Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Threats to International Peace and Security

Ambassador Robert Wood
Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs
New York, New York
March 31, 2023


Thank you, Mr. President. And I thank the High Representative for her informative and sobering briefing this morning.

It is unfortunate that this meeting was necessary today. That President Putin is escalating Russia’s dangerous and destabilizing behavior. By now threatening to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, he has once again, reminded the world of his disregard for international law, including the UN Charter.Russia’s suggestion that this intended deployment is somehow justified because of the use of armor piercing ammunition is ludicrous. To state the obvious: armor piercing ammunition is in no way analogous to tactical nuclear weapons.Viewing the Kremlin’s announcement in the context of the totality of Russia’s behavior, it becomes quite clear that this announcement has nothing to do with an ammunition type. One that has, by the way, been in use for decades – and that Russia itself possesses. Rather, it has everything to do with the Kremlin’s attempts to limit and deter international security assistance for Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.The reality is, the Kremlin doesn’t want Ukraine to possess the capability to defend itself against Russia’s tanks. But let us recall a simple, immutable fact – Russia’s tanks would not come into contact with these armor piercing munitions if Russia’s tanks were not within Ukraine’s sovereign territory in the first place.It would not be necessary to supply Ukraine with defensive weapons and equipment if Russia had not launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. And now through completely irresponsible rhetoric and continued disinformation – Russia seeks to escalate its unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine – rather than to seek peace.President Putin’s March 25th announcement noting intentions to forward deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus, is not about nuclear burden sharing. There are no credible defense related reasons for Russia to station nuclear weapons in Belarus.Lukashenko continues to provide material and logistical support to Russia’s military, and for months has parroted Russia’s irresponsible and false narrative of provocation. The Lukashenko regime paved the way for Putin’s decision on March 25, by enacting a series of constitutional changes in February 2022 – against the will of most Belarussians – to enable Russia’s stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus.Indeed, Russia appears willing to break its promises whenever it suits President Putin’s interest.

Less than a fortnight ago, President Putin committed in a joint statement with China to effectively reduce the risk of nuclear war. And cynically stated that “nuclear weapons states should refrain from deploying nuclear weapons abroad and withdraw nuclear weapons deployed abroad.”

Putin’s continued disregard for his promises to his friends for Russia’s international obligations and commitments, and his willingness to sacrifice strategic stability to achieve his goals in Ukraine, is of risk to this Council’s agenda regarding the maintenance of international peace and security.It was Russia’s decisions that led to the termination of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019. Through its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has further contravened its commitments under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.Last year, it was Russia and Russia alone that decided to block consensus on a final document at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.Since then, Russia has strayed even further from implementation of its arms control obligations with its purported suspension of participation in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, New START.Not only was this legally invalid, but it demonstrates an increasingly disturbing trend of Russia’s reliance on nuclear weapons and provocative nuclear rhetoric to intimidate those prepared to help Ukraine provide for its legitimate self-defense.The Kremlin is attempting to manipulate the specter of nuclear conflict to help win its illegal war against Ukraine while it further tramples on the UN Charter.In the face of these violations, it is unfortunate that some on this council have chosen a policy of ignoring Russia’s aggression against the Ukrainian people by refusing to acknowledge Russia’s dangerous actions, or condemning its violation of the principles of the UN Charter. Those who have chosen this path enable further violations by Russia, exacerbating the conflict and moving us all further away from peace by turning a blind eye to the cause of this conflict, which is Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine.No legitimate path to peace can stem from a refusal to recognize the facts.No other country is inflicting such damage on arms control, nor seeking to undermine strategic stability in Europe. No other country has raised the prospect of potential nuclear use in connection with the war in Ukraine.No other country is increasing nuclear deployments in Europe or issuing implied threats of use.

No country is threatening Russia or threatening President Putin. Putin’s war against Ukraine is one he never should have started. And one the Kremlin could end in a moment if it chooses. That it deliberately chooses not to, is telling – as are the actions of those who would criticize Ukraine for defending its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.In light of the international community’s overwhelming support for peace, as demonstrated by last month’s general assembly vote on a just and lasting peace – we call on Russia to reconsider its intentions to forward deploy nuclear weapons to Belarus, and once again, call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Russia should immediately cease escalatory rhetoric around the potential use of nuclear weapons.

Any use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in Ukraine would have severe consequences for the maintenance of international peace and security and would fundamentally change the nature of this war. And any use of nuclear weapons, would break the record of non-use of such weapons that has held for nearly 80 years.We also call on the Lukashenka regime to cease its complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine.And we again, call on Russia to de-escalate starting with the cessation of its war of aggression against Ukraine.

Thank you, Mr. President.