Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 24, 2023


MS. CHRIS JANSING: As the United Nations is pushing for peace in Ukraine, our own Andrea Mitchell just talked exclusively with U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and Andrea is with us now. The timing obviously couldn’t be better because of what’s happening at the United Nations right now. Where did the ambassador tell you they think the war is going, and what more can be done? 

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Well, what she told me is that it is entirely up to Vladimir Putin at this point, that has – right now, China is strongly considering intervening in the conflict, which is very troubling to the U.S., by sending weapons to Russia. So, our UN ambassador told me that that would change the U.S. relationship with China and the state of play on the battlefield:  

QUESTION: Well, this is such a big day. It’s been one year, and the war is still continuing, expanding, escalating. What are your thoughts?  

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s one year since the war started, and it’s exactly two years since I started in – I got sworn into this job. So, it’s a big day for me for a number of reasons. 

QUESTION: You’re a wartime ambassador. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m a wartime ambassador here at the United Nations. But it’s also a big day because we have successfully over the past year kept Russia on their heels. We have isolated them here at the UN – yesterday another vote, 141 countries supported a peace plan that really lays out an opportunity for Russia to make the right decision, which is to take their troops out of Ukraine, end their brutal attack on the Ukrainian people, and end this war and go back to the negotiating table. And they did everything they possibly could to diminish those votes, and they didn’t succeed. We isolated them. 

QUESTION: What do you say to the 32 countries that abstained? You’ve got South Africa and India, major countries, to say nothing of China. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We talk to all of the countries to explain to them the reasoning behind this resolution. We want peace. We want diplomacy. We want negotiations. And I think they want exactly the same thing, but they think by being neutral that they get that. And it’s their decision. 

QUESTION: This is certainly the room where it happens.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is the room where it happens. 

QUESTION: So here is where you and Secretary Blinken sit telling the world about the invasion of Russia. What do you say to China now that China is considering weaponizing, rearming Russia? Wouldn’t that be a game changer? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It certainly has been made clear to the Chinese from President Biden to President Xi, President – Secretary Blinken made that clear to Wang Yi in Munich this past week, that China should not get involved in this war in the sense of providing lethal weapons to the Russians, that it would be a game changer and it would be – it would be something we would have serious concerns about. They’ve not done that so far, and we hope that the messaging to them gets through. 

QUESTION: And there’s a report, a German report, that they are going to deliver attack drones to Russia as soon as April. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And this is – yeah, and this is why we’ve made clear that that is unacceptable, that they cannot engage in – with the aggressor on this war. And Russia is the aggressor, and Russia’s efforts have been condemned by the world. I mean, even China abstained on the resolution, so –  

QUESTION: Last night in the General Assembly, they did not vote against it; they abstained. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And they did not vote with Russia. 

QUESTION: But if they send arms to Russia, they are – that’s a transformation of Chinese policy. They’ve never gotten engaged this way. What do you think is going on there? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They – it shows complete and total hypocrisy. They talk about peace. They talk about the integrity of borders. They talk about sovereignty. They say they believe in the UN Charter. This is an attack on the UN Charter. It would show China for truly what they are if they make the unfortunate decision of providing lethal support to the Russian effort. 

If China was serious about peace, they would have supported the resolution that we all voted on yesterday, 141 countries. If they are serious about peace, then they would not consider providing lethal weapons to the aggressor in this war.  

We all want peace. The Ukrainians want peace more than anyone. Their country is being destroyed. So, if China is truly interested in peace, they have to act and behave like a country that wants peace. 

QUESTION: And right now, we are putting more Treasury sanctions on, today, putting more sanctions, but there’s so much leakage. My colleague, Keir Simmons, on NBC last night showed truck after truck carrying Dodge Rams – brand new Dodge Ram pickups – from Abu Dhabi to Turkey to Georgia, where we shot this footage. And the driver said they were going to be heading to Moscow and going for $170,000 apiece. Brand new trucks from America. How can you explain that? The sanctions are leaking. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, countries will, and individuals are making efforts to get past our sanctions. But we’re looking at that leakage; and every place we see leakage, we’re stopping it up and we’re stopping it. And we will continue to press on countries to respect the sanctions because the sanctions actually work.  

