to see at the moment how Russia will interpret that part of what they're hearing here and how they'll deal with it.

It seems hard to imagine they could put it to one side and engage in the other parts. But it is, you know, as we were hearing from Russians today, the ball's in the U.S. court. Well, this letter puts it firmly back, the ball, in the Kremlin's court right now.

ASHER: I want to bring in John Harwood, as well, joining us now from the White House.

You heard Nic there saying, listen, at the end of the day, Russia's red line, in terms of whether or not Ukraine is going to be able to join NATO, those demands are likely not going to go be met.

However, Secretary Blinken did point out that, you know, he did provide diplomatic offramps, if you will, in this letter, outlining various ways that the United States and various NATO allies and Russia could actually work together.

Will that strategy work?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know. In many ways, this was a reiteration of the principles that the United States has been expressing for some weeks now in this conflict, that there are two paths.

There is a confrontation or there's diplomacy. There are things that we can talk to the Russians about, that Nic laid out, transparency, arms control, placement of military materiel and personnel in ways that might reduce concerns on the Russian side.

I do think, though, that, if there is a deal space, it was one that was alluded to in a sort of subtle (ph) way by Secretary Blinken, when he was asked about that open door policy that Nic was just talking about.

He said that we maintain the open door policy and that there's going to be no backing down on that. That, of course, was a core demand of Russia. If there is a deal space there, it is in the follow-on statement the secretary made, which is that it is not the United States decision unilaterally; it is NATO's decision.

And if there is a way that NATO could signal when that might be possible for Ukraine or when it might not be possible for Ukraine to join NATO, that might be something to reassure Russia because I think most observers think that it is quite a distance away from when Ukraine would be ready to join the alliance.

[13:15:00] HARWOOD: And underscoring that fact, if NATO can somehow allude to that fact, that might be a way that Russia could take something from the responses that he's gotten now from the United States and that he will get shortly from NATO.

ASHER: All right. John, stand by. I want to bring in CNN's Sam Kiley, coming to us from Kyiv in Ukraine.

One thing that Blinken said is that, before drafting this letter to the Kremlin, that they did, in fact, seek input from the Ukrainians.

What more do we know from that perspective?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Ukrainian position has been consistent and regularly reinforced in statements from President Zelensky and the foreign minister in interviews with CNN, that there can be no discussion about the future of Ukraine without the involvement of Ukraine.

So clearly, Mr. Blinken confirming there that he did participate with the Ukrainians in this drafting of this document.

But it's a much wider issue really than merely the future relationship of Ukraine to NATO. It is about the sovereign right of nations to decide what treaties and what alliances they forge for themselves. It's all about denying the Russian claim to some kind of veto over Ukraine.

So yes, the Ukrainians have been involved and they have been relieved and encouraged by the fact that they were part of these discussions. But they will not bend on this issue, whether or not there had been any kind of concession made on their behalf by the Americans.

That was never going to be on the cards and it won't be on the cards when a similar document is drawn up by NATO.

ASHER: All right, Sam, stand by. I want to bring in Jill Dougherty, who is a Georgetown University and Wilson Center adjunct professor.

Jill, thank you so much for being with us.

The fact that the U.S., the Americans have chosen not to release this letter publicly, that this letter is being kept confidential, is the strategy there to basically allow Putin to choose the diplomatic path but at the same time giving him room to save face?

JILL DOUGHERTY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY AND WILSON CENTER: You know, I think it's more that when you begin to release documents like this, it becomes a free for all. And you have, you know, comments by people who have opinions on it; it can be manipulated by either side. It becomes a big debate. Some of it's not clear.

It can really get messy very quickly so I think one of their key ideas is not to get the details out so that, if this works -- and that's a big if -- that at least it would be a clear conversation between Russia and the United States and, of course, NATO and the allies. But essentially you don't want it to get derailed by a whole lot of

extraneous talk. I do think that one of the most important things -- or the most intriguing, I'd say -- that the secretary mentioned was our concerns. Now there really are concerns that the West has about Russia.

And we don't know what is in this letter. But when you look at some of those concerns, they're pretty serious. Russia, for example, wants to go back to 1997. They want to go back to the world as it was, European security as it was, at the end of the Cold War.

But I think the west would say, look, we have all sorts of things that Russia is doing. For example, you have troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. You have troops, whether they're peacekeepers or not, in Moldova.

You have some type of force -- and they're certainly supporting the groups that -- the breakaway groups in Ukraine. You also talk about medium-range missiles. The Russians have Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, which is part of their territory but it's in Europe.

