Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 22, 2022
MODERATOR 1: Good afternoon. My name is Jared Caplan and I’m the acting Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy Paris. Thank you for joining us. I will moderate today’s event.
Just a few quick mechanics for today. Following our distinguished speaker’s opening comments, if you would like to ask a question, please use the “raise hand” function on your Zoom bar or just let us know in the chat that you would like to ask a question.
Just a reminder, the goal of today’s event is to discuss the ongoing situation and Russia’s activities with respect to Ukraine. We appreciate it if you do not stray off topic because our speaker’s time is quite limited today.
To confirm, today’s conversation is on the record, and without further ado, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to our distinguished guest, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States Ambassador to the United Nations. And with that, Ambassador, over to you.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Jared.
I’m pleased to be with you this morning. I know that you’ve all been closely following the events of the last several days that have brought us to this perilous moment – for Ukraine, for Europe, but also for the United Nations and all of its Member States.
In recent weeks, Russia has dramatically escalated its aggression toward Ukraine, surrounding Ukraine’s borders with well over 150,000 troops, increasing shelling in parts of the Donbas, deploying cyber operations against Ukraine’s defense and banking sectors, and spreading disinformation aimed at deceiving the Russian people, Ukrainians, as well as the world.
Then on Monday, President Putin took steps that constitute an invasion of its sovereign neighbor. He announced that Russia would recognize as “independent states” the territories Russia has controlled since 2014 through its proxies, in direct contradiction of the Minsk agreements. He then ordered Russian military forces, under the guise of so-called “peacekeepers,” to deploy to these regions.
Given these actions, on Monday night, the UN Security Council held an urgent meeting. And this was our third meeting in as many weeks on Russia’s threat to Ukraine. And it was the third time you heard from the rest of the Security Council a unified message: that Russia should not start a war. That Russia should lean toward diplomacy. That it should not continue its unprovoked attacks on Ukraine – on Ukraine’s sovereignty and on its territorial integrity. That it should not defy the foundational principles of the UN Charter.
Russia used the meeting to continue to spread disinformation, attempt to rewrite history, and to blatantly create a pretext for a war. But unfortunately, the fake reality Russia wants to create is already having very real consequences for the people of Ukraine and for the world. It will have consequences for Russia, as well. Together with our partners and allies, President Biden has taken decisive actions to make the costs of Russia’s actions crystal-clear.
Every UN Member State has a stake in what comes next. After we finish our conversation today, as you know, I’ll be heading straight to the UN General Assembly for the annual debate on the occupied territories of Ukraine. We expect to hear strong statements in support of Ukraine and the UN Charter, and a chorus of calls for Russia to cease its hostilities.
This is the moment to stand up and defend the United Nations and our international order as we know it, to show Russia that it’s isolated and alone in its actions, and to demonstrate that every other UN Member State believes it is time to de-escalate, to come back to the negotiating table, and to work toward peace. And I think what you’ll hear today from the vast majority of UN Member States, that sentiment.
I’ll stop here and I’m happy to take some of your questions moving forward.
MODERATOR 2: The first one, Viviana Mazza –
MODERATOR 1: Great, thank you very much. Why don’t we begin with Rome and Vivia Mazza from Corriere della Sera.
QUESTION: Thank you, and thank you, Ambassador, for taking questions and for your speech. I would like to ask about the role of China. China avoided taking sides by asking all the parties to exercise restraint at the UN Security Council. You said in your speech today, anyway, upheld the principle of sovereignty. They said it should be respected. My question is: Is this – is it in their interest to do so and to defend the principle of sovereignty because of Taiwan? And is China wary of associating itself with Russian aggression right now for some reason, in your opinion? Or do you feel they are looking at the Western resolve in this situation?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know I think the Russians have put the Chinese in a very, very difficult position. The Chinese have been clear over the course of their tenure here in speaking strongly for sovereignty and the integrity of borders. And this invasion by Russia into Ukraine is exactly an attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and the integrity of Ukraine’s border.
So, it really compromises their own principles. And you may have heard that the Foreign Minister of China actually made a statement to that effect in Munich over the weekend, where he talked about the sovereignty of countries and the integrity of borders and mentioned specifically Ukraine.
So, this is something that I think the Chinese are grappling with. I can’t speak for them, but I do wonder how they will be able to explain this contradiction if they continue to align themselves with the Russians.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR 1: We’ll next move to Anna Sauerbrey from Die Zeit. Ana in Germany, if you can hear us, please unmute yourself.
QUESTION: Yes, please excuse me. I was searching for the right button two weeks – two years into the pandemic. Ambassador, thank you very much for your statement. You have mentioned that diplomatic – a diplomatic solution remains important. What tracks do you see for such a diplomatic solution? Do you believe that something can still be done about Minsk? In what frameworks should talks with Russia resume? And do you expect any direct talks between the United States and Russia anytime soon? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, the action – thank you for that question. The actions that the Russians took over the weekend was in direct contravention to what they have agreed to in the Minsk agreements. And so, I do worry that at this point, we have a dilemma in front of us; the Russians have put a dilemma in front of themselves while saying they want to continue to enforce the Minsk Agreement and, at the same time, they are breaking the Agreement themselves.
