CBS Grills Secretary of State Blinken While ABC, NBC Throw Softballs

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As Russia was on the verge of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the rounds on the evening news broadcasts on Wednesday evening. While all three networks asked Blinken questions about what the United States and the world can expect Russia to do, CBS Evening News’ interview was noteworthy for how tough it was for the Biden administration official. 

CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell pulled no punches when she interviewed Blinken starting the segment by asking: “The President’s swift and severe sanctions have not deterred the Russians. So does that mean this was a failure of American diplomacy?” 

As expected, Blinken denied that Russia’s actions are a failure of American diplomacy, arguing that it “succeeded very effectively in bringing the world together, the United States and Europe together in standing up to Russian aggression.” 

O’Donnell then wondered if it is now too late to stop Russia from invading Ukraine. She then pleaded with Blinken “how can the world stand by and watch what could be the beginning of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II?” 

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Blinken continued to argue that the sanctions are indeed working because they are going to “make it very hard for Russia to raise money around the world, to finance its projects” and that if Russia invades the “unprecedented sanctions will have a severe impact.” Norah was not buying it: 

But, Mr. Secretary, this is not stopping Vladimir Putin from a full-scale invasion. You have even estimated over 100,000 civilians dead. Why is the world going to wait for this to happen? And do you believe Putin will stop at Ukraine?

Blinken kept insisting that Biden’s sanctions are working as a deterrent. “We’re not waiting. We’re acting. We’re acting in unison. We’re acting swiftly, and we’re doing everything we can to deter him,” Blinken urged.  

Over on ABC’s World News Tonight, the interview was much easier for Blinken. Anchor David Muir began the interview asking about the Russian separatists that “have now made a formal appeal to Vladimir Putin for military help” 

Moments later, Muir asked Blinken that “Putin giving every signal that he’s now moving forward, so, are the sanctions working here?” Blinken replied that the sanctions have worked to kill Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. 

Muir then asked the following questions before ending the interview. The first was “if sanctions don’t work here, are there any non-economic moves President Biden can take?” The second was “if sanctions don’t work, is there anything else President Biden can do here?” The third question being if Blinken still believes there’s “a diplomatic path?”   

Meanwhile, on NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt asked Blinken if he has “reason to believe before this night is over, Russian forces will be engaged in something akin to a full invasion of Ukraine?” Blinken’s answer made headlines:   

I do, unfortunately, Russia has positioned its forces at the final point of readiness across Ukraine’s border to the north to the east, to the south. Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine. 

A clearly stunned Holt asked for clarification “to be clear, you think tonight that can happen? Or will happen?” Blinken doubled down on his belief that it will happen. 

Holt then asked the following question: 

The first round of sanctions has apparently not deterred President Putin, and given the attack posture, you just described, that the Pentagon describes it sounds like follow on sanctions won’t be deter him either. Is the administration out of options here? Is Russian control of Ukraine a feta complete? 

This was the first mention of sanctions in the NBC interview. Holt then ended the interview by asking what Blinken thought Europe would look like with “Ukraine in Russian hands”? 

ABC & NBC giving softball interviews to Secretary of State Blinken was made possible by the sponsorships of Nature’s Bounty on ABC, and Fidelity on NBC. Their information is linked.

To read the relevant transcripts click “expand” 

CBS Evening News
2/23/2022
6:37 p.m. Eastern 

NORAH O’DONNELL:  Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. The U.S. has been warning Ukraine that a full-scale invasion is imminent. The President’s swift and severe sanctions have not deterred the Russians. So does that mean this was a failure of American diplomacy?

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: To the contrary. First of all, diplomacy succeeded very effectively in bringing the world together, the United States and Europe together in standing up to Russian aggression. At the same time, we’ve made it clear that if Russia continues to escalate, if it engages in a full-scale invasion of Ukraine beyond what it’s already doing, we’ll escalate, too. And I hope that that knowledge may still act as a deterrent. But if it doesn’t, we’ve been clear that Russia will face massive consequences for its actions, and it will.

O’DONNELL: I wonder if it’s too late. I mean, how can the world stand by and watch what could be the beginning of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II? 

BLINKEN: Well, we’re not standing by and watching. To the contrary. We’ve spent months building with allies and partners these very significant consequences for Russia. Already, just yesterday, Germany took off the table a major pipeline, an $11 billion project that Russia was counting on, to be a cash cow for selling energy to Europe. That is now off the table. That’s something we’ve been working on for months. Additional sanctions that are going to make it very hard for Russia to raise money around the world, to finance its projects. If this goes forward, what we have on the table, unprecedented sanctions will have a severe impact.