So this can get, this is kind of like what is the phrase, good for the goose is good for the gander or whatever. That's, I think, what they could do. But again, we don't know if they did that specifically, laid out those concerns.

ASHER: All right. We don't know what is in that letter.

Sam, let me bring you in.

Despite this outreach by the United States, is there a fear on the ground there in Kyiv that essentially an incursion by Russia at this point is likely inevitable, that it's not a question of if but really when at this point?

KILEY: Well, the Ukrainians point out first of all there has already been, for the last eight years, an incursion by the Russians. There's a hot war, albeit it relatively low level going on in the region, that Crimea has been annexed by Russia and not recognized by any other significant nation in their annexation and that they do anticipate a -- potentially a false flag operation being conducted by Russia.


KILEY: By that, they mean some kind of an attack in perhaps the Donbas or against Russian troops or Russian-backed rebels in that area that would be blamed on Ukraine and would become a causus belli by the Russians. That is something that they're very conscious of.

They are at the same time saying they don't see it being imminent and they won't be particularly reassured in that message by Antony Blinken's repetition of the Americans' calls for their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible by public transport or private transport means and warning that, if a war does break out, it will be extremely difficult for the United States to offer consulate services. And several embassies here, including the U.S. and U.K., are drawing

down their staff and asking their staff dependents to leave the country as part of that message. That isn't the message that the Ukrainians want to be transmitting to their own population.

They're saying to their own people, stay calm; be prepared but don't panic, is really the message coming from Ukraine.

ASHER: And, Nic, let me bring you back in. Obviously, you pointed out we don't know what is in this letter and we likely or possibly rather will never know.

But in terms of this olive branch that the U.S. may have extended to the Kremlin, what more do we know about the key areas in which the U.S. and various other NATO allies and Russia could actually work together, to advance some of Moscow's security concerns?

ROBERTSON: Well, Russia's principle concerns, as they have articulated, have been what they see as NATO's expansion and foreign troops getting close to their borders.

What Russia has been talking about and what officials talk about here is wanting to make sure that the deal that they get -- remember the language that has been used is watertight, iron clad, legally binding -- they don't want something that no one gets to see.

They want something that is on the surface, on the table but everyone gets to see, that the United States signs up to things that they want to achieve.

They want something very much in the public domain. So there's an inescapable commitment to that. Whatever it is that emerges, ultimately, diplomatically out of this, if there can be.

But for example, the INF, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces agreement which fell by the wayside in 2019, basically broke down over a lack of trust because the United States believed that Russia was, in fact, abrogating the terms of that deal and developing weapons systems of greater range and greater speed than were allowed within that treaty.

Russia then fell out of the treaty six months after the United States, essentially blamed the United States for it.

So you know, can that be rebuilt?

And Antony Blinken certainly indicated that to start talks he talked about, that is a possibility. But again, you know, listening to the language of the Russians on this.

And, yes, the language that you hear from podiums both in Moscow and both in Washington and everywhere else is the language, in part, of diplomacy and part of political posturing for domestic audiences.

But Lavrov, the foreign minister here, was very clear on these issues, that this cannot be allowed to drag on. We want something done quickly.

Is the troop buildup bluster?

What's bluster?

What's real?

What isn't?

Because everyone knows that arms agreements take many, many years, historically, to put in place. If that's the track out of this, you know, the Russians have already indicated they don't have the patience for that.

The reality is, if they begin to get some traction on little bits of what they want, that John was speaking about there, then there is a possibility that it moves forward at that slow pace. But that's not what they're saying at the moment.

ASHER: Nic, let me bring you in. John Harwood is joining us from the White House. There's been so much made just in terms of rhetoric, so much made from the U.S. and NATO allies about the bitter, stringent sanctions that Russia will face if it goes ahead with an incursion, that these sanctions will be catastrophic, essentially, to the Russian economy.

We know, though, that Biden has now talked about personal sanctions against Vladimir Putin himself.

What more do we know on that front?

HARWOOD: Not a lot. But we know that what the Biden administration is trying to signal is that, no, we're not going to send troops into Ukraine if Russia crosses that border with their own troops.

But we're going to do the most severe economic sanctions that we have ever participated in.


HARWOOD: That is unplugging the Russian economy from the global financial system, sanctioning specific oligarchs and their money that is stashed abroad. Same thing for Vladimir Putin as the president colleague, Kaitlan Collins, yesterday when he was out at the White House.

