Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with JJ Green of WTOP

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 7, 2022


QUESTION: Today, there was a vote to kick Russia off the Human Rights Council. Why is that important?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was an unprecedented vote. We suspended Russia from the Human Rights Council. Russia is a Permanent Member of the Security Council. And Russia is responsible for attacking its neighbor, compromising all of the principles of the United Nations, attacking the sovereignty and the border of a country, and committing gross human rights violations and war crimes. They should not sit on the Security Council*. They have a responsibility as a member of the Security Council, and as a member of the Security Council, they’re sitting on the Human Rights Council violating human rights. So, this suspension today was really a great moment, it was really a historic moment, and I’m very, very proud to have been associated with the 93 countries who voted to suspend Russia.

QUESTION:  You’ve spoken very eloquently several times about what Russia is doing and how they have been behaving. And not just in this situation. But before this all came about, this war. And a lot of people are asking the question, why is Russia on the Security Council anyway, after all they’ve done? It’s a complicated situation, but I wonder if you could just give us some insight into why they are still on the Security Council?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  You know, they’re a Permanent Member of the Security Council. There are five of us who are Permanent Members and that was determined when the UN was established. So, there’s nothing we can do to kick Russia off of the Security Council. But we can isolate them in the Security Council, we can condemn them in the Security Council, and we have succeeded in doing that.

QUESTION:  So that being said, Russia continues, based on the latest information today, they’re continuing these heinous activities across Ukraine. And I wonder if you would just take a moment or two to just tell our viewers and listeners how what your thoughts are about what Russia is doing and just lay it out in context for us?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  You know, we have seen the images, we’ve seen the videos of the bodies in the street, we have seen the destroyed buildings. And what Russia is doing is unconscionable. They are committing war crimes. They are committing human rights violations in the name of a leader who has decided that he is going to attack his neighbor. So, this is Putin’s unconscionable war against the Ukrainian people. And thousands of lives have been lost, innocent Ukrainians, but also Russian soldiers whose bodies have been left in the street where no one is there to pick them up or take them home to their mothers. So, this is not just a war that Russia is carrying out against the Ukrainian people; what he’s doing to his own people is something that Russians themselves ought to question, but it is also an attack on democracy. And that’s why it’s important that we and other countries are engaging on this aggressively. Because this is an attack on democracy. It’s an attack on our freedoms and it’s an attack on the UN Charter and we all have to stand up against Russia’s aggression.

QUESTION: A word that comes to mind when I hear you talk about this is dereliction: dereliction of duty as a global citizen, as a neighbor, as a leader, and just as a human being. And you know, I’m not going to go down that rhetorical road asking what is in his head? Because nobody knows. One thing we have noticed is there seems to be this pressure seems to be making a difference in some way. Can you talk to us about why this pressure from the UN and other elements of the global family, if you will, why this pressure is important, and what’s next in terms of pushing this thing forward? Because it’s clear, you know, so far, he hasn’t stopped.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  You know, he thought that he could go into Ukraine, and in two weeks bring the Ukrainians to their knees and have the Ukrainians waving a white flag. And he failed at that. And he also thought that the international community would not come to Ukraine’s defense. That we would not be unified. And he failed at that, as well. We are unified. We’re more unified than we’ve ever been. NATO is more unified than it has ever been. And we are all supporting Ukraine in their effort to fight against this Russian aggression. And while Putin hasn’t stopped, and I’m not going to even pretend I can explain why he hasn’t stopped, he knows that he cannot win this battle, he is not going to be able to defeat the Ukrainians. He will leave a lot of destruction behind, but in the end, he will have lost his own reputation and hopefully he will come out of this understanding – and other countries will come out of this understanding – that they cannot make an unprovoked attack on another country.

QUESTION: I want to ask you, the UN plays a gigantic role on the world stage in the diplomatic realm and so many other things, you know, having over my career which has spanned a couple, a few decades, actually, seeing the value of the work the UN does around the world, this is one of the most important moments in history. Because of the diplomatic work the UN does, a lot of the sanctions and a lot of the activity against Putin has been able to take place. So, I want to ask, moving forward, what more can the UN do? Is there a path forward on something else that the UN can do, more than it can do in terms of dealing with the situation?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first and foremost, the UN can help to gather the evidence. There is a UN commission, UN High Commission, sorry, the UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry that has been established. And that commission of inquiry will play an important role in gathering the evidence, so that when we bring prosecutions forward, we have the evidence that is needed to hold Russia accountable. And that will be a key role that the UN can play in the future.

The UN also plays a key role on the humanitarian front. UN humanitarian workers are on the front lines of this fight. They are meeting Ukrainians who are crossing the border into neighboring countries. I met with a number of them when I was in Romania and Moldova over the weekend. Many of them are inside Ukraine supporting Ukrainians directly. And that is an important responsibility that the UN has to provide the humanitarian support, the welcoming arms to Ukrainians who need the protection of the United Nations.

