United States Mission to the United Nations
February 24, 2022
MODERATOR: Thank you and welcome, everyone, to this morning’s on-background briefing. The focus of today’s call will be upcoming action by the UN Security Council on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to a Senior Administration Official. For your knowledge only and not for reporting purposes, I’m happy to let you know that we have on the line with us today [Senior Administration Official]. Again, you can attribute what our briefer says to a Senior Administration Official, and the call is embargoed until its conclusion.
And with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Administration Official. Go ahead.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, and good morning, everybody. Thanks for hopping on the call.
As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced last night, today the United States, in coordination with our allies and partners on the Security Council and across the globe, have circulated to Council Members a resolution that would impose legally binding Chapter VII obligations on Russia in response to its aggression against Ukraine – and we expect the Council to reconvene tomorrow for a vote on this resolution.
The resolution condemns, in the strongest terms possible, Russia’s aggression, invasion, and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. It reaffirms the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And it requires the Russian Federation immediately, completely, and unconditionally to withdraw its forces.
It also calls for the facilitation of rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian assistance to those in need in Ukraine, and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian personnel. And it urges the continued efforts of the Secretary-General, UN Member States, and the OSCE to respond to the humanitarian and refugee crisis that Russia’s aggression has begun to create.
Before we go to your questions, I want to address the one that is likely at the top of everyone’s mind, which is Russia’s likely use of its veto tomorrow in the Council. Some of you have asked, what’s the value in putting forward a resolution that Russia will veto? I would say a couple of things about that:
First, of course, we expect that Russia will use its veto. And in doing so, they will underscore their isolation. We’re not going to abandon our principles; we’re not going to stand by and do nothing. It’s important that we send a message to Ukraine, to Russia, and to the world that the Security Council will not look away. The Council was established to respond to precisely this scenario: a stronger country waging war against a weaker neighbor in violation of the UN Charter and the principles of the UN Charter. For this reason, we view the Council as the critical venue in which Russia must be forced to explain itself. The world will long remember what the Security Council does in this moment, and it would be the definition of cynicism if the Council were to fail to consider a resolution given the clear violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty that we’ve all witnessed, which poses a clear threat to international peace and security, and which the Security Council is charged with maintaining. As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said yesterday: Russia cannot veto our voices. Russia cannot veto our voices.
Second, I would say this is just a first step, a precursor to action that we would also expect to take place in the coming days in the General Assembly of the United Nations. Yesterday, we saw dozens of countries around the world take the podium in the General Assembly Hall to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, even before the dramatic escalation and invasion last night. Beyond the Security Council, we see the General Assembly and the mobilization of Member States from across the globe as a key part of the response to this egregious act. And we’ll have more to say about that in the days to come.
Third, this is not taking place in isolation. The Security Council Resolution we’re tabling later today comes amidst robust, significant, and consequential actions that the United States, the EU, Germany, Japan, Australia, the UK, and other partners and allies around the world are taking and will take during the course of today to hold Russia accountable, and in the days to come as well. Being on record in the Security Council is a principled action that is part of a much broader coordinated response that will undoubtedly have a significant impact on Russia.
Why don’t I just stop there and take a few questions? Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thanks so much. Operator, if you wouldn’t mind providing the instructions to ask a question once again, that would be great. And then we can go to Q&A.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone. You’ll hear an acknowledgement that you’ve been placed in queue. You may also remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing 1-0 again.Our first question is going to come from the line of Michelle Nichols with Reuters. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official]. Thanks so much for the briefing. Just wanted to follow up on how many – are you confident you can get 13 in favor? And are you confident you can get China to abstain?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Michelle, for the question. I would just say we’re beginning the urgent diplomacy around this resolution. It’s now circulating among members of the Council, and as you might expect, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and her entire team are engaging with every member of the Council. I think you’ve heard over the last two emergency sessions of the Security Council unified voices calling for diplomacy rather than further escalation of this crisis, and of course we saw last night that escalation taking place even as the Council was trying to articulate a different path.
So, I think we’ve made our position clear. We’re actively engaged with members of the Council, and we’ll be continuing to do so as their voices are also heard over the coming hours and as we bring this to a vote tomorrow.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question then will come from the line of Kylie Atwood from CNN. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing this call. I’m sorry I have a bit of a backward-leaning question, but I just want to ask about last night, and obviously it was like a quickly evolving situation that everyone was facing. But I’m wondering exactly how the Ambassador found out that the all-out assault had begun, and just if you guys could give us a little bit of context for why you felt that it was important for her to speak again after her first initial remarks. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Well, and my colleague may want to jump in with – or we may want to get back to you with details. I’m speaking to you today from Washington, not from New York, so I will – may have to defer to others on precisely what happened when in the Council chamber itself last night.
