Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Marco Werman of PRX’s “The World” on Russia’s War Against Ukraine

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 20, 2023


AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have not wanted to directly engage the Russians on the war, but we are directly and aggressively supporting Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself and to defend all of us.

QUESTION: That’s the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. When we spoke last week, I asked her to describe how U.S. officials saw this conflict a year ago, and to explain why the thinking about the war has changed so dramatically.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, one year ago, we were ringing the alarm on what we saw happening in Ukraine. One year ago, Secretary Blinken was here in New York sitting in the Security Council, warning the world about what we saw happening in Ukraine. So we took this seriously from day one, and we’ve taken it seriously throughout. We have been very, very clear that we support Ukraine, and we have supported them even before the war. We’d given Ukraine close to a billion dollars before the war started to help them to defend themselves. So there was never any question in our mind about supporting the Ukrainian efforts to defend themselves against Russia’s aggression.

The Russians miscalculated severely what happened. They miscalculated our support for Ukraine. They miscalculated the unity of Europe in support of Ukraine. They miscalculated on NATO and they definitely miscalculated on Ukraine’s resolve to defend itself. And we have committed to defending them and supporting them until this war ends.

QUESTION: So despite that initial kind of support, the West was in the beginning very cautious about provoking Russia and assessing how much to support Ukraine. The whole war is defying expectations. How do Ukraine’s allies decide what they’re willing to do next? What the U.S. is willing to do next and for how long?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As the President has said, we’re going to be there as long as we’re needed. And I think the world is seeing Russia’s aggression for what it is. It’s a bold and really aggressive effort to change the borders of a country. They are going against everything that the UN Charter stands for, and the world is witnessing it in real time. And Russia has been isolated because of these actions and they will continue to be isolated until they make the decision to withdraw their troops from Ukraine and end this war.

But I will tell you that, Marco, the diplomatic efforts prior to the war were intense. President Biden himself reached out to Putin. Secretary Blinken had a meeting scheduled with Lavrov the day the war started. So we did not ignore trying to find a peaceful path to addressing this situation. But Russia wanted to go to war; they wanted to bring or attempt to bring Ukraine down to their knees, and they failed.

QUESTION: Ukraine is on the verge of proposing as you know for the sixth time a UN resolution calling for a just peace and territorial integrity for the country. The most recent resolution in November passed with 73 abstentions. That’s a lot of countries on the fence. How do you explain that?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: But there were a lot of countries who actually stood up in support of Ukraine, and they continue. As you may know, we got 141 countries out of 193 to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine. We got 143 countries that condemned their attempted annexations in Ukraine. We got full support for kicking Russia off of the Human Rights Council. So while there are countries who abstained, and they can explain to you what they’re doing, what we’re standing for is what the UN Charter stands for. We’re standing for peace and security, and that is what we encourage other countries to do as well.

QUESTION: I mean, 73 abstentions, though. That does not suggest global unity against Russia. Many governments in Africa, Latin America, and Asia have refused to speak up against Russian aggression. Why is that?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Five countries, including Russia, voted with Russia. We’re not telling countries how to vote; we’re encouraging them to support Ukraine’s efforts to condemn Russia. But the overwhelming number of countries have expressed support for Ukraine. And those who abstain, you can discuss with them why they’ve made the decision to abstain. But what we’re hearing even from those countries who abstained, we’re hearing that they do not support Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

QUESTION: Final question, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, I think for many people, experts, a big puzzle is assessing what Vladimir Putin wants and that kind of comes to an assessment of his mindset when it comes to this whole invasion, this whole conflict. What would he do if he was faced with defeat in Ukraine, do you think?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for President Putin. You have to talk to him about what he wants, but he has to hear what we want. And what we want is to defend Ukraine against his aggression. And I think the whole world is there. The whole world has called for an end to this war, an end to Russia’s aggression, and he can end it tomorrow by pulling his troops out of Ukraine. And he can end it tomorrow by accepting that it is unconscionable for him to carry out the kinds of attacks against civilian infrastructure and the kind of killing and human rights violations and war crimes that he’s committing inside of Ukraine.

QUESTION: In the halls of the UN though, Ambassador, doesn’t that question: What would Putin do if he faced defeat in this war? Doesn’t that question get a lot of focus?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think people are concerned about what Putin will do because they’ve seen what Putin has done. And that’s why it is important that all of the countries who continue to have discussions with President Putin implore him to stop this brutal war.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much for your time.