Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 18, 2022
QUESTION: We’ll start with the UN General Assembly’s resolution deploring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for the immediate withdrawal of its forces. African countries accounted for half of the abstentions on that vote. What do you make of that?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think what I make of it is that we have to do additional work to help these countries to understand the impact of Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine, and I think that we have done some of that work already in terms of engaging with those countries. I think many of them saw an abstention as being neutral. And there is no neutral ground here. There is no question –
QUESTION: Well, they’re talking about neutrality, so many of them are condemning that military action, but they want to be neutral from a political standpoint. And, you know, it rekindles memories of the Cold War and its legacy. That is what these countries are saying– Uganda, for example – that they want to remain neutral from a political standpoint. Isn’t it within their right to do that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Certainly it is within their right to do that, but I think it is also right to look at the impact of this on the international order. They’re feeling the impact of this war of aggression, and until their voices are heard, until the Russians hear from them that they are not supporting this effort, the Russians will see them as supporting them. So a neutrality – an abstention or a neutrality vote – is not neutral here. You cannot stand on the sidelines and watch the aggression that we see taking place in Ukraine and say you’re going to be neutral about it.
QUESTION: Well, but calling them to take sides – either with the West or Russia – that just brings back memories of the Cold War, which many of them would not want to see a repeat of.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is not the Cold War. And it is not a competition between the United States and Russia and the West and Russia. This is an attack by Russia on its neighbor. It is an attack by Russia on the very core values of the United Nations. It is an attack on Ukraine, and that’s what we’re dealing with. We’re not dealing with a war of aggression between Russia and the United States. And it’s a narrative that does not fit this current situation.
QUESTION: Many of the countries are in agreement with you. Ethiopia did not vote at all. They did not even just try to abstain. They just didn’t take part in the vote. And, you know, they said that they were urging for restraint. So, they’re not sitting on the sidelines.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, I can’t explain the countries who were absent. I heard from one of the countries who was absent that they only had one person, and that that person was out sick with COVID, and he couldn’t vote. So there may be other reasons. I can’t explain why a country was not there in the room for this critical vote. But what I can say is we got 141 countries. It was unprecedented for 141 countries to support, and I thank those countries for being on the side of peace, on the side of calling for an end to this war. I mean we’re seeing everyday – BBC is showing the horrific pictures of what is happening. No one can stand back and say, ‘I’m going to be neutral,’ when a maternity hospital is being attacked when women are there having babies.
QUESTION: Indeed. But Africa was so – was divided down the middle. And is this – do you see this as an outcome of, you know, an assessment of America’s influence and perhaps more broadly speaking, the influence on the West on the continent? Russia has been making inroads into quite a number of countries.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They certainly have been making inroads, but when we look at what they have been doing, bringing in the Wagner Group to fight against the people of Africa, as we’ve seen them do in Central Africa Republic, that is not an inroad as far as I’m concerned. The U.S. has been in Africa –
QUESTION: – well, officially the Russian government has said that it has no links with the Wagner Group.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Of course they say that. Of course they’re saying they have no links with Wagner, but that is the Russian inroad onto the continent of Africa. We have been on the continent of Africa for – since the beginning. We are the largest – we have the largest bilateral programs on the continent of Africa. Our embassies are almost in every country. We have a strong partnership with the continent of Africa. And yes, some countries made the decision – about 15 of them made the decision – to abstain on this resolution. I’m hoping that as they see this situation evolve, that we will see more of those countries join with the 141 who voted in support of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Well economically, some of these countries, many of them actually on the continent, also depend on imports of basic items like wheat from Russia. And therefore, could this be a factor in the decisions that they make, for the position that they’ve taken now?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Many of the countries depend on the import of wheat from Ukraine, and that wheat is not able to get out because of this war of aggression against the Ukrainian people. And many countries also get imports from the United States. And what the countries get from the United States and Europe just dwarfs what they get from Russia. So right now Russia’s bilateral trade with sub-Saharan Africa is about $7 billion in 2021. What they are getting in terms of trade between the United States and Europe is somewhere around $44 billion. And we’re doing everything possible to mitigate the impact of – the economic impact of this war on the continent of Africa and working with countries to find other sources for their imports that they’re now getting from the Russians.
QUESTION: And very quickly, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa says that he’s been invited to mediate. Would you back that mediation effort by South Africa?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We will support every mediation effort by every country if they can bring an end to this horrible conflict. So yes, any efforts by other countries who will lend their voices and lend their backing to finding a solution, I think is something that we all support. There are a number of countries that have been engaging. We know that France has been actively working on this. We know that Turkey has been actively working. Africa is impacted by this, so if President Ramaphosa is engaged on this, I think all of us will be encouraging of his efforts to bring this war to an end, to impress upon President Putin that he needs to stop this attack on the Ukrainian people
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.