The reason countries complain about sanctions is because they work. And when efforts are made to break those sanctions, then they’re breaking the law, and we will hold them accountable. We’ll hold the companies accountable; we’ll hold the individuals accountable, who are breaking sanctions that are being imposed on Russia. But the sanctions are having an impact. They are doing all kinds of artificial manipulation to ensure that the numbers don’t reflect that.  

But the impact of this war on Russia is tremendous. Two hundred thousand Russians have died or been injured in the course of this war. Over a million Russians have emigrated from Russia to avoid being conscripted into this war. So, they are feeling the impact and they’re on their heels, and we will keep them there until they remove their troops from Ukraine.  

QUESTION: The U.S. has determined that Russia is guilty of crimes against humanity. Will Vladimir Putin ever be held accountable?  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That is for the international system to determine. But I think if he looks at Milosevic, it took some time. Pinochet it took some time. The world is looking at the atrocities that are being committed by Russian troops, and there’s only one person responsible for that, and that’s Vladimir Putin.  

QUESTION: Will Russia be forced to pay reparations someday? Because under the international law, crimes against humanity can lead to reparations to help rebuild Ukraine.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think all of the tools that we have available to us to hold Russia accountable will be used to exact those kinds of payments from them.  

QUESTION: Well, here we are in the Security Council, which Eleanor Roosevelt and others of that generation viewed as the place for human rights and peace. And yet there can’t be a resolution today because China and Russia would veto it. Doesn’t the structure mitigate against the Security Council being as powerful as it should be? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The Security Council is over 70 years old, and we have been talking over the past few months about how we reform the Security Council: we make it more inclusive; we add new states, for example, from Africa. Because when this Council was created 70 years ago, many of those countries didn’t exist. So, there are some tweaks that need to be done. There’s some reform that we’re all talking about. But we have to make a reality so that the Council can work more effectively.  

But all said, we do accomplish a lot here. We do pass resolutions that get unanimous support from members of the Council. And we will do our best to continue to see this Council provide what the world is seeking, and that’s peace and security around the world. It’s a work in progress and it’s one that there’s no end state to. We have to keep working at it. 

QUESTION: And when I’ve talked to some of your predecessors in better times, they had relationships outside of the Council chamber with their Russian counterparts. What’s your relationship with the ambassador from Russia? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s complicated. As a diplomat he is well – he was well-respected here in the Council. But since the war with Ukraine, the Russians have kind of gone off the rail. You may have heard that we had a Council meeting in which they brought a briefer in who started singing to the Council. So, they’re showing total disrespect to the Council, and that disrespect is now being reflected in the kind of relationships that we have outside the Council with Russian diplomats. 

QUESTION: So here we are on the anniversary. It’s been one year. What’s your message to the Ukrainian people? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The President gave that message so clearly when he was in Ukraine. We stand with Ukraine. We will stand with Ukraine as long as Ukraine needs us. And as long as Ukraine continues to fight, we will give them what they need to fight. We’re behind them. We’re standing with them. And they’re fighting on the front lines for freedom, for democracy, and for all the values that we share. 

QUESTION: How does this war end? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a question that, at the moment, Vladimir Putin can answer. It’s in his hands to pull his troops out of Ukraine. If he does it today, the war ends. The Ukrainians are fighting for their lives, and so they can’t stop fighting as long as they’re being attacked by Russia. But Russia can stop today, and the war is over.  

QUESTION: And with China a potential game changer, because he’s running low on ammunition, he needs their help, he needs them to get more ammunition, more weapons. If they do that, is that a red line? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think it – we’ve been very clear to the Chinese that this is problematic, and we have told them in no uncertain terms that if they do provide lethal weapons to the Chinese that we will – I mean, sorry, to the Russians, that we will respond. So, they know. They’ve had conversations at the highest levels of the U.S. government, with the President of the United States, with the Secretary of State, that any moves by their part – on their part to provide lethal support to Russia’s aggressive efforts, their attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine, would be viewed with tremendous concern by us, but also by the rest of the world. They have relations with others in the world. They have relations with Europe. They’ve going to blow all of that should they make this unfortunate decision.  

QUESTION: You’ve said before it’s a red line. Is that – does that mean anything to them? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t – I assume it does, but I think they have heard clearly from the President that this is not something they want to do. 

QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, thank you very much for your time on a very important day.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good, thank you very much and great to talk to you again.