Newly elected US President Joe Biden has decided on the candidacy of the Secretary of State: he will be 58-year-old Antony Blinken, who for a long time held positions of the second and third level in the American state system. From 2021, he will be in charge of US foreign policy. To have an idea of what changes await US foreign policy, how they will affect Ukraine and other countries, and how President Volodymyr Zelensky's team is to build bridges with the new administration in Washington, it is worth analyzing the track record and point of view of the future head of the State Department on various international issues.
Antony "Tony" Blinken was born in 1962 in New York into a Jewish family with Ukrainian roots. His father Donald Blinken, a World War II veteran, was the US ambassador to Hungary, his uncle Alan Blinken headed the American embassy in Belgium, and his grandfather, writer Meir Blinken, was born in Kyiv and emigrated to America. Tony lived in France, where his mother Judith Blinken emigrated with her new husband, a Jewish lawyer Samuel Pizar, who survived the Holocaust in the Auschwitz and Dachau death camps. Blinken studied at the elite French educational institution Ecole Janine Manuel, graduated from Harvard University, Columbia University School of Law with a scientific degree. In the 80s, he worked as a reporter for The New Republic magazine, a lawyer in New York and Paris.
Tony Blinken has been involved in American politics since his youth and has a long career in the civil service. In 1988, together with his father, he participated in fundraising in support of the Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (lost to George W. Bush). In 1994-2001, Blinken worked at the US National Security Council, held the position of Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and wrote speeches for him, oversaw issues of relations with Europe and Canada. In 2002-2008 he served as director of the office of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which included Senator Joe Biden.
In 2013-2017 Blinken has served as Deputy Secretary of State, National Security Advisor to Vice President Joe Biden, and Deputy National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama. Then he was in charge of US foreign policy in Afghanistan, Libya, in the Asia-Pacific region. During his work, a special operation was carried out to eliminate the terrorist "number one" Osama bin Laden in 2011, there was a change of regime in Libya, a trade pact Trans-Pacific Partnership was signed. Blinken served as Biden's foreign policy adviser during the 2020 election campaign.
Blinken has earned a reputation as a competent and authoritative official, a serious analyst who understands geopolitics and international relations. He has worked for American think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and has written articles on foreign policy for The New York Times, CNN. In 2017, Blinken, together with former Deputy Defense Minister Michel Flournoy, founded WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that analyzes geopolitical risks for investors.
Blinken is not a political "hawk", he is a globalist and a supporter of multilateral cooperation within the framework of international organizations, strengthening democracy in the world. He criticized the isolationism and unilateralism of President Donald Trump's administration. In his opinion, it is advisable to revive trust in the United States in the world as a reliable partner, return to the Paris Agreement on Climate Protection, conclude a new nuclear deal with Iran, stay in WHO, pay more attention to global problems and try to resolve crises.
Tony Blinken considers Russia's aggression in eastern Ukraine to be a serious problem that has revealed the weaknesses of US foreign policy, and is suspicious of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He admits that in the 90s, the Democrats made the mistake of believing that Russia could become a democratic state tied to relations with the United States and NATO. The United States facilitated Russia's entry into the WTO in 2006. Blinken believed that after Putin came to power in 1999, he would deepen cooperation with the West, but this did not happen due to the fact that democratic values are incompatible with the flourishing corruption, thanks to which Russian power is enriched.
Blinken participated in the development of Obama's "reset policy", who, for some reason, saw in President Dmitry Medvedev a progressive independent leader capable of turning Russia towards the West. But he miscalculated that in tandem with Putin, Medvedev played the role of a follower, and not an equal player. Despite the existing stereotype that Biden was a supporter of a hard line towards Russia in the Obama team, in one of his interviews Blinken admitted that his boss saw the "reset policy" as an opportunity for Moscow to effectively cooperate on a global level.
Blinken's drawback in the context of resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine is the double perception of Russia as a partner and an adversary at the same time. For example, he has supported the policy of anti-Russian sanctions since 2014, while at the same time counting on the Kremlin's support in resuming talks with Iran on a new nuclear deal. Blinken is against the completion of the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is unprofitable for Ukraine, and sees it as an obstacle to the EU's diversification of energy supply routes, but in 2016 argued that the United States did not intend to oust Russian oil and gas from the European market.