QUESTION: You know, I did see some of the video from your trip while you were there in Romania. And, you know, some of the, some of what you talked about, well, obviously it was heartbreaking and having been in war zones for many times myself, I can’t imagine what this one was like, but I wonder if you could share what your thoughts were as you were engaging with some of those people who were victims and just seeing essentially what was unfolding in that region.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was extraordinarily emotional. I have a very, very hard time controlling the tears when I had four women in front of me all crying. And telling their stories of sorrow and the horrors that they have experienced, and the nightmares they’re having about what is happening in their country. One woman told me, she spoke to her husband, she left Odessa, and she spoke to her husband and he said there’s an attack going on right now very near our home. And she knows that she fled and she’s safe with her son, here, we were in Romania, but she doesn’t know if her husband will get out alive. She doesn’t know if she will have a home to go back to. So, it’s sad, and it’s really emotional, to hear these women. And while they are being welcomed with open arms, they were being given meals – I had the opportunity to talk to Jose Andreas while I was there, and his organization is providing hot meals for them. And they’re getting that kind of support – but that doesn’t take away the hole out of their hearts that they are feeling for not knowing what is happening to their home.

One woman, I asked her where she was from and she said, I don’t know whether to say, I live in Kyiv or I used to be from Kyiv. And I can’t even imagine that happening in my own life. I mean, we’re talking about four million people, who in a matter of six weeks, crossed the border and left their homes behind. Ten million total, who had been forced out of their homes. Six million people, as displaced people inside of Ukraine, and not knowing where they are going to get their next meal. In the cold. Without water. Without food. And hearing bombs being rained on them all day and all night long. None of us expected this kind of event to take place in Europe in this day and at this time.

QUESTION: That is exactly why so many of the people that I’ve spoken to are so grateful the U.S. is taking on the leadership that it’s taken in this in this process. And you know, you are the highest-ranking U.S. government official that I’ve been able to speak to, but, you know, in addition, I’ve spoken to ambassadors and foreign ministers and other people in leadership from other countries, and they have all expressed to me just how grateful they are. And certainly, I’ve been talking to folks from Ukraine, and they’re so grateful for the role the U.S. has played so far. And I just wonder if you could just summarize for us before you have to go, the importance of the role the U.S. has played and why it’s so important to President Biden and the people on your team.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: President Biden has been clear: this is an attack on democracy. It is an autocracy trying to force its way into another country, redrawing borders, changing the world order, and we have to stand up. We are the largest country opposing this, but we can’t do it by ourselves. So, we have worked in unity with our European colleagues. We have worked in unity with the Ukrainians. And I have to say, Ukrainians have been extraordinarily brave. I mean, imagine that the President of Ukraine has stayed in heat while the city is under attack. And he’s going out, meeting with his soldiers, going to hospitals, embracing his people, going into areas where the Russians have left bodies laying in the street. He spoke to the Security Council yesterday, and when he spoke to the Security Council, I’m sorry, it was on Tuesday that he spoke, we were just enthralled by his words as he described what was going on. And you can hear that his voice is crusty now, it’s not the same smooth voice that he had when this started because he has been standing up and speaking for his people. We have to stand with them, we have to support them, and we have to embrace them as they fight this battle for their lives, for their future, for the for their country. And there’s no better cause than the fight for democracy.

QUESTION: Well, Madam Ambassador, it is such a pleasure to talk to you today. And, you know, I need to go. I know you need to go. I could talk to you all day, but I want to ask you one more thing if I can, before you go. Today is a historic day for the Supreme Court. And you made history, as well. So, I’m wonder if you could just share with us just for a few seconds, what it’s like to be an African American woman in the position that you are on the global stage?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I certainly don’t see myself as being historic. There have been African American women in this position before. But I do feel, personally, that this has been a historic moment in my own life. Given where I started, I grew up in the segregated South. I grew up in a poor family. So, to be where I am given where I started from is really extraordinary for me and for my family. But also, on this historic vote today for our Supreme Court. I am so proud of Ketanji Brown. She is making history. This is a historic moment and I am so proud that I am here to witness that and to be part of her making history.

QUESTION: Well, thank you so much. And I didn’t intend to suggest that you were historic or ancient, because you’re not. Especially compared to me. But, you know, I’m just grateful that you are making history because the role that you’re playing right now, in this moment, because of this situation the world has never seen, is historic, and that is what I’m referring to. But thank you again for this and I hope we’ll engage again in the future.

QUESTION: I’ll look forward to it and thank you for that compliment.


*Human Rights Council