O’DONNELL: But, Mr. Secretary, this is not stopping Vladimir Putin from a full-scale invasion. You have even estimated over 100,000 civilians dead. Why is the world going to wait for this to happen? And do you believe Putin will stop at Ukraine?  

BLINKEN: Again, we’re not waiting. We’re acting. We’re acting in unison. We’re acting swiftly, and we’re doing everything we can to deter him. And if it doesn’t deter Putin from further aggression in Ukraine, there will be a very swift and severe response. This is a price that Vladimir Putin and Russia will pay for a long, long time.

O’DONNELL: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time.

BLINKEN: Good to be with you.

ABC’s World News Tonight
2/23/2022
6:38 p.m. Eastern 

DAVID MUIR: Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us here tonight. I want to get right to what was reported late today from Russian state news, reports that those Russian separatists in those two regions inside Ukraine that Vladimir Putin declared as independent, that those separatists have now made a formal appeal to Vladimir Putin for military help in, quote, repulsing Ukrainian aggression, accusing Ukraine of genocide. This was announced in the middle of the night in Moscow. And you’ve been saying all along the U.S. has been predicting that there could be some sort of manufactured plea for help here, that Putin might then use it to send in Russian troops. Is that what we’re witnessing here?

(…)

MUIR: Secretary, I wanted to ask you what we heard from John Kirby over at the Pentagon late today, when pressed, what has the U.S. seen inside Eastern Ukraine, has the U.S. seen Russian forces move into the Donbas region? He said that we certainly believe that additional Russian military forces are moving into that region, but we can’t confirm the numbers, the capabilities, but that we certainly believe that’s happening. So, just to be clear tonight, the U.S. believes Russian forces have moved into Eastern Ukraine, can you shed any more light on the numbers? What do we know right now?

(…)

MUIR: We know they’re assembled on the borders though. He made it sound like they’d begun to push in. Is that your belief, too? 

(…)

MUIR: We all watched as Vladimir Putin suddenly declared those two regions independent. Then sanctions from President Biden. 24 hours ago, President Biden telling the American people that the invasion was beginning and then we saw more sanctions. Now tonight, Putin giving every signal that he’s now moving forward, so, are the sanctions working here? 

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: David, the sanctions are designed to do two things. And first of all we’ve spent a lot of time working with allies and partners to build the sanctions, to be able to act in unison, to be able to act quickly, which is just what we did yesterday. With significant sanctions against major Russian financial institutions, their ability to raise money around the world for their projects and critically, the step that Germany took in close coordination with us, to end this pipeline, the so-called Nor Stream 2 pipeline, that would have been a cash cow for Moscow going forward. $11 billion project that’s now on the ice. But the sanctions are designed in the first instance to try to deter Russia from taking further aggression from engaging in a massive invasion of Ukraine. Beyond the steps that they’ve already taken. But if that doesn’t succeed in deterring them, to make it very clear that they’re going to be massive consequences and to punish them for the actions they take. All of that is in place. 

MUIR: Will the U.S sanction Putin directly? 

(…)

MUIR: You don’t need me to tell you this, we all know that Russia has been sanctioned before. Putin just told the Russian people this week that the west is going to sanction us. So, if sanctions don’t work here, are there any non-economic moves President Biden can take? 

(…)

MUIR: But bottom line if sanctions don’t work, is there anything else President Biden can do here? 

(…)

MUIR: With just a few seconds left here, we appear to be in the 11th hour here. Do you still believe there’s a diplomatic path?

NBC Nightly News
2/23/2022
7:07 p.m. Eastern 

LESTER HOLT: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. Do you have reason to believe before this night is over, Russian forces will be engaged in something akin to a full invasion of Ukraine?

SECRETARY OF STATE ANTONY BLINKEN: I do, unfortunately, Russia has positioned its forces at the final point of readiness across Ukraine’s border to the north to the east, to the south. Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine. 

HOLT: To be clear, you think tonight that can happen? Or will happen? 

(…)

HOLT: The first round of sanctions has apparently not deterred President Putin, and given the attack posture you just described, that the Pentagon describes it sounds like follow on sanctions won’t be deter him either. Is the administration out of options here? Is Russian control of Ukraine a feta complete?

(…)

HOLT: Russia will have to pay but in the meantime, Ukraine would be in Russian hands. What does Europe look like with Ukraine in Russian hands?

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