Deputy to the U.S. Representative Jeffrey Prescott’s Interview with Iryna Solomko of Voice of America

Jeffrey Prescott
Deputy to the U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Washington, D.C.
February 4, 2022


QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Because, unfortunately, after the Security Council we were hoping the situation will become less escalated. But after yesterday’s news here from the U.S. government that Russia actually is preparing some provocation in the East … it’s really showing the situation actually has not improved. Can you give your perspective on this, taking into account the statement from Russia in the Security Council that everything is safe, you shouldn’t be worried, Russia is a very peaceful country, and so on?

DEPUTY JEFFREY PRESCOTT: Well, thanks so much. And I think what you heard in the Council, and I think what was most important about the voices of the world powers on the Council, was hearing almost every member of the Council saying the path of peace and the path of diplomacy is better than the path of war. And that was why the United States and our allies called for this session. We wanted to have a public forum – an open forum – where Russia needed to come before the world and explain: Why does it have more than 100,000 troops arrayed on Ukraine’s border? Why is it pursuing these escalatory acts, including planning for the kinds of provocations that we talked about yesterday? And what’s the explanation for that? And to make sure that the world clearly sent the message that diplomacy is the way to resolve security issues in Europe, including with Ukraine, and the path of confrontation is not of the right approach. And I think you saw a united set of voices making that point along with the United States.

QUESTION: Yeah, this is why for example, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, as well, she estimates the result of the Security Council is pretty successful, yes? Mostly all sides agree that everybody was satisfied by the result of the meeting. So, this is no doubt, yes?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: Well, no doubt about that. We chose this path because we’re trying to use every tool of diplomacy available. That’s why we’ve had more than 200 senior-level leaders’ meetings that have convened to discuss this crisis. We’ve been working, obviously, through the OSCE process in Europe. We’ve had meetings between NATO and Russia to talk about NATO-related issues. We’ve obviously had a bilateral channel with Russia to discuss bilateral security concerns. And of course there are other fora for diplomacy. Many European leaders are engaging with Russia. You’ve seen that over the last couple of days. And of course there’s the Minsk process and the conversations in the Normandy format that have Ukraine at the table, including in the OSCE. So there’s an enormous amount of diplomacy happening. And the UN Security Council, of course, is the premiere body internationally for addressing issues of international peace and security. It’s not just supposed to react to events after they happen, it’s also supposed to engage in preventative diplomacy. And preventative diplomacy is what we were pursuing on Monday. And you saw Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield lay out very clearly the facts of what we’re seeing on the ground, the threat that that potentially poses to peace and security, and the consequences and what’s at stake were Russia to decide to further invade Ukraine.

QUESTION: A lot of experts believe that Russia doesn’t want a massive invasion, but it will do local operations, and in this regard it will be much more difficult to draw other countries to impose sanctions. Will it be more difficult for the UN to act if Russia acts this way?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: Well, this is exactly why you’ve seen the United State put out information as we obtain it, like the information yesterday about potential provocations that Russia may be planning, including to stage attacks on the Ukrainian side and attempt to use that as a pretext for some kind of military action or invasion. That’s exactly why – Ukraine obviously knows this playbook very well. Ukrainians have been living with it for a number of years now. They know it very well. The United States knows this playbook well. And the rest of the world does, as well. And that’s why we’ve been trying to make sure everyone is, not only seeing the troops that are amassing along Ukraine’s border and the threat that that poses, but we know the playbook, we know the misinformation and disinformation that we can see. And we want to call it out as we see it so that everyone knows the different forms of provocation that could be coming if Russia chooses that path. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to lay out two very clear paths for Russia to take: One is obviously this path of confrontation, which we would not like to see. We would like to see the path of diplomacy, and that’s why we’re so engaged across the board in diplomatic efforts to resolve this crisis.