So they're trying to be as aggressive as possible in saying, in trying to deter Russia and get them to take that diplomatic path.

And I think one thing that Jill Dougherty said was very apt. There is interest in the United States in keeping the diplomacy private.

And I think, if you see the Russians release the American document themselves, which is a possibility, that would be a signal that they don't really intend to engage on that front and may have some interest in holding up that document and saying, well, you see, they didn't give us what we want. And now we're going to do what we want to do.

ASHER: Sam, let me bring you in. You talked about this quite a few times, this idea that Vladimir Putin might indeed find some kind of an excuse to justify some kind of an incursion at this point.

There's also a fear there on the ground in Kyiv that Vladimir Putin might find a way of sort of removing Zelensky and installing somebody, who is much more sympathetic to the Russian cause. Walk us through those fears specifically.

KILEY: Well, those are fears that have been expressed by the British government in a very unusual statement based on -- clearly based on the intelligence gathered by MI6 and perhaps other partners, particularly in the Five Eyes relationship, the Anglo-Saxon intelligence sharing relationships suggesting, with a list of names, that individuals considered to be politicians of the Ukrainian ethnicity but sympathetic to Russia could be imposed as a replacement government here in Kyiv.

Now the Russians, of course, dismiss this as an absurd plot. Some of the characters named by the British have done the same. One indeed actually is currently under Russian sanctions.

But I think the significance of that, exposing that kind of alleged plot by none other than the British government, which was reinforced with public statements from the foreign secretary there, is an indication, on top of all the other statements and so on from intelligence sources saying how dangerous they consider the situation to be and how imminent such plots might be.

Reinforce the game (ph), as I said earlier on, by Antony Blinken, saying Americans should get out of Dodge before it gets impossible to get them out.

ASHER: Sam Kiley live for us there. Thank you so much.

Thank you to John Harwood and Nic Robertson and Jill Dougherty.

We'll be right back after this quick break. You're watching CNN. Don't go away.





ASHER: All right. Want to recap some of the breaking news we have been following for the last half hour. The White House says the ball is now in Russia's court. U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken says that Moscow received a written response to their security demands.

He said it was principled and pragmatic and it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should the Kremlin choose to accept it. Blinken has also said the U.S. and its allies are considering all options.


BLINKEN: We're also continuing to coordinate with our European allies and partners on severe economic sanctions to hold Moscow accountable for its actions.

We've developed a high-impact, quick-action response that would there inflict significant cost on the Russian economy and financial system.

As part of our response, we're also prepared to impose export controls that will have a longer-term effect, denying Russia products that it needs to fulfill its strategic ambitions.


ASHER: Secretary Blinken there, outlining what the U.S. is prepared to do, if the Kremlin continues or rather stages some kind of an incursion.

So Jill, let me bring you in again, because we don't know what is in this letter exactly. The Americans are not going to release it.

However, we do know, based on what the U.S. has previously said, that they're unlikely to meet Russia's security demands. The Russians have already said that they will retaliate, if that is the case.

What are the Kremlin's options at this point?

DOUGHERTY: Well, I think they have kind of two. I mean, the discussion, this has been going on now for a while. But essentially what the Russians are saying is they want to redo the post-Cold War security situation in Europe.

And that is something that the United States and NATO are not willing to do. But there's a second part to that, which is what the United States has been bringing up so far. Look, there are other things that we can work on together. And Secretary Blinken did mention those: arms control.


ASHER: Jill, I'm just being told --


ASHER: -- I'm just being told that Jens Stoltenberg is speaking right now. Let's listen in.

JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: So today NATO has conveyed our written proposals to Russia. We have done so in parallel with the United States. And let me outline the three main areas where we see room for progress.

First, NATO-Russia relations: Russia has cut diplomatic ties with NATO, which makes our dialogue more difficult. So we should reestablish our respective offices in Moscow and in Brussels.

We should also make full use of our existing military-to-military channels of communications, to promote transparency and reduce risks and look also into setting up a civilian hotline for emergency use.

Second, European security, including the situation in and around Ukraine: we are prepared to listen to Russia's concerns and engage in a real conversation on how to uphold and strengthen the fundamental principles of European security that we have all signed up to, starting with the Helsinki Final Act.

This includes the right of each nation to choose its own security arrangements. Russia should refrain from coercive force posturing, aggressive rhetoric and malign activities directed against allies and other nations.

Russia should also withdraw its forces from Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, where they are deployed without these countries' consent, and all parties should engage constructively in efforts to settle conflicts, including in the Normandy format.

