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Secretary of State Blinken talks with European allies about Russia

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

European security is at stake as Russia masses troops near Ukraine. That is the message that Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought to Berlin today. He's been holding a flurry of meetings with one goal in mind.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: To ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia. That unity gives us strength - a strength, I might add, that Russia does not and cannot match.

KELLY: Blinken is trying to keep allies on the same page, keep them ready to impose punishing sanctions on Russia if Russia takes further aggressive actions against Ukraine. Well, NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen is traveling with Blinken in Berlin today. Hey, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I want to start with what President Biden said here in Washington yesterday, which was to suggest allies are not quite on the same page here. This was during his big news conference at the White House. And he said there may be disagreements as to what constitutes a major Russian incursion that would be big enough to trigger sanctions. How is Blinken handling that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, he was asked directly about this and about concerns in Ukraine that Biden might be inviting more Russian aggression by just saying that. Ukraine's president even said today there is no such thing as a minor incursion into a country. So what Blinken said today is that if any Russian forces move across the Ukrainian border, the U.S. and its allies will impose severe costs. But he says they're also doing contingency planning and talking about what steps they're going to take if Russia does other things, like destabilize Ukraine with cyberattacks or other activities short of an invasion. He says countries might respond slightly differently, but the response is going to be coordinated.

KELLY: Well, Michele, which allies might be hesitating and why? What was Biden referring to?

KELEMEN: Well, you know, for instance, already the U.S., U.K. and Turkey have been providing Ukraine with defensive weapons. In Turkey's case, it's been drones. But Germany doesn't do that. And in fact, Germany and some other European allies have also been less enthusiastic about some of the sanctions that could damage their own economies. You know, the Germans are finishing up a pipeline with Russia. Blinken says no gas is flowing through Nord Stream 2 yet, and Germany could use that as leverage. But Germany's foreign minister wasn't really making any promises when she was asked about that today. She only repeated kind of similar lines that there will be costs. And Germany prefers a diplomatic path.

KELLY: Well, and what about France? Yesterday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said Europe should launch its own separate dialogue with Russia over Ukraine. Is that coming up in talks today?

KELEMEN: Yeah, it did. He was asked about it and Secretary Blinken's message is basically that the Europeans and the U.S. share the same goal, and that is to resolve this diplomatically. So basically, he's saying that all of these efforts have to be persuaded at one thing, and that is getting the Russians to deescalate.

KELLY: Tomorrow, maybe the biggest meeting of the week is set to take place. This is Blinken. He will be in Geneva. He will be sitting down with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia. What are the hopes for that?

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken is not raising any expectations that there's going to be a breakthrough. He's not bringing with him any written responses to Russia's proposals, which is something that Moscow wants. You know, they want guarantees that Ukraine is never going to become part of NATO. They're also making other demands about the Western alliance. And a lot of those things Blinken has dismissed as non-starters. But mainly, he says, the U.S. and its partners are ready to talk about reciprocal steps that all sides can take to ease tensions and provide stability in Europe. But he says Putin has a choice to make, and the choice is either diplomacy or conflict that could be costly for Russia.

KELLY: NPR's Michele Kelemen traveling with Secretary of State Blinken in Berlin today. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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