Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said President Joe Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against committing future “reckless and aggressive actions” when he meets with him in Geneva later this week.
“This is not going to be a flip the light switch moment,” Blinken told CNN’s Dana Bash during an appearance Sunday on “State of the Union.” “What the president is going to make clear to President Putin is we seek a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia.”
He added: “But if Russia chooses to continue reckless and aggressive actions, we will respond forcefully as the president has already demonstrated that he would when it comes to election interference, or the Solar Winds cyber attack, or the attempt to murder Mr. Navalny with a chemical weapon.”
Aleksei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, fell ill in August last year. In December, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Navalny had been poisoned using a substance with a “similar structural characteristics” to the Novichok family of highly potent nerve agents, according to The New York Times.
Biden in an April executive order placed sanctions on Russia for its attempts to interfere in the 2020 US election and its role in the SolarWinds cyberattack last year.
The US has faced a number of major cyberattacks this year, including the attack on the gasoline provider Colonial Pipeline which caused gas shortages along the east coast in May. DarkSide, the ransomware group that hacked Colonial Pipeline, is believed to have ties to Russia.
Blinken on Sunday indicated a decisive answer on cooperation between Russian and the US wouldn’t come from the Wednesday meeting but said it was the start of determining whether the two nations can find common ground and work together on shared interests.
“This meeting is not happening in a vacuum,” Blinken said. “We’re coming off the G7, we’re coming off the NATO summit, we’ll be coming off an EU summit as well, and our leadership and our engagement is a very powerful force.”
Blinken said the US was in a “much stronger position” that it was just one year ago to work with allies to confront issues posed by adversaries like Russia and by China.
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Thursday blasted fellow Democrats for distorting comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota regarding potential war crimes committed by the US, Israel, Hamas, and the Taliban.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
This came after a group of 12 Democrats put out a statement condemning Omar over remarks she made in a tweet regarding a discussion between the Minnesota lawmaker and Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Monday. The statement misleadingly accused Omar of “equating” the US and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban and urged her to issue a clarification.
In a tweets responding to the statement from the group of Democrats, Omar said, “It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification’ and not just call. The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
She added, “Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”
Democratic leadership on Thursday also released a statement that distorted Omar’s words and suggested she drew “false equivalencies” between democracies like the US and Israel and terrorist groups.
Omar faces consistent attacks from fellow members of Congress
Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, has repeatedly had her comments on foreign affairs taken out of context by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as prominent groups in Washington.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful pro-Israel lobby, released an ad during fighting between Israel and Hamas in May that superimposed Omar’s image over Hamas rockets and distorted comments she’d made about the conflict.
The ad was prompted by an Omar tweet that said, “Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism. Palestinians deserve protection. Unlike Israel, missile defense programs, such as Iron Dome, don’t exist to protect Palestinian civilians. It’s unconscionable to not condemn these attacks on the week of Eid.”
The AIPAC ad falsely stated, “When Israel targets Hamas, Rep. Omar calls it an act of terrorism.”
At the time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a rare rebuke of AIPAC, telling reporters, “I don’t agree with Congresswoman Omar’s comments, but it’s very disappointing to see deeply cynical and inflammatory ads twisting her word.”
In 2019, Omar apologized after sending a series of tweets that suggested politicians in Congress had been bought off by groups like AIPAC, which critics said played into anti-Semitic tropes. Omar at the time said, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes … This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Meanwhile, influential politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is Jewish and briefly lived in Israel, have come to Omar’s defense against allegations of anti-Semitism with regard to criticism of the Israeli government.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” Sanders said in a statement in March 2019.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Thursday that the US is not pursuing the purchase of the Greenland after former President Donald Trump floated the possibility in 2019.
During a press conference in Greenland, Blinken said it was “correct” when a reporter asked if the US is not seeking to buy Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, and that his visit to the island was to strengthen diplomatic relations with “our Arctic partners, Greenland and Denmark.”
Foreign Minister Pele Broberg echoed the sentiment, saying Blinken’s visit is “not considered a real estate deal.”
“A real estate deal means land with nothing on it, nobody on it,” Broberg said. “Secretary Blinken has made it clear that he’s here for the people living in the Arctic, for the people living in Greenland.”
“Denmark essentially owns it. We’re very good allies with Denmark, we protect Denmark like we protect large portions of the world,” Trump said at the time. “So the concept came up and I said, ‘Certainly I’d be interested.'”