Third, risk reduction, transparency and arms control.


STOLTENBERG: History has shown that engagement on these issues can provide real security for everyone. So we need practical measures that will make a real difference. As a first step, we are proposing mutual briefings on exercises and nuclear policies in the NATO-Russia Council.

We should also modernize the Vienna Document on military transparency and work to reduce space and cyber threats. We should consult on ways to prevent incidents in the air and at sea and recommit to full compliance with international commitments on chemical and biological weapons.

Finally, we need to have a serious conversation on arms control, including nuclear weapons and ground-based intermediate and shorter range missiles. These areas represent an agenda for meaningful dialogue.

And I have invited allies and Russia to a series of meetings, to address all of these issues in greater detail in the NATO-Russia Council.

Allies are ready to meet as soon as possible. In all of our efforts, we continue to coordinate closely with Ukraine, as well as with other NATO partners, including Finland, Sweden, Georgia and of course, the European Union.

NATO is a defensive alliance and we do not seek confrontation. But we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our alliance and security in Europe and North America rest. We remain fully committed to our founding treaty and our collective defense pledge enshrined in Article 5. We will take all necessary measures to defend and protect all Allies.

And with that I am ready to take your questions.

OANA LUNGESCU, NATO SPOKESPERSON: And we'll start with "Politico," David Herszenhorn.

QUESTION: Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary General.

I wonder if you can tell us if there are any plans for renewed talks, for further diplomatic talks, in the written responses, you think will provide basis for more conversation, the kind of conversation described going forward?

STOLTENBERG: We have invited, I have, as chairman of the NATO-Russia Council, invited all 30 allies and Russia to a series of meetings, where we are ready to sit down and to have substantive discussions on a wide range of issues.

I mentioned main issues in the NATO written proposals we have sent to Russia today. We also have to sit down and listen to the Russian concerns.

And we also strongly believe that these issues represent topics where we both can benefit: arms control, reducing the threats from nuclear weapons, from short range and medium range missiles, addressing the threats and reducing the threat from cyber space but also from space based weapons systems, more transparency on military activities. All of these issues represented, in different ways, areas where actually we can improve the security, both for NATO Allies and for Russia. So at the end of the day, this is about whether it's a will to engage in good faith and to try to sit down and find common ground.

LUNGESCU: Will now go to Natalia Drozdiak from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for my question. I just (INAUDIBLE) that NATO wants to keep an open door policy with Ukraine but could it not in either of these responses or in responses going forward to Russia, would NATO consider, in writing, saying that you Ukraine is not on track for membership anytime soon?

Depending on the wording, this wouldn't necessarily close the door to membership but it would simply state the reality of the situation.

STOLTENBERG: What we have made clear is that we will not compromise on some core principles.

And one of them is, of course, that every nation has the right to choose its own path. So NATO respects a country or a nation when they decide to apply for NATO membership, as for instance, Ukraine or when they decide to not apply for a NATO membership as Finland and Sweden have done.

So this is about respecting the right for self-determination. [13:40:00]

STOLTENBERG: And then, at the end of the day, decisions on membership will have to be made by consensus among the 30 Allies and, of course, the country that applies for a membership. And that is, fundamental principles and that is also, of course, reflected in the NATO positions.

LUNGESCU: Next question, we'll go to Courtney Kube from NBC.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you about the NATO response force.

Mr. Secretary General, can you give us your assessment over whether you think that is going to actually be activated and when?

There's a lot of talk here in the U.S. that it could be activated in advance of some sort of movement by Russia as more of a deterrent?

And then, can you give us a sense of what you think the ultimate size could grow to, the number of troops and any special capabilities, any kind of insight into that?

STOLTENBERG: We are now reaching out to Russia once again to try to pursue a path of dialogue and to find a political solution. That's the reason why we sent them this evening the written proposals from 30 NATO allies covering a wide range of different issues.

But, of course, while we are hoping for and working for, a good solution, de-escalation, we are also prepared for the worst. And therefore, in parallel with our efforts on the dialogue track, we are also increasing the readiness of our forces.

And NATO allies have also increased their presence, including in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea region, with more ships and more planes, partly to conduct surveillance, to monitor, to have the best possible picture of the developments in and around Ukraine, but also to provide reassurance to allies.

And then, part of that is that we actually, some weeks ago, increased the readiness of the NATO response force. This response force is composed of different elements. And the lead element of the NATO response force consists of around 5,000 troops. It's currently led by France.

But also other allies contribute troops to this lead element and it can be deployed within days.

