Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Press Briefing on the UN General Assembly Emergency Special Session on Ukraine

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 11, 2022


MODERATOR:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center.  Today we’re honored to have Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield with us, who is the U.S. Representative to the United Nations.  My name is Melissa Waheibi, and I’ll be your moderator for today’s event.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will give opening remarks, and then we’ll have a period of Q&A which I will moderator.  And at this point, ma’am, the floor is yours.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you very much, and good afternoon to everyone.

In response to the illegal sham referenda and Russia’s attempted annexations of Ukrainian territory, the Secretary-General made a striking statement.  He said, and I quote, “The UN Charter is clear:  Any annexation of a state or territory by another state resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law,” unquote.

These were the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations – not the United States, not the European Union or a European country.  It was the words coming from the Secretary-General.  They unequivocally outlined what’s at stake here.  The Secretary-General’s words demonstrate that this vote is not a great power battle or a fight between Security Council members.  This is about something much larger than any one country – something larger than even a group of countries.  This is about defending the United Nations.  It’s about defending the UN Charter that all UN Member States signed onto.

On September 30, we saw Russia once again try to shield itself from accountability and responsibility by vetoing a UN Security Council resolution condemning its sham referenda and annexation attempts.  Not a single country – not a single country other than Russia – voted against this resolution.  Not one.  As I promised at the time, we are not letting Russia’s veto stop us from pursuing accountability.  So we have brought this issue to the General Assembly, where every country, large or small, Security Council member or not, has a vote.

Yesterday, the president of the General Assembly reconvened the Emergency Special Session on Ukraine to address Russia’s illegal and fraudulent attempt to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory.  The European Union, on behalf of a cross-regional drafting group of several dozen UN member states, drafted a resolution in the UN General Assembly that condemns Russia’s actions as a clear violation of the UN Charter and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

We’ve called on all UN member states to support this resolution.  And as of now, the resolution has close to 70 co-sponsors from around the world.  We expect this number to continue to grow in the coming days.

As countries have stood to make their statements since yesterday, we’ve heard the same resounding message over and over again.  It is the same message shared by the Secretary-General, the one I started with:  It is illegal, and simply unacceptable, to attempt to redraw another country’s borders by force.  It goes against what the UN stands for.

And yesterday we saw Russia’s cowardly efforts to have this vote done by secret ballot resoundingly fail by an overwhelming margin.  We’re encouraged by how many voted against Russia’s procedural attempts to shield themselves from accountability.

I will end with this:  After Russia’s strikes against Ukraine over the weekend, the choice facing UN members has become even more stark.  The stakes have become even more clear.  Now is not the time for placation.  It is the time for action.  As Secretary Blinken said yesterday, “Russia’s attacks are yet another reminder that its war against Ukraine presents a profound moral issue.  No person of conscience – and no country of principle – could be unmoved by the devastation of these horrors,” unquote.

I’ll stop here and look forward to your questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Madam Ambassador.  It’s now time for the Q&A portion of this event.  We would like to remind you that in order to be called on, please identify yourself, rename your profile with your full name and media outlet.  If you’d like to ask a question, you can raise your digital hand to be called on, or you can type your question in the chat function and I will read it out for you.  When called upon, please unmute yourself and turn your camera on to ask your question.

I do see in the chat function we have a request from Ibtisam Azem.  Ibtisam, if you can unmute yourself, turn on your camera, and you can ask that question directly.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Melissa.  Hi, Ambassador.  My name is Ibtisam Azem from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed Newspaper.  Good to see you.  So I have two questions; first about yesterday’s vote on the request of the Albanian ambassador to have a vote, a registered vote.  As you said, there were 107 countries voted for that, but there was about 80-plus countries who either abstained, didn’t vote, or vote against.  So my question here, how – what do you say to countries if they tomorrow – if you’ll have a large number of countries tomorrow that will abstain, what’s your message to them?  And which number will be a successful number for you where you will have the feeling that a large number of the international community is behind you?

And my second question is about Turkey called for ceasefire in Ukraine.  It’s days ahead of the – of an expected meeting between the leaders of Turkey and Russia, in Astana most probably.  Do you support such a – do you support such a call?  What’s your comment on that?  Thank you so much.  

AMBASSDOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you so much.  And in terms of your first question, what is important for us to watch are the number of countries that voted with Russia.  And the no votes were very limited and the countries were not unexpected.  And we expect those numbers to remain low when we bring forward the resolution for a vote likely on Wednesday.