But as you heard President Biden say yesterday, we have not given up on diplomacy. The Russians can cease their current actions and come back to the negotiating table and find a way forward that is not going to lead to this devastating conflict that will lead to the loss of thousands of more lives in Ukraine. But I say as well, the Russian people ought to be asking President Putin how many Russian lives is he willing to sacrifice in pursuit of his ambitions in Ukraine?
MODERATOR 1: Thank you. Let’s move, please, to Alexandra at the GMF.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you very much, and thank you, Madam Ambassador. I had a very simple question: What can the United States – the United Nations really do in the context of this crisis, knowing that Russia currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council? So, I wanted to have your take on that considering the difficult context, and we’ve seen the last – these last years the difficulty of having the United Nations really playing a role in these types of very heightened tensions. Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. It is somewhat ironical that the Russians are chairing the Security Council in the middle of a crisis that Russia is creating. But their chairmanship of the Security Council does not give them the ability to block the Security Council from having meetings to discuss these issues. The Security Council’s responsibility is to deal with peace and security, and as you know, under the Russian presidency we’ve had two meetings where we have discussed these issues. We had one on January 31, on the last day of the Norwegian presidency, but two, including an emergency meeting on Monday night.
So, they are not in a position to block meetings as president. There are procedures that are required, and we’ve been able to hold these meetings. I’ve also been asked about the ability to veto, but I think what is important is that they can’t veto the voices of the members of the Security Council. And they heard clearly from all 14 other members of the Security Council that they need to pursue a diplomatic solution to their security concerns, and they heard it even from China.
So, the Security Council offers an opportunity for Russia to hear directly from other members of the Security Council, but also it puts Russia on notice that it has to explain itself.
MODERATOR: In Madrid, Javier Ansorena from ABC.
QUESTION: Hi. Hello, Ambassador. Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. First, the foreign minister of Ukraine was with Secretary Blinken, and he mentioned that he – that Ukraine had plan A, which is keeping with all the tools of diplomacy and the sanctions of the international community, and plan B was to fight. I would like to know what plan B is for the Biden administration in this crisis.
And the second question is a follow-up from the colleague from Corriere della Sera. If this crisis ends up like in a similar outcome as 2014, is this going to be a precedent that other countries can use? And I’m talking specifically about China and Taiwan. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for the question. And the Biden administration has been clear from day one that our preference is to find a diplomatic way forward and we have leaned in aggressively to work with diplomacy, to use our diplomatic tools to address the security concerns of Russia and Europe, as well as others. But we have also said consistently that we are preparing for responding aggressively to any – and forcefully – to any actions being taken by the Russians. And as you may have seen yesterday, the President announced very, very strong sanctions against the Russians, and we were joined by our European colleagues, the EU, the UK, Japan, as well as Canada and Australia, announced sanctions against the Russians; Germany announced that they would discontinue the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
So, we always had a plan that put diplomacy at the forefront, but we continue to prepare for if diplomacy was not effective at the moment. And right now, the Russian current step – first steps of an invasion into Ukraine has indicated that we have to pull out the more forceful response.
QUESTION: And my second question?
MODERATOR 1: Michaela from Deutsche Welle.
QUESTION: Yes. Hello, Ambassador.
MODERATOR: Michaela of Deutsche Welle, please.
QUESTION: Yes. Hello, Ambassador. Thanks for taking this call today. It’s very useful to get your input there. I just have a follow-up question on Russia being in charge at the Security Council. Are you seeing any kind of move to put – to shape the agenda away from the issue, or in a direction that Russia would like to see? And then, drawing on your experience, I would be very much interested because I’m talking to many politicians here who feel like they’re thrown back into almost a Cold War – really historical times. There is a really deep shock here in Europe. Maybe you can give us a sense of what your first thought was when you heard that Russia is going ahead with this aggression into Ukraine.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, the – in terms of the Security Council, my – the Russians can try to use procedural blocks to distract us away from the discussion, but they can’t stop the discussion. And as you see, we had an emergency meeting under their presidency on Monday night. So, they cannot block the Security Council from speaking. And I think we all have worked diligently over the course of the past few months to try to avoid getting to this crisis point, and we have worked to give Russia a number of offramps which they have not taken. And so, we have continued to prepare and to engage with our allies and unify our voices in response to this Russian threat. And I’ve been really buoyed by the fact that we have been so unified, and I think that has surprised the Russians.
And I will go back to the previous questioner who asked about whether this was a return to 2014. It is absolutely not a return to 2014. The Russians are getting a response that I think they have not expected. They have – their actions have unified Europe. Their actions have unified NATO. And they have heard very strongly from the international community, as well as from the Secretary-General that the actions they are taking today are an affront to the UN Charter. So, they are on the defensive here in New York.
