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What Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees as Russia's strategic failings in Ukraine

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Finland's NATO membership is just one sign that Russia has failed in its goals in the war in Ukraine. That's the view of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who says the Russians are making the same mistakes in Ukraine as the Soviets did in the Winter War in Finland. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In Helsinki City Hall, Secretary Blinken compared Russia's aggression against Ukraine to the 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: Like President Putin's so-called special operation against Ukraine, the USSR's so-called liberation operation falsely accused Finland of provoking the invasion. Like the Russians with Kyiv, the Soviets were confident that they'd sack Helsinki in weeks.

KELEMEN: Blinken got some chuckles in the audience when he talked about how Putin's war is backfiring. He said Putin tried to project strength in Ukraine, but instead showed Russia's weaknesses.

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BLINKEN: The Kremlin often claimed it had the second-strongest military in the world, and many believed it. Today, many see Russia's military as the second strongest in Ukraine - its equipment, technology, leadership, troop strategy, tactics and morale a case study in failure.

KELEMEN: The idea of this speech was to show that NATO is stronger now and committed to helping Ukraine build up its defenses for the long haul. The secretary of state was also trying to reassure countries in the Global South that the U.S. will support peace efforts as long as any deal doesn't require Ukraine to give up territory now occupied by Russia. He didn't mention that Finland had to give up territory to the Soviet Union to end the Winter War.

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BLINKEN: We'll support efforts - whether by Brazil, by China or any other nation - if they help find a way to a just and lasting peace consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter.

KELEMEN: Here in Washington, the Biden administration was raising alarms about Russia's nuclear saber-rattling. Moscow has taken steps in recent days to move tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus. It has suspended its participation in the New START Treaty, the only agreement that caps the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: Russia's actions have been dealing body blows to the post-Cold War nuclear arms control framework.

KELEMEN: That's National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking to arms control experts today. The Biden administration has just scaled back its information-sharing arrangements under the New START treaty. But Sullivan says the U.S. will stick to the limit set by the treaty if Russia does, and it's ready to talk about what comes after it expires in 2026.

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SULLIVAN: And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post-2026 arms control framework. We are prepared to enter into those discussions.

KELEMEN: Arms control experts don't see any signs that Russia would be willing to discuss that now. The U.S. also wants to talk to China about its nuclear arsenal, but Sullivan says Beijing won't even come to the table.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.