I can’t explain why countries make a decision to abstain.  Some of them have tried to explain that.  But for us, it’s those countries who voted no, and looking at who they are doesn’t surprise any of us.

As for the Turkey – Turkish call for a ceasefire, certainly that would have to be on both sides, because if the Ukrainians stop fighting the Ukrainians are going to lose their country.  And whether the Russians can be trusted or not always remains to be seen.  We certainly support efforts to bring this war to an end, but the simplest action to bring the war to an end is for Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We received an advance question from Cecilia from Swedish Broadcasting.  I also see you have your hand raised.  So if you would like to ask your question directly, feel free to open up your microphone and your video.

QUESTION:  Yes, thank you so much.  And thank you, Madam Ambassador.  I was just wondering – yesterday we heard Ambassador Kyslytsya of Ukraine talk about the importance of passing this resolution not only because the importance to show the condemnation of this so-called annexation but also to, what he called, he said, “regain confidence” for the whole institution, for the UN as a whole.  Even if the resolution passes, what do you think is needed to reform the UN?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  We’ve been having a discussion around reforming the UN for the past couple of weeks.  As you know, I gave a speech in San Francisco a week or so before High-Level Week.  President Biden also addressed this issue in his statement before the General Assembly.

We do think that UN reform would entail Security Council reform.  It would mean having the Security Council more broadly representative, having more members of the Security Council.  As President Biden noted, we should have African permanent members of the Security Council, permanent members of the Security Council from Latin America, and we need to increase the number of non-permanent members of the Security Council.

Two, Security Council and UN reform would involve how we address issues of the veto.  And one of those actions taken just recently was the Lichtenstein resolution that calls for Security Council members to come to the General Assembly to explain their use of the veto.  And Russia has had to do that several times over the past few months, and including their most recent veto where we’re now looking at bringing that resolution that they vetoed for a vote in the Security Council itself – I mean, sorry, on the General Assembly on Wednesday.

One of the things we call for is that countries be sparing in their use of the veto and only use the veto when considered absolutely necessary.

QUESTION:  We’ve seen, though, time and time again that countries like Russia do still use the veto.  And although they have to come to the General Assembly to explain themselves, it’s still something that they can keep doing.  Is there any other way that – what would you as a representative of the United States want to see when it comes to the veto?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, actually, they can’t veto the Security Council, and they can’t veto the condemnation that they are experiencing, and they can’t veto the isolation that they are experiencing.  The fact that 14 countries in the Security Council did – voted against them is a clear – is clear evidence of the isolation that they are experiencing.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question, we’ll go to Ali Barada.  Ali, if you could state your organization; ask your question for the Ambassador.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Melissa.  Thank you, Ambassador.  My name is Ali Barada.  I work for France24 and Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  Yesterday your Russian colleague said that the U.S. needed – and the West needed some more time to coerce the hesitant countries into voting yes for the draft resolution.  And I wonder whether you are pressuring the Arab countries and the African countries specifically into this, taking into account that in the previous vote on March 2 most of them abstained.  Thank you.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  The only country intimidating countries to vote is Russia.  We don’t use intimidation tactics.  Our message to all countries is that this is about the UN Charter.  It’s about what the Secretary-General said in his statement.  This is an attack on all of the values that we stand for.  It is not a competition between Russia and the United States.  It is not a taking sides.  It’s about defending the right of Ukraine to exist.  It’s about defending the UN Charter.

And countries that make the decision to abstain, again, I can’t explain those countries.  We do, along with a variety of countries, engage with our friends and our allies and our colleagues to explain the position that we have on the UN Charter, but we don’t use intimidation tactics.  That’s just another disinformation and propaganda message from the Russians explaining to the world what they do to intimidate their – to get the votes.  And they clearly are not succeeding, as you noted.  As you will notice, there were only a few countries that voted with Russia in the three votes that we had yesterday.

