Remarks during a Telephonic Background Briefing on the UN Security Council Meeting on Russia’s Threat to International Peace and Security

United States Mission to the United Nations
January 28, 2022


MODERATOR:  Thanks, [Operator], and welcome, everybody, to this on-background briefing. The focus of today’s call will be the UN Security Council’s upcoming meeting on Russia’s threats to international peace and security taking place on Monday.  

As a reminder, this call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to Senior Administration Officials. 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 One] and [Senior Administration Official Two]. Again, you can attribute what you hear our briefers say today to a Senior Administration Official. And this call is embargoed until its conclusion.

With that, I will turn it over to our first Senior Administration Official. Please go ahead, [Senior Administration Officer Two].  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO Thank you, [Moderator], and good afternoon everyone. I think you have all heard President Biden say that he views this situation not just as a threat to European peace and security, but to global peace and the international order. And that’s why he instructed all his envoys to pursue every diplomatic venue available to try to de-escalate the situation and find a peaceful resolution. This includes the United Nations, where I know Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and her team have been engaging with the Ukrainian and Russian missions, as well as with members of the Security Council and our partners and allies.  

Over the last month, the Administration has relentlessly pursued diplomacy in more than 100 engagements with NATO, the European Union, the OSCE, Ukraine, Russia, and other partners and allies. In all of our meetings, we have been clear that we are committed to the path of dialogue and diplomacy – the path that provides the only durable solution to the security concerns of Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and our allies and partners. We have asked Russia to back up its claim that it has no intention of further invading Ukraine with deescalatory actions that reduce the tense situation on Ukraine’s border, namely withdrawing the unprecedented number of Russian forces positioned there. Instead, Russia has placed more forces on Ukraine’s doorstep, as well as inserting thousands into Belarus, in close range to Ukraine’s capital.  

Russia’s threats to its neighbor strike at the heart of the UN Charter and have grave implications for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and the safety and security of all Member States. Any further invasion of Ukraine would be profoundly destabilizing from a political and a humanitarian perspective – for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the broader international community.   

This is precisely the type of situation the UN – and the Security Council in particular – were created to address. And Security Council members concurred that at this critical juncture, a public discussion in the Council would support and complement the dialogue and diplomacy that has been under way for the past several weeks.   

I’d like to now turn it over to [Senior Administration Official One] to preview a bit of what you can expect to see in Monday’s open meeting of the UN Security Council.  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE Thank you and thanks, everybody, for hopping on. As you know, yesterday the United States called for an open meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the threat to international peace and security posed by the buildup of Russian forces on the border of Ukraine.  

As my colleague just noted, we have sought to engage in diplomacy in every venue available to us, and we believe engaging diplomatically in the Security Council is a key part of that effort.  Under the UN Charter, the Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. This situation is a clear threat to peace and security, and we believe that the situation on the ground requires us to engage in preventative diplomacy to avoid a crisis before it is upon us. In our view, it would be a dereliction of the Security Council’s duties to take a “wait and see” approach in this instance. The Council’s full attention is needed now to examine the facts and consider what’s at stake for Ukraine, for Europe, and for the international order should Russia further invade Ukraine.   

On Monday, you will hear Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield present the facts of the case and clearly articulate what’s at stake for European and global peace and security. Every UN Member State has a stake in the outcome of this situation. If Russia were to further invade Ukraine, Secretary Blinken has noted it risks opening a Pandora’s box across the globe, undermining the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and the international order itself – which, for nearly 80 years, has stood upon a foundation of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States. It could also have devastating humanitarian consequences; the UN is already helping nearly 3 million people in eastern Ukraine who need aid as a result of more than seven years of conflict caused by Russia and its proxy forces. A further Russian invasion of Ukraine would be even more consequential and devastating to the humanitarian situation.  

We also see Monday’s meeting as an opportunity for Russia to explain what it is doing, and we come prepared to listen. We will also be prepared to call out disinformation and diversionary tactics Russia may use, including their claims that Ukraine is provoking the conflict and that NATO is to blame for these tensions. We’re unfortunately all too familiar with these tactics.  

As more than 100,000 Russian forces gather on the Ukrainian border and Russia engages in other destabilizing activity aimed at Ukraine, the UN Security Council has a responsibility to be fully engaged on this issue and to send a clear message to Moscow urging Russia to rule out the further use of military force and to continue diplomatic engagement. And I think that’s what you’ll hear from the United States and from other Member States on the Security Council on Monday.   

I’ll stop there and turn it back to Olivia for your questions.  

MODERATOR:  Thanks [Senior Administration Official One]. As a reminder for anyone who joined us late, this briefing is on background and can be attributed to Senior Administration Officials. I’ll ask Stephen, our AT&T operator, to repeat the instructions for joining the question queue and then we’ll get started. Over to you, Stephen.  