QUESTION: We remember 2014 when Russia was doing mostly operations under cover and it was “green men” and all that. When countries realized that, yes, it was definitely Russia – most of the provocations – they gave Russia the opportunity to do something but not to be punished. So my question is how difficult will it be for the U.S. in the UN, for example, and other countries, for members of the Security Council who need to react on such things, to do something? Because Russia will say, No, this is not us, it’s local people from Luhansk and Donetsk just want to do something. So from this perspective, how difficult will be for the UN to react to such a comeback of Russia?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: Well, I think that’s why it’s so important that the United States, our allies, Ukraine are putting out information about what Russia may be planning in real time. That’s why we’ve been sharing intelligence with our partners across the board. That’s why we’ve been releasing as much information as we can publicly, because we know that the aggression that Russia may be planning can take different forms. It may be very murky. It may involve these kinds of “false flag” or provocations that are of the type that we talked about yesterday. And so, we want to make sure the world understands what may be coming, the different plans that Russia may be considering, and how likely it is that we could see some of that activity going forward. So, we’ve been laying that out. Now, at the United Nations, we took this step this week to bring the Security Council together because we thought it was important to lay out how the threat – the threat that Russia’s buildup on Ukraine’s borders poses to international peace and security. And we’re prepared to use that venue for further diplomacy as things move forward. But we are going to continue to speak about this. We’re going to continue to release information. We’re going to continue to work with all of our partners in Europe and Ukraine to make sure that we’re on the same page in terms of what we’re seeing, and the response that we need to be prepared to take were Russia to decide to further invade.

QUESTION: February is a month when Russia is the president of the Security Council. There is a lot of fears that probably Russia will be able to use this to prevent from active reaction if something will be happening. So do you see this threat, as well?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: I think the Security Council rules are very clear. If the Security Council has an issue that it needs to address, the Security Council will meet. And the president of the Security Council does not have the ability to stop that, so we’re not worried about that concern. What I am worried about, and I think we’ll see, are Russian efforts, similar to what we saw on Monday, to avoid the question, to try to distract potentially with other issues, and to not own up to the facts as we see them on the ground. More than 100,000 troops on the border – Russia needs to answer for why they’re there, what they plan to do, and why they seem to be threatening further military action. That was the purpose of Monday’s session. And we’re fully prepare to have additional conversations in the Council. So, we’re going to have to watch out for this bag of tricks – disinformation, attempts to redirect or distract. But I think we’re fully prepared to do that.

QUESTION: So, what is expected it will be? New meetings in the Security Council?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: I think we’re fully prepared to use the Security Council, to use other levers at the UN as necessary. But that will also be in the context of all the other diplomacy we’re pursuing across the board. And these things fit together. And that’s why you see us consulting so closely in New York, for example, with the European permanent representatives, with the Ukrainian permanent representative. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been meeting on an almost constant basis with all of our colleagues, and also meeting with the Russian representative, with China’s representative, to make sure that we’re fully engaged with all the members of the Council, so that people are following this very clear threat to international peace and security in real time. And we’ll be continuing to stay engaged as we move forward.

QUESTION: On February 17, we’ll have a Security Council meeting initiated by Russia. They’re going to discuss the Minsk Agreements. And a lot of experts call it a PR event for Russia when they have the opportunity to impose their narratives. So what is your response to this event?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: We’re looking forward to the opportunity to discuss the puts and takes of where we are on the Minsk process, who has put forward serious proposals, and who has followed through on the obligations and commitments in that process. There’s obviously a very active diplomatic process around this. That includes the conversations that have been happening in the Normandy format – we’re following it very closely – and I think you’ll hear a number of countries with an opportunity to offer their perspective. But, like I said, if there’s an attempt to distract or deflect, we’ll be ready to push back, and we’ll be ready to lay out exactly what we’re seeing when that meeting takes place. But one of the reasons we’re engaged in this diplomacy across the board is that we see real opportunity both to pursue a diplomatic path and also to pursue steps to try to deter Russia from taking this step of a potential further invasion of Ukraine. We’re going to continue working on both those steps – diplomacy and deterrence – as we go forward.

QUESTION: And the last question about February 23rd – it will be debates in the General Assembly regarding the situation of the uncontrolled territories of Ukraine. The narrative of Russia is always repeating the same messages to the General Assembly and to the media. But how important this event in general to deliver the truth?

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: I guess I would just go back to what we saw this week. I don’t exactly know what’s going to be in store in the days to come, but I will say that this week you had the Security Council – you had almost every member of the Security Council saying very clearly that the path of diplomacy is better than the path of war. And I think that really goes to the core commitments of the United Nations – territorial integrity, of sovereignty, and the idea that you can’t just change the borders of another country by force. And the international community has a common obligation to stand up for those principles and fight for those principles, and I think that’s some of what you saw – you saw very clear statements of those principles on Monday, and I think you’ll continue to see those principles being upheld and advocated for in the UN as we move forward.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

DEPUTY PRESCOTT: Thank you very much.