“Strategically it’s interesting and we’d be interested but we’ll talk to them a little bit. It’s not No. 1 on the burner, I can tell you that,” he continued, adding that the sale of the island is “essentially a large real estate deal.”
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said at the time that it was an “absurd discussion,” saying that Greenland Premier Kim Kielsen “has made it clear that Greenland is not for sale, and the discussion stops there.”
The US has told Israel that it can’t publicly support Israel in its offensive in Gaza for much longer, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “determined” to continue fighting, Axios reported.
An unnamed Israeli source told the outlet that in a Wednesday call between Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Blinken said that the US expected Israel to wind down its military operations soon.
It is unclear exactly how long that is expected to take. On Tuesday, he had told officials that fighting could stop within several days, Israeli news website Ynet reported.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a senior official for Hamas – the Gaza-based militant group fighting Israel – said he expected a cease-fire “within a day or two.”
The call between Blinken and Ashkenazi, reported by Axios, suggests that behind the scenes, the Biden administration is feeling the increasing pressure – both from the international community and within parts of Biden’s Democratic party – to join international calls for a cease-fire.
He had “expressed support for a cease-fire” in an earlier call with Netanyahu on Monday, the White House said. But he went on to block a joint effort led by France, Jordan, and Egypt to that end at the UN Security Council.
The Biden administration has instead been pursuing what Press Secretary Jen Psaki described as “quiet, intensive diplomacy” at a White House press briefing Tuesday.
The conflict is in its second week, with Israel launching airstrikes into Gaza, and Gaza militants firing rockets toward Israel every day since May 10.
Most of the casualties have been in Gaza, with Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting much of the incoming barrage. A total of 219 people in Gaza have been reported dead, at least 63 of whom were children, the BBC reported. Ten people, also including children, have been killed in Israel, the BBC said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he hasn’t seen any evidence to bolster Israel’s justification for leveling a Gaza building that housed offices for prominent media outlets like the Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
The Israeli government said Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, was operating out of the building that was destroyed on Saturday.
“I have not seen any information provided,” Blinken said at a press conference in Denmark.
“Shortly after the strike we did request additional details regarding the justification for it,” Blinken said, adding that he “will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was asked on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” whether it had shared intelligence with the US to back up the government’s claims. “Well, we pass it through the intelligence services to our people, to those people,” Netanyahu said.
“We share with our American friends all that intelligence and here’s the intelligence we had, it’s about Palestinian terrorist – an intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization housed in that building that plots and organizes the terror attacks against Israeli civilians. So it’s a perfectly legitimate target,” Netanyahu said. “And I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries. In fact, no deaths, no injuries whatsoever.”
Netanyahu made these remarks in response to a question on a Jerusalem Post story that citing anonymous officials in Jerusalem stating that the US had been shown a “smoking gun” proving Hamas worked out of the building.
The Israeli leader underscored that Hamas has fired “thousands of rockets and missiles on our cities.”
Israel has responded to the rocket attacks by pummeling Gaza with airstrikes. The Israeli military has also said that its Iron Dome defense system has intercepted a majority of the rockets fired at Israel.
Since the fighting began last week, at least 200 people in Gaza have been killed, including 59 children and 35 women, BBC News reported, citing Gaza’s health ministry. At least 10 people in Israel, including two children, have been killed by the rocket attacks.
AP and Al Jazeera denounced Israel over the strike and called for an independent investigation.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt in a statement said the publication was “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza.”
Pruitt added, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, on Sunday told CNN that AP never had an indication that Hamas was operating out of the building.
“We are in a conflict situation,” said Buzbee. “We do not take sides in that conflict. We heard Israelis say they have evidence; we don’t know what that evidence is.”
“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday – an independent investigation,” she added.
Dr Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, in a statement called on the international community to “hold Israel accountable for its deliberate targeting of journalists and the media institutions.”
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” Souag went on to say.
Joel Simon, executive director of Committee to Protect Journalists, in a statement said Saturday’s strike “on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.”
“We demand that the Israeli government provide a detailed and documented justification for this military attack on a civilian facility given the possible violation of international humanitarian law,” Simon added. “Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it.”
Washington is “actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance,” Blinken said, adding that while most of the Russian troops deployed to the border had been withdrawn, “significant forces remain.”