I guess what I would say is Ukraine requested the urgent meeting last night. I think they did – I won’t characterize why they called for the meeting at precisely the moment they did – but I think they had a sense, as we had a sense, that not only was Russia poised to launch a premeditated war of choice, but that the imminence of that decision was upon us. And that made the urgency of having the Council come together and make clear that this escalation would bring a catastrophic loss of life, it would bring human suffering on a significant scale, and to make clear that Russia remains isolated in choosing this path and that Russia would be responsible for the death and destruction that this war will bring. And that is part of the process that we are going to continue today and in the days ahead, along with our allies and partners, to ensure that Russia pays a price – a steep price – for violating the core principles that uphold global peace and security and by seeking to change the borders of a sovereign country by force.
So we’ve been prepared for this moment, and were prepared for the session last night, and I think you heard Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield speak very clearly and forcefully to what we have seen, what we have predicted would take place, and the ways in which we saw that take place, including last night.
MODERATOR: And [Senior Administration Official], I can jump in on the first part of Kylie’s question here. I think as everyone heard, the Ambassador started the top of her remarks yesterday by acknowledging the circumstances that – and the context for last night’s emergency meeting. She spoke at the top of her remarks about the fact that we were seeing Russia close airspace; we were seeing new cyber attacks and alarming signs that an invasion might be imminent. And so certainly she was aware of those developments going into the Council session last night, and of course staff briefed her throughout the session on breaking news as it was happening. I think she was seeing it unfold in real time along with the rest of the world.
OPERATOR: Our next question then will come from the line of Will Mauldin from The Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much for having this. I wanted to ask – I’m on a bad line. I hope you can hear me. But I didn’t hear the exact phrasing of what Russia will be required immediately and unconditionally to do, so if you could repeat that line.
And also, I wondered about Putin’s justification using Article 51 of the UN Charter, what that means to you. Is that collective self-defense or is Russia defending itself or does it apply if Donetsk and Luhansk regions aren’t UN members? So, I wanted to hear your analysis of that. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, and I think we can get you – you may want to go on mute. I’ve got an echo here. Okay. We can get you – and I think we’ll get out very quickly – the beginning of these remarks, but I’ll just say that the resolution condemns in the strongest terms possible Russia’s aggression, its invasion, and violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and reaffirms the sovereignty and territorial integrity, independence, and unity of Ukraine, and requires the Russian Federation immediately, completely, and unconditionally to withdraw its forces. So it’ll be a very strong text.
What I would say, very simply, on this is that this is a premeditated war of choice, that we’ve prepared for this moment – which is why you’ve seen Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield in the Security Council, you’ve seen Secretary Blinken in the Security Council, laying out exactly what we expected Russia to do, the pretext that it would use to set up this war, and the view of the United States – but also the view – a uniform view – of the Security Council that a diplomatic path would be better than pursuing aggression. And our view certainly is going to be – and I think will be shared, and you heard this shared in the General Assembly yesterday – many, many countries saying that Russia, in taking this action, will be violating core principles that uphold global peace and security and the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. And I think that’s part of what the debate in the Security Council will see tomorrow, but also in the coming days in the General Assembly will be all about. You can’t change the borders of a sovereign country by force, and we’ll expect to see countries upholding that fundamental principle.
OPERATOR: Our next question then will come from the line of Valeria Robecco from ANSA. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thank you for the briefing, for the background briefing. My question is, what do you expect from the Secretary-General to do now, and what do you think he should do towards the situation in these conditions? Thank you so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would just – I won’t speak for the Secretary-General. I would say that the Secretary-General had a very powerful, principled statement last night in the Security Council. And I think it’s poignant, and in a way is illuminating, that the Secretary-General said this was one of the saddest moments of his time as Secretary-General. Because – I guess what I would say is – having a permanent member of the UN Security Council with such a brazen violation of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter really does make this a key moment for the UN, for the UN system, for the UN Security Council and its fundamental role, which is to uphold international peace and security.
So I’ll let the Secretary-General’s remarks speak for themselves, but I would direct you toward them because I thought they were very powerful, principled, and illuminating remarks about exactly what’s at stake here.
OPERATOR: Our next question then will come from the line of Lara Jakes from New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Good morning, and thanks for doing this. Now that Putin has taken this so-called path of aggression, I’m wondering what that means for the path towards diplomacy. Is that closed? What does it look like at this point? And then I’m also hoping you can talk a little bit more about the refugee situation that you referenced? How many refugees the West is expecting – that is to say the United States and its partners in Europe – are expecting? How much money is being diverted or sent over now to help these people? And what do you think – what kind of conversations are happening right now with European states that have resisted taking in refugees from past conflicts? Thanks so much.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It’s a really good and important question. We have done a significant amount of work in New York, but also across the humanitarian space to help our European colleagues and partners prepare for what we feared might be coming. And there’s a significant amount of work that has been done to get ready. I will be – I’ll be – well, let me just say my colleagues at USAID, some of my colleagues in the Mission in New York, and some of my colleagues back here at the Department of State have been focused on that and I don’t have all the details right in front of me about exactly the plans that we’ve put into place. So why don’t we take that question, and I think we can get you some more information on that. It’s a – we could probably do an entire background briefing just on the preparations on the humanitarian side given the scale of what we expect could be possible here. So we might just have to take that question offline and find another forum for it.
