Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 20, 2022
QUESTION: We’re joined now by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much indeed for speaking to us. We’ve just heard from the U.S. Secretary of State, who says that Russia is recklessly trying to divide the U.S. and its allies. Let’s listen to what he said.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: That unity gives us strength. A strength, I might add, that Russia does not and cannot match. It’s why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. It’s also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us. And it’s why, in my meeting tomorrow with Foreign Minister Lavrov, I’ll be able to represent a shared view, a shared preference on the part of the United States and our European Allies and partners, for finding a diplomatic path forward to de-escalate this conflict.
QUESTION: The U.S. Secretary of State speaking there. Ambassador, you’ve got to hand it to the Russians. They’ve done a pretty good job of causing divides in Europe and the United States. When it comes to this situation specifically and how to respond to the immediate threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, how united would you say the U.S. and its European Allies are?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we’re completely united, so I would disagree that the Russians have succeeded in dividing us. What the Russians have done is they have succeeded in reaffirming our unity and reaffirming our alliances and reaffirming our commitment to ensuring that we will not stand by and allow Russia to diminish the security of our European partners. That’s why the Secretary is in Europe today. That is why he has had calls with his European colleagues on a regular basis over the course of the past few weeks. It’s why I have engaged aggressively and consistently with my colleagues here in New York, and it is why the President has been strong in his position that we will do nothing about Europe without Europe and nothing about NATO without NATO and nothing about Ukraine without the Ukrainians engaging with us. So what the Russians have succeeded in doing is unifying us.
QUESTION: We just heard from Secretary of State Blinken that any Russian crossing of the Ukrainian border would trigger a response. What sort of response are we talking about here?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think the Secretary’s been clear. First and foremost, we have indicated that we will impose strong economic sanctions against the Russians. They have been made aware of those sanctions. We have also engaged with our allies in providing support to the Ukrainians and to our partners in – along the border to be supportive of any efforts to compromise Ukraine’s security. And then I can’t give you nor should I give you more details about how we intend to respond, but just know that we have been clear and unequivocal that we will respond.
QUESTION: But there is a bit of confusion because what Antony Blinken said a little earlier is a bit different from what President Biden said last night. He said he thinks that President Putin will, and I quote, “move in” on Ukraine and that would cost Russia heavily, but then he suggested that a minor incursion might be treated a bit differently. I mean, what does he mean by that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I – what the President said and what the President has consistently said is exactly what Secretary Blinken said: that we will respond aggressively. He was recognizing – the President was recognizing that we can expect or that the Russians can be expected not to be consistent. We’ve seen their playbook. They may not roll in with their military on day one. So we’re looking at all of the various possibilities of what the Russians might do, but we’re not being in any way soft on responding to them regardless of what they do. We are going to respond, we will respond strongly, and we will respond aggressively to any actions that the Russians take that will compromise the security – further compromise the security of Ukraine.
QUESTION: Moscow maintains it doesn’t plan to invade Ukraine. Do you believe them?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I hope that the diplomatic efforts that we have taken over the past few weeks has persuaded them that they should not invade Ukraine. But we’re judging them on their actions. They have 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. They are engaging in military exercises along the border with Ukraine. All of that says to us that they have aggressive intentions toward Ukraine. So if they don’t intend to invade, that’s a good thing. It means that the diplomatic efforts that we’ve been engaged in over the past few weeks and months have worked.
QUESTION: Russian demands include a ban on Ukraine joining NATO. There’s a whole series of demands that Russia has made, some of which Washington has said are, and I quote, “non-starters.” I mean, isn’t there some room for compromise here? Isn’t this the time for compromise?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are working diplomatically to find a way forward that gives the Russians comfort about their security and gives our European Allies comfort about their security, including Ukraine. But the Russians and our European and NATO Allies have been clear on this: The Russians cannot dictate to NATO who they should open their doors to, nor can they dictate to Ukraine who they want to align themselves to. So that’s the point that we’ve made.
QUESTION: And just lastly, looking ahead to tomorrow’s talks between Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov, are you optimistic and do they have the relationship, the personal relationship, that perhaps is needed at this time to try to avert a serious series of consequences?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s our hope. That’s the purpose of having diplomatic meetings, and that’s the purpose of engagement. So as long as we’re sitting at the table with each other, there’s hope. There’s hope that the Russians will make the decision to de-escalate and move away from a confrontation. So we will all be waiting to see the results of the discussions that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov have tomorrow, and the fact of the meeting expresses our desire to continue to find a diplomatic way forward.