Blinken is overly cautious and pragmatic, while any geopolitical confrontation is fraught with risk. He was sympathetic to Obama's decision not to provide anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, as he feared that after the destruction of a large number of Russian armored vehicles by the Ukrainian military, the Kremlin would begin to act harder in Donbas and there would be even more casualties. Blinken believes that Russia has more advantages to influence the development of the situation in eastern Ukraine than the United States. After the Trump administration came to power and tightened sanctions against Russia, his views on this matter changed - he recommended the owner of the Oval Office not to delay the transfer of lethal weapons to Ukraine.
He has no clear understanding of how to force Russia to peace in eastern Ukraine. The sanctions did not make Russia more compliant in terms of the implementation of the Minsk agreements. In his opinion, the development of democratic processes in Ukraine will contribute to the containment of Russia and its liberalization in the future, which looks like a utopia, given the flourishing corruption, nepotism, too slow pace of reforms. In any case, the United States will not lift anti-Russian sanctions until Crimea returns to Ukraine and the conflict in Donbas is settled.
The future secretary of state considers NATO to be an effective instrument for defending democracy in the Baltic states and Central-Eastern Europe, which have secured themselves from returning to the orbit of Russian influence. In his opinion, if Ukraine were admitted to the alliance, it would have avoided Russia's aggression. At the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit, Germany and France blocked Ukraine's accession to the NATO Membership Action Plan. Blinken supports an increase in NATO defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2024.
Middle East politics
Blinken's main mission in the Middle East is to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium and shut down nuclear facilities. He is not going to revive the Obama nuclear deal that Trump left in 2018, but wants to bind the Islamic Republic with such obligations that will nullify any attempts to restart the nuclear program in the future. As long as Tehran does not make concessions, the Trump administration's sanctions will remain in place, which is disadvantageous to EU member states that want to buy cheap oil.
Blinken gives an important priority to relations with Israel, where he is considered a "friend" in political and expert circles. He supported the mediation of the Trump administration in the negotiations between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain and the agreements reached on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the countries. However, he considers the decision of the American president to stop providing security assistance to Palestine, to move away from the principle of "two states" in the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and also to reduce the military presence in Syria dangerous for Israel.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its right to annex 30% of the West Bank. The Palestinians want to create their own state in these territories. It will be difficult for the new Secretary of State to convince Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will not want to give back what he has already received. Moreover, Blinken rules out the option of freezing military-technical cooperation with Israel, even in the event of disagreements on the Palestinian issue. During the escalation of the conflict in the Gaza Strip and the massive rocket attacks on Israeli cities in 2014, Blinken contributed to the US allocation of a quarter of a billion dollars to Israel for the production of Iron Dome anti-missile systems.
The change of power in the United States is an unpleasant surprise for Saudi Arabia. Blinken doubts that 35-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Salman is suitable for the role of a regional ally of the United States. Democrats do not support the military operation of Saudi Arabia in Yemen, which resulted in large casualties among the civilian population (over 11 thousand people). Although in 2015, Blinken supported Riyadh's intervention in a neighboring state, where the Iran-sponsored Shiite organization Ansar Allah tried to overthrow the secular government and launch rocket attacks on the kingdom.
The assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who criticized Prince Salman, is contrary to democratic values. The blockade of Qatar, which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and a number of Arab countries suspect of sponsoring international terrorism, runs counter to the interests of the United States, which needs unity among the Gulf countries to contain Iran. There is an American airbase in Qatar. Perhaps the Democrats will raise the issue of freezing arms supplies to Saudi Arabia, as the European countries did. Blinken is going to revise some of the defense contracts with the UAE, including plans for the supply of multi-role F-35 fighters, so as not to deprive Israel of a military advantage in the region.
Confrontation and cooperation with China
Biden's team will continue Trump's tough policy towards China, as it sees it as the main competitor in the world in the political, economic and military spheres, will incline to concessions in the field of trade and seek to protect the intellectual property of American companies that operate there. But instead of unilateral duties, Blinken's task is to convince European and Asian countries to support the United States in this matter. The diplomat believes that the Pacific Partnership trade pact with the participation of the United States and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, which account for 40% of world trade, could become a counterbalance to the economic power of the Celestial Empire. Under Trump, the United States ended the deal.
At the same time, Blinken is going to negotiate with the Chinese leadership on cooperation in the field of climate protection, the fight against coronavirus and counts on his assistance in negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal. His advisors helped American companies enter the Chinese market amid the trade war. However, it is far from certain that Beijing will be pleased with the new administration. The Chinese will demand the lifting of all duties imposed by the Trump administration in exchange for help on other issues.