In terms of diplomacy, I don’t want to get ahead of what’s to come. Obviously the President will be speaking later today, and I’m not going to do anything to get ahead of what he will want to say to the nation and the world about this situation. So, I’ll just leave it there.
OPERATOR: Our next question then will come from the line of Conor Finnegan from ABC News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hey, thanks for doing this. You said repeatedly at the top that Russia remains isolated, but last night during the Security Council session, U.S. allies like Brazil and partners like India, the UAE, did not condemn Russia’s actions; they called on all sides to show restraint, even as Russian bombs were starting to drop. So I just wonder if you could explain a little bit more why you see Russia as isolated here. Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. Well, I would say a couple things about that. First of all, we have over the last two weeks, as the Security Council has met on this situation, the key question has been: Should the path of diplomacy be chosen or the path of further conflict and confrontation? And I think you’ve had an almost unanimous set of voices calling for a diplomatic resolution to this crisis.
I do think that last night you saw a similar set of voices speaking very clearly about the need for a peaceful approach, but the contrast embedded in your question is that President Putin had chosen a different path even as the Security Council was meeting, and that’s why Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke so clearly and forcefully to that at the end of the meeting last night.
I would say that the fundamental question about the role of the Security Council and the meaning of the principles of the UN Charter has been called. There’s now a resolution that is being put on the table, and I think every member of the Council is going to have to decide where they stand. As Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been saying, this is not the time to sit on the fence. And I think we’ll see over the coming days where members of the Council are on this fundamental question about sovereignty and territorial integrity, and I think you’ll see Russia isolated and held accountable before the rest of the world in the Security Council and then, just as importantly, before all Member States in the General Assembly.
OPERATOR: Our next question then will come from the line of Colum Lynch from Foreign Policy. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official]. Thanks for doing this. Part of my questions have been asked, but first I wanted to go back. Michelle had asked you about China and what expectations you had. Do you hope you’ll be able to get an abstention? I can’t imagine there’s much expectation that you would get them to vote in favor of the resolution. And you have focused on the Council being united on this issue of finding a diplomatic resolution. There has also been – I mean, to some degree, what UAE and India have been saying – they’ve created a sense of almost moral equivalency. They haven’t singled out Russia in the way that you and many of the other Council members have. So, I don’t see how you see that as a positive development in the Council. And the expectation if you look at the resolution is that you’re looking for condemnation. Do you think UAE and India will be brought along to support that, and are you disappointed with their unwillingness to do that so far? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Colum. I would say a couple things about China. China speaks very forcefully in New York about territorial integrity and respect for sovereignty. It’s clear. We’re watching it on television. The facts are extremely clear that Russia is undermining that bedrock principle and taking on this premeditated war of choice. And I think China’s choice in the Security Council will speak not only to this situation, but to other situations around the world as to their position on this fundamental set of principles.
We’re obviously clear-eyed about how China operates, but the fact is that Russia’s aggressive actions here carry risks for China along with everyone else, and frankly, at least from my position, it’s not in China’s interest to endorse a devastating conflict in Europe and defy the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity it claims to hold dear.
I took note of the foreign minister – China’s foreign minister’s statement earlier today that Russia had legitimate security concerns in Ukraine, seeming to walk close to endorsing Russia’s military action here. And I think the question will be whether this is a special situation for China, and if it is and they’re walking close to the line or crossing the line of endorsing Russia’s actions here, I think a lot of other countries in the region – and frankly, around the world – will have to wonder where the next special situation might come.
So I think folks are going to be looking very carefully to how China decides to – what China decides to say and how they decide to vote in this situation.
OPERATOR: And our final question will come from the line of Marta Dhanis from Fox News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks again for doing this. With any potential Security Council draft resolution doomed to fail, can you take more meaningful action with a General Assembly resolution? And would it be a smart move to have the President come to the UN?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I would just say that, as I mentioned at the top, this resolution that we’re putting forward, we’re putting it forward with every expectation that Russia will use its veto. But we will – in doing so, we believe that will underscore their isolation. And the premise of your question is exactly right. This is a first step in how the UN responds to this premeditated war of choice that Russia has chosen to take, and we will see action in the General Assembly in the coming days.
I would reiterate something I said earlier. Yesterday you had an extraordinary session in the General Assembly. It happened to be pre-planned. It had been scheduled a while ago. It was a session that has been held annually on Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea. But it was an opportunity for countries around the globe to go to the General Assembly Hall, to take the podium, and to speak very clearly to condemn not only the continuing occupation of Crimea, but what we were poised to see and were seeing – the aggression happening across Ukraine.
So, I think there is a very important moment beyond the Security Council to see the General Assembly and mobilize as many voices as we can from across the world to be a part of the response that we’re taking here. So that’s something we’ll be looking to in the coming weeks.
I won’t preview any particular visitors to New York anytime soon. That – I’ll sort of leave that till we have something to announce. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Operator, if you would like to close the call.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that will conclude our conference for today.