QUESTION:  Do you – just a quick follow up: Do you feel confident now that more Arab and African countries are going to vote for your draft resolution?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  We’re doing everything possible to ensure that the votes are strong.  Back in 2014, 100 countries supported the vote against Russia on Crimea, and those numbers have gone up.  And I think African countries and countries from the Middle East understand and appreciate the importance of supporting the UN Charter that we all signed onto when it was created.  And they all see with their own eyes the aggression that Russia is taking against the people of Ukraine, and no country of conscience, as Secretary Blinken said, can be unmoved by that.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Madam Ambassador.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, Ali.  Our next question, we’ll go to Benno Schwinghammer from German Press Agency.  Go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Ambassador, for that briefing.  About the vote tomorrow, again, it seemed to me yesterday that there were a lot of no shows – countries which were not even abstaining but not voting at all.  So do you think this might be a trend for tomorrow that countries will avoid to take sides and just not vote at all?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, again, I don’t think this is a matter of taking sides.  I think it’s a matter of supporting the core values of the UN Charter.  And what I’m looking at, again, are the numbers of countries that voted against Russia, and the number was resounding.  And the number that voted with Russia was minimal.  So even with the – those countries that were absent and those countries that abstained, the vote against Russia was very strong.

QUESTION:  And if I may – I don’t know if you said it before; I had some technical problems – China and India, what are you expecting from them tomorrow?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I can’t predict what to expect from either country.  I think we just have to wait and see.  I think we’ve seen in the case of China that they have abstained.  They were absent yesterday, but I can’t predict the votes that any country will make.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MODERATOR:  Next question, over to Mr. Fazal from Bangladesh.  Go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Ambassador, for this briefing.  Already my question asked by my fellow journalist, just what you are expecting from the – or I can say it like this: how – what were you expecting from South Asia?  And I have another question – how many countries can participate for your – the real cause?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  How many countries can participate —

QUESTION:  Yeah.  How many countries can stand for this cause from South Asia – I mean vote?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Yes.  Again, we are engaging with every country.  And you will note that from the comments that were made yesterday there was support for the resolution from every region of the world.  So again, we will all vote tomorrow, and I think there is resounding support for the resolution and that we will, again, see how countries will vote once they press their buttons tomorrow.  But if yesterday was any example, the countries that voted with Russia – the numbers were extraordinarily small.

QUESTION:  And Ambassador, as you said, it’s not the competition between Russia and America.  It’s a real cause and every sensible person criticizing or condemning this aggression – Russian aggression on Ukraine.  But Bangladesh prime minister – our thirteenth prime minister –Sheikh Hasina criticizing U.S. sanction on Russia as she finding it’s a violation of human rights, though she’s violating human rights in Bangladesh just to keep the power by any means.  So what is your comment as she’s criticized?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  The Russians have argued constantly that sanctions are the cause of suffering and particularly elsewhere in the world.  And we’ve been very, very clear that sanctions – there are no sanctions on humanitarian assistance; there are no sanctions on agriculture products – and that what is causing the suffering is Russia’s aggressive and unrelenting attack on the people of Ukraine. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Ambassador.

MODERATOR:  We have time for one more question.  Alex from Azerbaijan, go ahead and ask your question.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thank you so much, Melissa, and thank you, Ambassador, for being here today.  You expressed your uneasiness on the countries that – well, you put it diplomatically – that remain abstained and absent.  Let me try to push a little bit on that.  Do you explicitly say that those who leave the room or are not supporting Ukraine in this particular case are not on the right side of the history?  And countries particularly which have their own territorial integrity issues, the one that I represent here – quite frankly like my audience has hard time understanding their reasoning.  So you did say some of them do share their reasoning privately?  I’m just curious – without diving at all your diplomatic communications of course – but can you just give us a few of those reasons?  Are they being threatened by Russia?  Thank you so much.

 AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  They’re going to have to explain that.  And I don’t feel a sense of uneasiness about countries that leave the room or abstain.  What we are looking at are those countries that vote for the resolution and those that vote with Russia, and those numbers are limited, and the numbers voting against Russia are overwhelming.  But some countries have said – many, in fact have said that they want to be neutral.  They don’t want to take sides.  And we have said this is not about sides.  This is not between the Russia and the United States.  This is about defending the core values of the UN Charter.  And so that’s the message that we are constantly repeating over and over and over again.  It is not siding with the United States.  It’s not siding against Russia.  It’s about defending the charter that every single member state of the UN – every single Member State has signed on to.

 MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Thank you, ma’am.  Thank you, Alex.  This concludes our briefing today.  Thank you for being with us and for participating over Zoom.  The transcript will be posted on our website on as soon as it’s complete.  Thank you so much and have a good day.