Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Tim Franks of the BBC World Service 

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 20, 2022


QUESTION: First, how concerned is (Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield) about the diminishing food exports, rising food prices, and the global fear of growing hunger?

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I can tell you on a scale of one to 10, I’m probably at the 10 level of alarm, because this crisis has exacerbated what is already a serious food insecurity issue. We discussed this issue last year when I was president of the Security Council in March – looking at food insecurity as a consequence of conflict but also coming out of climate change and COVID – but the Ukraine war and Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, its blockade of the ports, blocking Ukrainian wheat from getting to the market has exacerbated this situation and made it even more dire and the impact is being felt across the world. We heard that from ministers who participated in Secretary Blinken’s ministerial and call to action on food insecurity this week in New York.

QUESTION:  So the question is: What should be done? I mean, clearly you are calling on Russia to ease its de-facto blockade of those ports, but given that Russia isn’t, at the moment, in the business of listening to you, what can the U.S. do to affect change?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, first and foremost, we have to keep the pressure on the Russians to end this unconscionable war against the Ukrainian people and allow Ukraine to go back to a situation where they are contributing to the food market around the world. So that is at the top of our agenda. But in the meantime, as the ministers came together, we put out a call to action that would encourage countries to do everything possible to assist the Ukrainians, but also to assist other countries with food issues. We encourage countries not to put export restrictions on food coming from their countries. We also called on countries to work with counterparts around the world to contribute to humanitarian causes around the world. The U.S. just gave $44 million to Ukraine, a large portion of that going toward humanitarian assistance.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but I mean, it’s going to be jolly difficult to – for example, get India to lift its ban on exporting wheat. It’s going to be very difficult. I mean, given the number of humanitarian emergencies there are around the world based on food, to get those fully funded given, once again, how much there is a shortfall of that. I’m just wondering in terms directly of what can be done with Russia and Ukraine?

I mean, the Russians have been very clear about this. Dmitry Medvedev, the former president, has written, “There is no logic. On the one hand, insane sanctions are being imposed against us. On the other hand, they (in other words, the West) are demanding food supplies.”

So there is a clear quid pro quo for the Russians: You ease sanctions; we’ll ease the blockade. Is that something you’re willing to countenance?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  This has nothing – it really has nothing to do with sanctions. That’s Russia’s disinformation.

QUESTION:  That’s what they’re saying.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I know that’s what they’re saying. But that is not what the facts are. The facts are that they are blocking food. There are no sanctions on their agricultural products. They are attacking Ukrainian silos and keeping farmers from planting. So the action is in Russia’s hands to stop this food blockade, to also start to export their own own food that they have put restrictions on.

But in the meantime, as we keep the pressure on Russia, we will increase our humanitarian funding, our in-kind funding of food, and we’re encouraging others to do the same to keep the food and agricultural markets open. Fertilizer has, as you know, has become a huge problem, and Russia is a large fertilizer exporter. They just need to open up their own markets and end this war, end the blockade that they are responsible for and allow food to flow.

QUESTION:  If your alarm is, as you say, at level 10 out of 10, in other words, I guess you really do think that millions around the world are at risk of going hungry because of what’s happening to food commodity prices. Is there a case – I know you’ve made the point that it is for Russia to ease the blockade – if that doesn’t happen, does the U.S. need to consider taking a more active role in terms of, I don’t know, trying to escort ships out Black Sea ports? Or supplying the Ukrainians with more powerful anti-ship missiles to try and clear a way through?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Look, we have been actively engaged with the Ukrainians and supporting the Ukrainian effort to defend themselves. And the Secretary-General has, as you know, been engaged in some discussions with the Ukrainians, with the Russians, with the Government of Turkey, about opening up the Black Sea. And we are very supportive of those efforts and hope that he succeeds in getting the Russians to remove their blockade of the Black Sea.

QUESTION:  Should the Ukrainians remove their mines in the Black Sea which are attempting to prevent a Russian amphibious assault?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I understand that that is part of the discussions that the Secretary-General is having currently. And part of that is to figure out how to remove those mines and open up a humanitarian corridor that will allow ships to go to the ports in the Black Sea.

QUESTION:  OK. I understand that the Secretary-General has also suggested Russia allowing food exports out in exchange for there being an easing of sanctions on fertilizer exports from both Belarus and Russia. Is that something that you’re aware of?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  We are aware of discussions that the Secretary-General is having with the Russians. Those discussions do not involve us lifting sanctions, because there are no sanctions on agricultural products coming out of Russia. But we are prepared to support the Secretary-General’s efforts to figure out a way forward to get this needed food to people across the globe.

QUESTION:  You began this interview by saying that the way to get these food exports out is actually for Ukraine to, you know, win this war. For Russia to stop its invasion. Are you clear what the endgame is?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I don’t think any of us know what the endgame is and what is in President Putin’s mind. But we are clear that in order for things to move forward, Russia has to stop its aggression against Ukraine. Russia started this war. Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is blockading food. So really a great deal of how we move forward and bring this to an end depends on the Russian actions that they have made the decision to take.

QUESTION:   Indeed. But at the same time, you’ve also got President Biden saying that Putin can’t remain in power, the secretary of defense saying that Russia must be weakened. That’s why I ask whether you are clear what the endgame is.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  President Biden didn’t say that Putin shouldn’t remain in power. But yes, their actions against and –

QUESTION:  – He did say, he can’t remain in power. That’s a direct quote.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  – and you’ve heard that that was as – it was misinterpreted. But the truth of the matter is, what we want to see is Russia take its forces out of Ukraine. It has nothing to do with what we do or what the Ukrainians do. If Russia stops this war, then there’s no actions that need to be taken that will help to alleviate the pain that the world is feeling right now because of their aggression. And what we want to do is assist the Ukrainians in their efforts to defend themselves and put them in a better position at the negotiating table when this comes to an end.

QUESTION:  And that was Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.