Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 18, 2022
QUESTION: Let’s bring in now U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Madam Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us. You thought it was especially important that Secretary of State Blinken come to the United Nations. Why?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Given the gravity of the situation on the ground, I thought it was important for the Security Council, as well as the rest of the world – because this was an open meeting – to hear directly from our top diplomat what we were seeing, what we were hearing, and our concerns about what was happening on the ground. And I thought that Secretary Blinken was extraordinarily effective in getting that message across to the Security Council.
QUESTION: Talk about your conversations – that you can talk about – with your Russian counterpart and any indications of where you believe this crisis is going.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m exactly in the same place as Secretary Blinken and the rest of the Administration. What we see happening on the ground at this moment indicates that the Russians are planning an attack. We’re hopeful and, as you heard from Secretary Blinken, we are leaning in on diplomacy to try to find a way at the negotiating table to a solution to this that does not lead to the devastating impact that a conflict would have on this country.
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, good morning. It’s Jonathan Lemire. Understandably, lots of focus right now on the U.S.-Russia dynamic, but of course, the third party to all of this is Ukraine. Could you tell us a little bit about your conversations with the Ukrainians, your counterparts there, what their message – how they received Secretary Blinken’s call to action yesterday and his dire warnings towards Moscow?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The Ukrainian Ambassador in New York was extraordinarily pleased with the statement that Secretary Blinken delivered. He messaged me in the middle of the statement to say how much he appreciated the forward-leaning approach we were taking. I meet with him regularly. I consult with him regularly. And I think that he has no doubt that the Russians would attack, and he’s very appreciative of the support that we’re providing them.
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, Secretary Blinken’s address yesterday was remarkable in a couple of instances. He alluded to steps that the Russians may be about to take within Ukraine during an attack. Clearly some of it was forecast by intelligence that we have gathered from inside Russia. That was probably a message to Vladimir Putin in and of itself that we’re reading his mail, so to speak. But I’m wondering, on an interpersonal level, not a diplomatic-speak level, the Russian delegation is sitting there during that speech that Secretary Blinken gave yesterday. What is the relationship that you have with the Russian delegation on an everyday basis? I think people wonder: Is it contentious? Do they speak? Do you? Do you speak to each other in a friendly manner during the week?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are all diplomats, and we’re all professionals and, yes, we do speak to each other during the week. We engage with each other on issues where sometimes we have a mutual interest, and we can come together. But we know that we represent our own country, and we represent the interests of our own country. So when we’re sitting at the table we are perfectly willing to take off the kid gloves and address each other in a way that there’s is clarity about where each of our governments stand. But on a day-to-day basis, as with all diplomats, we have cordial relations.
QUESTION: Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Al Sharpton. The question, I think, that is a delicate balance for you and others is that, at one level, the United States represents itself as being the beacon of democracy and having nations like Ukraine be able to determine where they want to be and how they want to be governed, and at the other level, having to deal with this cat-and-mouse back-and-forth with Russia and how Putin behaves. How do you balance the two when you have to deal with the practical situation of Russia and China and dealing with what the country is supposed to stand for, which Ukraine could be a victim of? How do you strike that balance without sacrificing either?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Certainly the United States stands as a beacon of hope for democracies around the world. And I have said without doubt that we are not a perfect democracy. We are an evolving democracy, and every day we are working to correct ourselves. But what we see happening in Ukraine, Rev. Sharpton, is an attack on democracy. And every country where democracy is a value, every country should stand with Ukraine, because if their democracy is attacked, they would want us to stand with them. And I think that message has gotten through quite clearly.
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, Macron’s doing his best – it seems to me – Charles de Gaulle imitation running around, going back and forth to Russia, talking about alternative security arrangements in Europe. What can you tell us about where the French want to go, how they want to change the post-war security arrangement?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for the French government, but I can say we are united with the French government and with the Europeans on how we should respond to this attack on the security of a European neighbor. And our allies have been unified in saying to the Russians that we are prepared to talk to them at the diplomatic table, and the fact that the French ambassador – sorry, the French president – is leaning in on diplomacy, I think, is a positive message that we are unified in our approach to Russia.
QUESTION: And finally, let me just ask you about any frustrations you have had since going to the United Nations with both Russia and China as permanent members of the Security Council and able to veto anything that would hold either of those countries accountable. What’s our strategy? How do we get things done in the United Nations with those two road blocks?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We get things done by engaging every single day with other countries, because sometimes the veto power isn’t as powerful as you might think when other countries are unified in expressing their concerns. And right now, despite the fact that Russia has the veto power, Russia heard from a united Council that they should pursue a diplomatic approach and not a confrontation in the region. So I think that isolation and that pressure has had an impact on them.
QUESTION: Alright, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for being with us this morning. We greatly appreciate it.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.