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Blinken sets a standard for lifting sanctions: an 'irreversible' Russian withdrawal

Olivier Douliery, Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
In an interview with NPR, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says U.S. sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine are "not designed to be permanent," and that they could "go away" if Russia should change its behavior.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that merely stopping the invasion of Ukraine may not be enough for Russia to gain relief from Western economic sanctions. The U.S. also wants an assurance that there will never be another such invasion.

In an interview with NPR, Blinken spoke of Western sanctions that cratered the Russian ruble, led global firms to shutter their Russian operations, and closed the Moscow stock market. He said the unplugging of much of Russia's economy from the West is beginning to wreak long-term effects that are "growing over time."

He insisted that U.S. sanctions against Russia are "not designed to be permanent," and that they could "go away" if Russia should change its behavior. But he said any Russian pullback would have to be, "in effect, irreversible," so that "this can't happen again, that Russia won't pick up and do exactly what it's doing in a year or two years or three years."

Blinken held out no prospect that Moscow is ready to consider any such terms. Russian negotiators have been meeting with their Ukrainian counterparts, but have made a variety of demands, including the explicit recognition of Russia's past seizures of Ukrainian territory.

A more likely scenario is continued war, and the top U.S. diplomat warned of further devastation of Ukrainian cities. "We've seen the brutality that Vladimir Putin has brought to this. We know his his track record in Chechnya. We know the track record of what he's aided and abetted in Syria. I think we have to expect the same."

Russian offensives toward Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities remain stalled, according to a senior defense official. Russian forces instead have bombarded the cities from afar. NPR's Leila Fadel, who was in Kyiv on Tuesday, reported waking to the sound of an explosion. Ukrainian authorities said multiple explosions struck a residential area.

Blinken spoke with NPR as Ukraine's president prepared to address the U.S. Congress via video from Kyiv. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to seek more help from his embattled country. The U.S. and its NATO allies continue to provide weapons for Ukraine, while avoiding the commitment of NATO troops.

The U.S. says it has been working to ensure that Russia receives no help to escape its military and economic predicaments. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan met on Monday with his Chinese counterpart, discussing matters that ranged from Ukraine to Taiwan. Blinken did not characterize the meeting, but did offer a warning to Beijing.

"China's already on the wrong side of history when it comes to the Ukraine," he said. "If China actually provides material support in one way or another to Russia in this effort, that would be even worse, and that's something we're looking very carefully at."

Blinken did not disclose any direct U.S. contact with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. "There are always ways of communicating," he said. "Diplomacy ultimately is going to have to be part of the solution to this. But that really depends on Vladimir Putin engaging."
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