MODERATOR 1: Thank you. As a reminder, if you cannot find the “raise hand” button, please just let us know in the chat if you have a question. We will go back to Italy. Viviana, do you have a second question?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you so much. Given the language that Mr. Putin is using – “peacekeepers,” “recognition” – I saw how both Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and also António Guterres have mentioned how concerning that is – but given this language and given that he is actually taking the right of Ukraine to exist, as I suppose that he’s not going to stop with the Donbas and that he actually is going to go the full way.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It was definitely clear from his speech on Monday that his intentions are not to stop with the Donbas. He questioned the independence and the – even the existence of Ukraine. And I think he was very clear in his message to the world that his intentions are much more aggressive than he originally stated when they expressed concerns about the Donbas.
And again, the use of “peacekeeping” – we know these are not peacekeepers. We have real peacekeepers around the world who are giving their lives and sacrificing to bring peace around the world, and I think it really diminishes the role of peacekeepers for him to use peacekeepers as a way of describing these aggressors who are going into Donbas. They’re not peacekeepers. We know what they are, and I really object to the use of the word “peacekeepers” in this – in this situation. They are warmongers.
MODERATOR 1: In Spain, let’s go to Amanda with El País. Amanda, your audio is on mute.
QUESTION: Sorry for that. Thank you so much, Ambassador, for doing this. We have seen a first wave of sanctions, but there are many more on the table. And I would like to know what has to happen to see the full set of sanctions? Is Kyiv the red line? Are we considering this a minor invasion?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As the President noted yesterday, it is the beginnings of an invasion. And our sanctions were the beginning of our sanctions. They were strong sanctions. And I – you can expect that as the Russians escalate, our sanctions will escalate. So, I would – I would only leave you with just continue to watch what our response is moving forward. We’re hopeful that we can bring the Russians back to the negotiating table, that they will hear the voices of the world today in the General Assembly and pull back from the brink of the situation that they are creating for themselves.
MODERATOR 1: Great. We’ll stay in Spain and go back to Javier, please.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to go back to a question that I made before. My question was if there is any concern in the Biden Administration that if the response to this crisis is not forceful enough, there could be a precedent for other countries, and specifically in the ambitions of China towards Taiwan. And my question about the plan B of the U.S. is if there’s a plan B, if there’s very strong sanctions that could be coming, they don’t work as they did not work in 2014. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first on the impact or the implications of this for other countries, we made clear – if you heard the speech that we gave on Monday night, we talked about the possibilities of what can happen across Europe, other countries: Lithuania and Latvia and Moldova. All of those countries should be concerned about Russian aggression in the region. We see this, however, as being very different from the situation with Taiwan, but I do worry that other countries who might have ambitions about their neighbors could think if we don’t respond aggressively to this current action by the Russians that they may misperceive this as an open door. It is not an open door.
And as I mentioned, these sanctions are strong. They will have an impact on the Russian economy in ways that the Russians have never, ever felt before. And I think other countries who are supporting the Russians, such as China, will look at the – what will happen if this ends up in a conflict in Europe and the impact that it will have on them as well.
So again, we are pushing forward to be supportive of our allies, as you’ve seen. So, it’s not just the sanctions, but we’re boosting our and ramping up our efforts to support our allies in the region, to support NATO, and we’re making very, very clear that the actions that the Russians are taking in Ukraine is absolutely a threat to peace and security, not just in Ukraine but further afield.
MODERATOR 1: Terrific. Thank you. And I believe we have time for one last question. Let’s go to James Landale, please.
QUESTION: Hi, James Landale from the BBC. A couple of quick questions. One is just on China. Has the United States reached out to China to see what leverage China and the leadership there could put on Mr. Putin? Secondly, what are your advisors telling you about the presence of Russian troops within the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk? There is some confusion about the precise status of the – you just used the word “invasion.” So, yeah, if you could help us on that, that’d be great. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Well, first, we have reached out to China. You may have seen in the press that Secretary Blinken spoke to the foreign minister over the weekend. I have had conversations as well with the Chinese Ambassador, the Permanent Representative here in New York. And our message to China is that they should convey caution to Russia, that they should encourage Russia to return to the negotiating table. And they did make that point, although they still support Russia, but they made that point in the Security Council meeting on Monday and in previous meetings.
And in terms of the movement of Russian troops into the Donbas region, we know that there were some Russians there already, but we’re seeing movements of additional troops right now. And as you may have heard, the Russian Duma approved Russia using their troops outside of their border. So, we can expect that we’re – and we have warned that we will see more movements by the Russians over the course of the coming days.
MODERATOR 1: Okay. All right. With that, we’re – I’m afraid we’re going to have to leave the conversation there. Ambassador, thank you so much for your time and thank you to everyone for joining us this afternoon.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all very much.