“We are monitoring the situation very, very closely,” Blinken said alongside Zelenskiy, according to Reuters. “And I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you, partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions.”
Blinken’s visit to Ukraine is no doubt a calculated response by the Biden administration to Russia’s deployment of nearly 100,000 troops along the shared border last month.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the military to unwind that deployment a few weeks later, it drew international rebuke and led to weeks of uncertainty and heightened tensions worldwide.
It’s this tension that led President Joe Biden to send the seasoned diplomat to Kiev.
Blinken, who was deputy national security advisor from 2013 to 2015 and deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017, is no stranger to Putin’s antics. He played an important role in the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution in early 2014.
But putting the secretary of state on the ground also sends a clear message to Putin and the Kremlin.
Many have dismissed Russia’s moves as mere saber-rattling. But after more than two decades of autocratic rule, Putin’s political arsenal is growing thin. Growing domestic opposition led by the unwavering Alexei Navalny, a slumping economy, and a mismanaged coronavirus pandemic response has turned up the heat for Putin and his cabal of loyalists.
As a result, Putin is pulling the levers in his propaganda machine in the hopes of quelling any challenge to his grip on power.
Putin took the opportunity to spin up some of his hits, lacing his remarks with anti-Western rhetoric – including thinly veiled threats and ultimatums – in hopes of ginning up Russian distaste for Europe and the US. He warned the West not to cross Moscow’s “red lines.”
But glaringly absent was any mention of Navalny or the opposition, despite protests and arrests before, during, and after the speech.
According to The New York Times, Russian authorities arrested “dozens of opposition activists” prior to Putin’s speech, including Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, and Lyubov Sobol, a high-ranking member in his political organization.
Navalny, who ended a dramatic 24-day hunger strike in late April, is still sitting in a Russian jail, despite a massive outpouring of public support.
Several cities across Russia saw demonstrations for the imprisoned opposition leader during and after Putin’s speech. And while the opposition’s campaign has always enjoyed support from younger, progressive Russians, scattered reports show expanding support for Navalny.
That support will continue to grow as Putin exerts more pressure. The BBC reported that a prosecutor has ordered all of the support offices for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to close.
The report also suggested that the Kremlin may designate FBK a terrorist organization, which would allow Putin to jail supporters and freeze assets with impunity.
The added pressure on Navalny is telling. His poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok in August 2020 – almost certainly carried out by Kremlin assassins – failed to kill him and backfired for Putin, putting the Russian leader in hot water internationally while inadvertently fanning the flames at home.
Since then, Putin’s footing is increasingly unstable. And like the good soldier that he is, Putin tends to go on the offensive when he’s backed into a corner.
At present, the majority of Russian military equipment from the April operation is still staged at the border. While the number of troops there has fallen sharply, it would be easy for Russia to deploy them quickly and rumble over the border.
The US has responded to Russia’s display of military strength (and Putin’s propensity to unleash it on the region).
According to the State Department, the US has sent $3.7 billion in support to Ukraine since 2014, alongside another $3 billion in sovereign loan guarantees. This support has included “technical assistance, training, and equipment to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and security services,” such as lethal weaponry, though there are restrictions on its use.
Blinken’s visit is a potent reminder to Putin that the US is heavily invested in Ukraine and will, according to Blinken, “stand strongly” with Ukraine against Russia’s “reckless and aggressive actions.”
J.W. Sotak is a defense and foreign-policy reporter who focuses on the Middle East and Africa. He is a 10-year veteran of the US Army and served as part of a Army Civil Affairs Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. His reports have been published on SOFREP and The New York Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JWSotak.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has warned that China had started acting “more aggressively abroad” and behaving “increasingly in adversarial ways.”
He told CBS News’ 60 Minutes in an interview aired Sunday that he wanted to avoid military confrontation between the two superpowers but said it was a “fact” that China had increased its aggressive behavior towards other powers in recent years.
Asked about the prospect of military confrontation, he said: “It’s profoundly against the interests of both China and the United States to, to get to that point, or even to head in that direction.”
“What we’ve witnessed over the last several years is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad. That is a fact,” he added.
President Biden has pledged largely to continue pursuing a hawkish line towards China, with a recent meeting between Chinese and American diplomats in Alaska souring relations.
Blinken has specifically criticized China’s use of coercive measures against US allies, and said Washington views China as both an economic and security threat, particularly in the technology industry, CNBC reported.
