Sep 6, 2023

Secretary Blinken Arrives in Kyiv for an Unannounced Visit Transcript

Secretary Blinken Arrives in Kyiv for an Unannounced Visit Transcript
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on an unannounced visit Wednesday, hours after Russia launched its first missile attack in a week against the Ukrainian capital. Read the transcript here.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

The Secretary of State, Antony Blinken is in Kyiv this morning meeting with key Ukrainian officials, including President Zelenskyy. Moments ago, Blinken wrapped up a meeting with the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reaffirming America’s commitment to helping Ukraine.

Antony Blinken (00:15):

I’m here first and foremost to demonstrate our ongoing and determined support for Ukraine as it deals with this aggression. We’ve seen good progress in the counteroffensive. It’s very heartening. We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but has what it needs for the long term to make sure that it has a strong deterrent, strong defense capacity so that in the future aggressions like this don’t happen again.

Speaker 1 (00:48):

Today’s visit marks Blinken fourth to Ukraine since the war began. According to senior State Department officials, he’s expected to announce more than $1 billion in new funding for Ukraine. Joining us live from Kyiv, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent, Richard Engel. Richard, it’s good to see you. So tell us more about what Secretary Blinken is doing today and how important this show of support for Ukraine is coming from the United States.

Richard Engel (01:15):

So good morning. And it’s going to be back here in Ukraine, and I think according to State Department officials who’ve been briefing reporters, that this trip is really designed to show US support to connect with the Ukrainian government as it is now three months into this offensive. One senior US official described this as a going back to school moment that the summer is over, the US is getting back to work, Congress is getting back into session. The UN General Assembly meeting is taking place in New York in just a couple of weeks. President Zelenskyy is likely to attend that as well. So it is a time to show support, a time to get on the same page and to bring this war back, front and center to the American public at a time when the American people haven’t been focusing as much on this conflict over the summer and over the last several months as this offensive has been going on, so it’s really a time to coordinate and to reinvigorate US support going into the fall.

Speaker 1 (02:17):

So Richard, what is the true sense on the ground there in Ukraine of how this counteroffensive, as you say now three months in, much discussed, much anticipated counteroffensive. There’s been some frustration expressed at the slow pace of things to be expected in a long ground war like this, but how is it going from the view of officials there in Ukraine?

Richard Engel (02:40):

It’s been incredibly difficult, and I think that anyone who watches wars for a long time understands that they’re not linear. They come in phases, and this phase of the war is extraordinarily difficult because it is the Ukrainians who are not defending themselves. When this war began, Russia under Vladimir Putin launched an invasion, tried to take the capital, tried to capture Kyiv and then lost. And then the Ukrainians were very effective in chasing down those Russian troops, driving them back to the border. And we saw dramatic advances from the Ukrainians as they were attacking retreating Russian troops. Now the Russians are dug in and they’re dug in along a 600-mile frontline. They have three layers of defenses. There are dragon’s teeth, there are landmines, and they’re fighting right close up against the Russian border, so it is very difficult for the Ukrainians to break through these fortified positions.

And the landmines, according to Ukrainian officials, we’re talking about millions of landmines, millions of individual explosive devices that cover an area roughly the size of Florida. So you’re sending Ukrainian troops in relatively small groups, platoon size, to try and punch a hole through these incredibly fortified positions. And the Ukrainians have been doing this and they’ve been experiencing very heavy losses on both sides according to some US estimates. We’re talking now about 500,000 killed or injured on both sides. Roughly 300,000 Russian killed are injured and 200,000 Ukrainian killed are injured. Many of those happening during this offensive.

Speaker 4 (04:22):

Richard, I’m curious, has there been any talk about some of the reporting in Frank Foer’s new book about the strained relationship between the American president, the Ukrainian president, about him being so naive before the war started refusing to listen to Americans saying that, “You’re going to be invaded,” and then after being accused by Biden of being an ingrate and warned that he was offending Western leaders. Is there any backdrop there? Have you heard any blow back from any Ukrainian officials?

Richard Engel (05:01):

So I know what you’re talking about and I know that is something that both sides are very sensitive about and don’t want to discuss openly. When I was last here in Kyiv, I interviewed President Zelenskyy and one of the points he wanted to make and he wanted to make sure that we included and came across in our interview was that how appreciative he is to President Biden personally, how he doesn’t take this US support for granted, that this is something that is an American commitment, but is also a commitment from this administration. So publicly, they absolutely don’t want to highlight any kind of frustration or personal dissatisfaction at things that have been going ahead.

But generally speaking, I think what we saw today from the visit by the Secretary of State, when Blinken came, he and Kuleba gave each other a hug and a pat on the back. I think in general, the relations between this administration and the Ukrainian government is quite warm. What they don’t also talk about is their deep concerns, what would happen if Donald Trump won the election? That would be a very different kind of relationship. So whatever problems or misunderstandings they may have had in the past between Zelenskyy and Biden, it is nothing compared to their concerns about what could happen if Trump were to win.

Speaker 5 (06:23):

NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel. Thank you very much for your reporting and insight this morning.

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