Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nation
New York, New York
February 1, 2022
QUESTION: Let me first ask you about our earlier reporting from Vladimir Putin’s ongoing news conference where he says that in the Western responses, which are the U.S. response, to the Russian demand for a written report, if you will, that they do not meet the Russian security concerns. In other words, NATO’s expansion, the eastward expansion, which, of course, the U.S. would say is a non-starter. He doesn’t seem to be responding to the arms control proposals from Secretary Blinken. So, is this a very ominous sign?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I think it’s a sign that we are still having ongoing discussions with the Russians. Our meeting at the Security Council yesterday – we’re very pleased to have that meeting and to get the Russians on record on what they are doing in Ukraine. And we had them hear from a unified Council our recommendation – our push for them to pursue a diplomatic solution. And we’ve also made clear to the Russians that we’re willing to sit down and talk to them about their security concerns. We are willing to also address Ukraine’s security concerns. They have 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. NATO does not have those kinds of forces. NATO is a defensive force. But we’re willing to discuss with them the security concerns that they have.
QUESTION: Do you believe what the U.S. was originally saying in recent days and weeks that Vladimir Putin would not have amassed that kind of force on the borders, now on three sides coming from Belarus in the north, as well, if he weren’t going to do something – something aggressive?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s exactly what we believe. Why would you put 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine if you had no intention of invading that country? And it’s more than 100,000. They put* an additional 30,000 in Belarus. So, it is up to them to explain what their troops are doing and what their intentions are. And I think we had a good opportunity to push them on that at the Security Council yesterday, and again we had another opportunity in a diplomatic forum – multilaterally this time – to have them on the record in public.
QUESTION: Does Ukraine’s hesitance about all this from the Zelensky press conference on Friday undercut the allied response or do you see that differently?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I can’t speak for the President of Ukraine. What I can say is that we have had intense discussions with the Ukrainian government, with President Zelensky, with the foreign minister. I have met with the Ukrainian ambassador here in New York who was present at our meeting yesterday, requested the meeting in writing, and made a strong, strong appeal to the Security Council in that meeting. So, I think we’re on the same sheet of music in terms of what we’re seeing. Our narrative is different, our rhetoric is a little different, but what we’re seeing on the border, there’s no dispute on that.
QUESTION: From the U.S. perspective, the briefing that we just had, the call between the Secretary of State and Secretary Lavrov – the foreign minister – was fairly positive today, because they were talking about talking again and possibly even having a meeting, that there was a diplomatic path here. It does seem to be a different tone from Vladimir Putin now, in his news conference just hours later. Is there a disconnect there?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, I can’t speak for the Russians, but from our side we want to pursue a diplomatic solution. And we’re going to lean in on the diplomacy, and I was very pleased coming out of the meeting or the discussion that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov had that they agreed they will have further talks. That is the approach that we have always wanted, and we will continue to do. But it doesn’t mean we won’t prepare to respond and respond strongly to any aggression that the Russians might decide to do.
QUESTION: How concerning is Belarus? You mention the 30,000 troops there. They’ve got missiles there. And that would mean that Russian movement is only two hours from Kyiv, at worst case.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s very, very worrisome. A hundred thousand troops, now 30,000 troops – again that reflects what we see as the intentions of the Russian government. But we’re still pushing them to reconsider, to accept a diplomatic approach that will lead them to de-escalation and not to further confrontation.
QUESTION: Do you think that a Lavrov-Blinken meeting or even a conversation between the two presidents would be important to try to resolve some of these misunderstandings or deliberate miscommunications?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, Andrea, the President has spoken to President Putin twice before. And while I’m not aware that there are other plans for a meeting, I know that we are willing to continue to have those discussions at every level between our government and the Russian government. We have been clear from the start of this that we want the Russians to find the solution at the negotiating table and not on the battlefield.
QUESTION: Now, Russia, as of today, takes over the presidency of the Security Council for one month, it’s a rotating presidency. Can they do anything to stop any UN Security Council discussion, action? They can certainly veto any resolution, but can they obstruct the UN Security Council as they lead it?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, they will try to distract us, but they can’t block a Security Council meeting. The presidency doesn’t allow them to do that. But they will try, I’m sure, any procedural tricks that they can find to distract the Security Council from this issue. But as we met yesterday, we can still propose a meeting and have a meeting during the Russian presidency.
QUESTION: Well, again, Ambassador, I know how busy you are. I can only imagine how busy you are. But thank you so much for taking time to talk to us. It’s very, very important to have your perspective.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you so much, Andrea.