And then, we have additional follow-on troops that can also be deployed on short notice. And to deploy the NATO response force or any element of the NATO response force, we need the decision by the North Atlantic Council, by NATO.

And that decision will be made if necessary and we will deploy if necessary. We have plans in place that we can activate, execute on very short notice. So what we have done over the last two weeks is to increase readiness. And then, what we've done over the last years, since Russia used force against Ukraine the last time, we have increased our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, with battle groups in the Baltic countries and Poland and also more air policing and naval presence.

I welcome the U.S. decision to assign 8,400 (sic) troops on high readiness to the NATO response force, just demonstrating the very strong commitment from the United States to European security and demonstrating the strength of NATO, bringing NATO Allies together and having a multinational force like the NATO response force.

LUNGESCU: We'll take the next question from Denis Dubrovin from TASS.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, good evening. My question is about the possibility for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. As NATO has said that there will be no compromise on this.

Should we understand that the decision of Bucharest Summit will not be dismissed?

As of now, many politicians in Ukraine and Georgia are using this statement to show to its people that their countries will become members of NATO and the European Union very soon. It was the case, for example, in Maidan in 2014.

Don't you feel that you are lying or gets the wrong signal to those countries?

Thank you very much.

STOLTENBERG: We are standing by the core principles on which European security has been based for many years, for decades.


STOLTENBERG: And that is that we respect the sovereign right of every nation to choose what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of or don't want to be a part of.

And that's the reason why we, of course, respect decisions by Georgia and Ukraine to apply for membership and also, the reason why we have engaged in a very strong and close partnership with both these countries.

Our focus now is on the reforms, is to help to modernize and strengthen the defense and security institutions and to meet NATO standards.

But also while we respect decisions of countries not to apply for membership, for instance, as Finland and Sweden but also with them, we have very close partnership, politically strong and close consultations and also our forces exercise together, train together and we have achieved very high degree of interoperability.

So this is about respecting nations and their right to choose their own path. And that has not changed. And that is actually a principle that also Russia has subscribed to many times, starting with the Helsinki Final Act in 1975 but also the Paris Accord in 1990 and many other documents, where this principle has been clearly stated.

LUNGESCU: We'll now go to Thomas Gutschker from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

QUESTION: Thanks a lot.

Secretary General, my first question is, is there anything new in your -- in the answer that has been transmitted to Russia that did not come up when Russian officials were at NATO for the last NATO-Russia Council?

And the second question, there clearly is risk that Russia takes this written response as a pretext to attack Ukraine because its requests have not been fulfilled, obviously.

So why did you still decide to reply in written form?


STOLTENBERG: We decided to reply in written form because we take it very seriously, the efforts to try to make progress in our political dialogue with Russia. And we have listened to Russian concerns; we have listened also to the Russian call for a written response.

And I also think it's helpful not only to meet in the NATO-Russia Council, as we did a couple of weeks ago, having an oral and open and frank discussion on many of these issues, but also actually to go one step further and to write down and agree, among 30 allies, proposals, ideas, topics, where we believe it is possible to make progress, to find a way forward and to find areas where we can actually agree.

And that's a reason why we have put all this into a written document. We, of course, many of these positions and views were also reflected in the discussion we had in the NATO-Russia Council.

But the fact that we now are submitting a written document provides us with the opportunity to be more specific, to go more into the detail and to be more concrete on everything from how to reduce the risks from missiles, short range, medium range missiles, reduce the risk of nuclear weapons, arms control, to transparency on military activities or cyber threats and how to reduce threats from, for instance, space based weapons.

We strongly believe that within these areas there is actually plenty of room also for Russia to see benefits and something that can be mutually reinforcing the security both for Russia and for NATO Allies.

And that's the reason we have conveyed the proposals and that's the reason why we really hope that Russia will read through them, the proposals and the documents from NATO and from the United States, and then be ready to continue in further dialogue.

Let me also add that there's no secret that we are far apart and that there are some serious differences between NATO and Russia. [13:50:00]

STOLTENBERG: But at the same time, that makes it just even more important that we look into the proposals, listen in a reciprocal way to our concerns and try to identify political solutions where we can agree to prevent new armed conflict in Europe, which will, of course, be extremely serious and something we all have to try to prevent.

LUNGESCU: The next question, we'll go to Greg Palkot from FOX News.

QUESTION: Thank you, Oana.

And good evening, Secretary General. Thank you for allowing us to ask these questions. I've got to ask the question that I asked you two weeks ago, frankly.

