Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 17, 2022
QUESTION: Joining us now is the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Ambassador, I know it was your request that Secretary of State Blinken travel, or on his way to Munich, travel to the United Nations. Tell us about the importance of what he said today and the reaction behind the scenes, if you would.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, I think that the gravity of the situation on the ground in Ukraine really made sense for us to have the Secretary of State, the U.S.’s top diplomat, come to the Security Council and deliver the statement that he made today. I think there was tremendous support for him being there, tremendous respect by other members of the Security Council, that he had taken the time to come, and I think they heard his message, and they were also concerned with what they heard him share with us very openly in the Security Council.
QUESTION: I want to play some of what he said in the Security Council, and then I’m going to ask you about this strategy of releasing all the intelligence once we’ve collected it and verified it. But that seems to be possibly one of the most novel and effective tools in the United States’ arsenal. Let’s watch first.
SECRETARY ANTONY BLINKEN: This crisis directly affects every member of this Council and every country in the world. Because the basic principles that sustain peace and security; principles that were enshrined in the wake of two world wars and a cold war are under threat. The principle that one country cannot change the borders of another by force. The principle that one country cannot dictate another’s choices or policies or with whom it will associate. The principle of national sovereignty. This is the exact kind of crisis that the United Nations and, specifically, this Security Council was created to prevent.
QUESTION: So first, share with us any reaction that you heard, maybe not on camera, to his very blunt words in a body that isn’t always quick to move and respond, and just talk about the strategy of collecting, analyzing, and releasing all the intelligence that we gather with the hope and goal of averting war.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first, there were lots of nodding of heads as he gave his statement. And we communicate with each other in the Security Council on our WhatsApp, and I was getting one message after another from colleagues around the table, thanking him for the strong message that he delivered today.
Now, the strategy is about transparency. It’s about sharing with the world, sharing with the American people, American citizens in Ukraine and the Ukrainians what we are seeing and the gravity of the situation on the ground and why we are taking this situation so seriously. And I think that has worked. It has worked, one, to give pause, I think, to the Russians on taking action so quickly. But it’s also raised the profile of this issue with other countries who initially saw this as a conflict between Russia and the United States, and what the Secretary said very clearly today, this is about the United Nations. It’s about the Security Council’s responsibility. It’s about the UN Charter and about the sovereignty and the integrity of a border of an independent country and their right to choose who they will associate with. The message was very well received.
QUESTION: Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman has been perhaps the most blunt and the most publicly alarmed for the longest amount of time on this program about the horrors of what could come to pass if Russia doesn’t heed the warnings of the diplomatic community, a ground war the likes of which we haven’t seen in Europe since World War II. The UN obviously has responsibilities when it comes to refugees and food and others. Can you tell us if preparations are being made for a ground war in Europe?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We started consultations with the UN humanitarian agencies several months ago to ensure that they have contingency plans in place to deal with the kind of humanitarian crisis that we see happening should Russia make the decision to invade Ukraine further. And I think those agencies are prepared. They have pulled together their contingency plans. They are working with neighboring countries where refugees are likely to flow into, and they will provide the humanitarian assistance that’s needed. The U.S., as you know, we are the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance programs, and our humanitarian organs within the U.S. government, such as USAID, have also made preparations to support these agencies as – if the situation requires it.
QUESTION: And can you just take us inside what the last-minute diplomacy looks like at the UN? I mean, for people who don’t understand, you walk around not very vast areas with the diplomats from countries, our allies and our not-so-allies or adversaries. Can you just take us inside what this last-minute diplomacy in the hopes of diverting a humanitarian crisis and war looks like?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You now, we’re 15 members of the Security Council, the P5 plus an elected 10 members. I’m engaged with all of them on a regular basis. I can tell you that this morning, I sent a message to all of them to let them know that Secretary Blinken was going to be speaking at the conference and gave them a bit of a hint of what to expect from the Secretary. I shared with them that the Secretary had written a letter to Foreign Minister Lavrov, asking for a diplomatic meeting, and basically saying to them that we’re leaning in on diplomacy. And I also have made the point over and over again to our colleagues that this is not a Cold War-confrontation between Russia and the United States. This is about the UN Charter. It’s about the values that we all have signed on to, to be members of the Security Council, and that they couldn’t sit on the sidelines on this. They can’t take a middle road. There’s no neutrality when it comes to a country’s border being threatened, as Ukraine is being threatened. And I have reminded all of them that they should think about how they would feel if they had 100,000 troops on their borders. So, it is – it’s a very collegial environment that we work in, but we know that once we sit at that table, we have to represent our countries’ interests and the interests of the UN Charter and our responsibilities for peace and security around the globe.
QUESTION: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the end of a very busy day, well I’m sure it’s not the end of your day, thank you for spending some time with us today. We’re grateful.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much.