Blinken told CBS News that Biden and Chinese premier Xi Jinping had talked in their first phone call in February, which lasted over two hours, about “real concerns” the US had about actions China had taken.
“President Biden made clear that in a number of areas we have real concerns about the actions that China has taken, and that includes in the economic area, and that includes the theft of intellectual property,” he said.
The United States is “not focused on a boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing despite its concerns over human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday.
Calls for the US and other nations to boycott next year’s games are growing amid continued allegations of human rights abuse by the Chinese government in the country’s Xinjiang region.
“This is a year or so before the Olympics. We’re not focused on a boycott,” Blinken told “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. “What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns.”
“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “The international community, including the US Olympic Committee, will not accept it.”
As Insider previously reported, the US has been in talks with its allies over whether they should boycott the Olympics, slated to begin February 2022, due to the alleged human rights abuses in China. Human rights groups have alleged the Chinese government has forced minority groups – particularly over a million Uyghur Muslims – into detention camps in the Xinjiang region.
China has repeatedly denied such claims. The US and its allies this year imposed sanctions on China. Blinken previously accused the Chinese government of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity”
“We need to be able to bring the world together in speaking with one voice in condemning what has taken place and what continues to take place,” he said Sunday. “We need to take actually concrete actions to make sure, for example, that none of our companies are providing China with things that they can use to repress populations, including the Uyghur population.”
But the US must ensure it was dealing and acting with all of its “interests and values” in mind, Blinken said.
“And when it comes to China, we have to be able to deal with China on areas where those interests are implicated and require working with China, even as we stand resolutely against egregious violations of human rights or in this case, acts of genocide,” he added.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday we need “to get to the bottom” of the origins of COVID-19 in China to prevent a similar pandemic from happening again in the future.
Blinken made the comments Sunday during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Meet the Press” moderator Chuk Todd asked Blinken whether he believed China knew the still unclear origin of COVID-19, noting a recent investigation by the World Health Organisation had been unable to determine the exact origin of the disease.
In their report, researchers said the most likely possibility was the novel coronavirus jumped from bats to humans through an intermediary animal host, as Insider’s Aylin Woodward previously reported. But the WHO team was ultimately unable to determine which population of bats, or which intermediary species, carried the virus.
“I think China knows in the early stages of COVID, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which is to in real-time give access to international access experts, in real-time to share information, in real-time to provide real transparency,” Blinken said. “And one result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with much more egregious results than it might have otherwise.”
According to the WHO report, researchers believed that the first animal to human transmission happened in the fall of 2019, in October of November, months before China shut down wildlife farms in February 2020.
Blinken stressed Sunday that it was important that the origin of the virus was determined and how the virus spread in the early days of the pandemic to prevent a similar outbreak from occurring in the future.
“I think we have to,” he said. “We need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened in order to have the best shot possible to prevent it from happening again. That’s why we need to get to the bottom of this.”
The Treasury Department on Monday unveiled new sanctions against two Chinese officials in response to “serious human rights abuse” against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The sanctions, which target Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, were rolled out in coordination with Canada and European allies.
“Amid growing international condemnation, the [People’s Republic of China] continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
Blinken said that the US reiterates its call for the Chinese government to “bring an end to the repression” of Uighurs, calling on China to release “all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”
“These actions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to working multilaterally to advance respect for human rights and shining a light on those in the [Chinese] government and [Chinese Communist Party] responsible for these atrocities,” Blinken added.
The announcement of new sanctions against Chinese officials came just days after Blinken was involved in a testy exchange with China’s top diplomat in Anchorage, Alaska, as US and Chinese officials held the first face-to-face talks under President Joe Biden.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Blinken said the US intended to use the talks to discuss its concerns regarding human rights abuses in Xinjiang, among other issues.
Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of condescending to China. In comments that lasted roughly 15 minutes, Yang said the US government was in no position to lecture other countries on human rights abuses, alluding to racism in the US as he referenced the Black Lives Matter movement.
Blinken then hit back with an impassioned defense of the US, underscoring its willingness to confront its shortcomings “openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug.”
The dynamic between the US and China became increasingly contentious under the Trump administration, particularly as then-President Donald Trump blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese government. Top experts have warned that the US and China are entering a new Cold War that could have devastating consequences for the global economy.