Are we closer to war with Russia now than we were two weeks ago, considering the developments of recent days?

STOLTENBERG: Tensions are increasing. Russia continues its military build-up. And we see also more troops, not only in and around Ukraine but also now in Belarus, where Russia is in the process of deploying thousands of combat troops, hundreds of aircraft, S-400 air defense systems and a lot of other very advanced capabilities.

And this takes place under the disguise of an exercise. But it integrates very much the Russian forces and the Belarusian forces. And these are highly capable, combat ready troops and that there is no transparency on these deployments.

So of course, this adds to our concerns. It adds to the tensions and it shows that there is no de-escalation. On the contrary, it's actually more troops, more capabilities in more countries. But at the same time, that makes it just even more important to engage in a political effort to find a political solution.

LUNGESCU: We'll now go to --

ASHER: Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's security general, speaking there after NATO submitted their own letter to the Kremlin in tandem with the United States, addressing some of Russia's security demands. We're covering the story from all angles. We have Kylie Atwood at the U.S. State Department and Jill Dougherty, CNN's Moscow bureau chief.

Thank you, both, so much for being with us.

Jill, let me start with you.

Vladimir Putin hears this press conference from Jens Stoltenberg and also the previous one from Antony Blinken and he thinks what?

DOUGHERTY: He thinks NATO and the West have upped the ante, which they have. They responded to Russia by saying, look, we're taking your concerns seriously. And here's what our concerns are.

So this is, I think, more serious. You have, this was a very interesting news conference. Very specific about what NATO wants to do and is suggesting to Russia. In other words, NATO is saying, if you want to resolve this, here are very specific things that we can do.

I would say that this proposal or this answer in the United States, which was supposed to be, of course, on the same page, are much more cohesive than the Russian proposals that were given a couple weeks ago.

You have things like, you know, briefing -- well, number one, NATO- Russia relations go back on track again. If they would reopen their offices, that there would be relationship, military to military relationships, transparency, a hotline, discussions of briefings on nukes, cyber, exercises.

And I just think it was a very interesting explanation, which was far more specific than what Secretary Blinken said. So you know, President Putin now has to answer.

But does he want to?

You know, this is really getting into the nitty-gritty of answering what Russia says it wants to do. So he'll have to decide.

Is he really going to do it or does he just ignore this and go on in another direction?

ASHER: The ball is in his court.

Kylie, let me bring you in. So if the letter from the United States, Kylie, if the letter from NATO doesn't really have the intended effect of forcing or persuading, if you will, Vladimir Putin to de-escalate, then what?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Secretary Blinken was very clear that this is an effort to keep diplomacy alive. He said that they laid out a very serious and clear path for diplomacy.


ATWOOD: But he also explained what the United States has been talking about over the last few days, putting those 8,500 U.S. troops on high alert to potentially go to Europe. Also doing things like refining what the sanctions options are.

President Biden not saying that it was impossible that the U.S. would impose sanctions on President Putin himself. So there are a number of things that the United States is being very clear that they have ready to go, should Putin go forth, should Russia actually invade Ukraine, to make sure that the cost is high.

But the reason that the secretary and, of course, the NATO secretary- general laid out what they told Russia in these written responses today was to be very transparent about the number of issues that they are actually willing to engage with Russia on. There are a few things that are off the table. And Secretary Blinken

called those core principles, right. The fact that Russia -- excuse me, NATO has an open-door policy. The United States and all the members of NATO support that.

That means Ukraine could someday become a member of NATO. But he also said, very clearly, that there are those areas that U.S. officials had been defining over the last few weeks when it comes to missile placement, when it comes to arms control, when it comes to risk reduction tactics that he believes, that the United States and NATO believe, that Russia and those countries could work on together.

So really, as the secretary said, the ball is in Russia's court now. I thought it was interesting that Blinken also noted that President Biden was intimately involved in the drafting of this written proposal that went to Russia today.

That demonstrates that President Biden knows what is in there and that he is really a part of this entire process. He even put forth some edits, the secretary of state said. So that is significant and I think that will be heard by the Kremlin.

ASHER: All right. Kylie Atwood, Jill Dougherty, thank you for being with us during this hour of fast-moving breaking news in terms of Russia-Ukraine relations and the letter delivered by the United States and NATO to the Kremlin. All right.

Thank you so much for being with us. Stay with CNN. My colleague Larry Madowo will pick up after this quick break.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

LARRY MADOWO, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome, I'm Larry Madowo in for Hala Gorani tonight.

Next move, Vladimir Putin.