OPERATOR:  Once again ladies and gentlemen, if you have a question, please press the 1 followed by 0 – 1, 0 if you have a question. 

MODERATOR:  Stephen, feel free to go to our first question.  

OPERATOR:  Our first question will come from the line of Will Mauldin of Wall Street Journal. Please go ahead.    

QUESTION:  Thank you so much for having us. I just had two quick questions. One, looking at the last week and everything that’s happened since Secretary Blinken and Amanda Sloat and the others were in Geneva, has it brought us closer to conflict given that we’ve seen more troop movements and preparations kind of on both sides? Or is there hope for continued dialogue given what you’ve announced at the UN, efforts to revive Minsk II, and maybe some possible areas of overlap with Russia directly?   

And then the second question is, if I may, on the decision to bring this issue to the Security Council on Monday. Are you worried that that also gives Russia a chance to argue what some in the U.S. would call disinformation about its side and its view of the conflict on both at that meeting and also during its time as president of the Security Council next month? Thank you.   

MODERATOR[Senior Administration Official One] do you want to take this next?   

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Sure. Well, why don’t I start with the second – I don’t know if – I’ve got an echo, but if others could just mute. Oh, great, well, why don’t I start with the second piece first? And I think that – as I indicated, I think the issues at stake here, international peace and security, go to the heart of what the Security Council is all about. And we see a real opportunity for preventive diplomacy which is why we think having this open session will be so important.   

And Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for her part will, of course, be prepared to speak in a forceful and factual and measured manner to the seriousness of the issues to what we see happening on the ground and to the stakes involved, and I think she’ll be prepared to respond to what Russia has to say. And, of course, a key opportunity of this session is for Russia to explain its extraordinary military buildup on Ukraine’s borders and its other threats and destabilizing acts. So, while I do think there will be some deflection and perhaps some disinformation – we know that playbook – but there’s also a clear opportunity for Russia to tell the Security Council whether they see a path for diplomacy or are interested in pursuing conflict. And I also think this will be an opportunity for – and it will be very important for Russia to hear the position that other Council members take on these fundamental principals of the international order. We hope and expect that our Council colleagues will express their desire to pursue a path of diplomacy rather than the path of war. And that’s what we’ll be looking for. [Senior Administration Official Two], I don’t know if you want to take the first part of the question –

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, I’m happy to – I’m happy to take the first part [Senior Administration Official One]. We’ve consistently spoken of the two paths that Russian can choose: the first dialogue and diplomacy and the second escalation and – their massive escalation with massive consequences. And over the past several days as our colleague mentioned, you’ve seen us make genuine and sincere efforts to pursue dialogue and diplomacy, which we vastly prefer.   

And this is why Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary Blinken met on January 21st following consultations with our Ukrainian partners and NATO allies. We are deeply committed to the path of dialogue and diplomacy. We remain clear that this path provides the only durable solution to the security concerns of the United States, our allies and partners, and frankly also Russia.   

And just to go to the question about whether we think this leads us closer to confrontation, I would say that based on the Secretary’s frank and substantive discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov on January 21st, we believe that we can carry forward this work of developing understanding agreements together with – that ensure our mutual security. But that frankly is contingent on Russia stopping its aggression towards Ukraine. And I think as [Senior Administration Official One] mentioned this meeting on Monday at the Security Council is another step in our effort to pursue the path of dialogue and diplomacy to resolve this situation.

MODERATOR:  Thanks both. Operator, I think we can go to the next question.  

OPERATOR:  Our next question will come from the line of Ibtisam Azem of Al-Araby AlJadeed Newspaper. Please go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you. My question is whether you are expecting to have a statement – I’m sure – I mean, given the fact that it’s probably going to be difficult to have a statement from the Security Council because Russia and probably China are going to block it, but are you expecting to have any statement from other Council members on this issue? And then also, are other countries who are not member of the Security Council going to attend this meeting besides Ukraine? Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE Well, I’ll just say this open session will offer an opportunity for every member of the Security Council to speak to this issue. They’ll all have an opportunity to do so during the course of the meeting. I don’t anticipate that there’ll be any Council products coming out of this, but I think this is a – as I said, think this is a really important opportunity for all of the world’s powers to be on the record about whether they see a path forward for diplomacy or whether they would prefer to see a path toward conflict. And I think that’s what we’re hoping and expecting to hear from council members during the session on Monday. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question will come from the lines of James Bays of Al Jazeera. Please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Good afternoon to you. Thank you for doing this. First, just for clarification because Russia is already talking about a procedural vote, I’m told from other diplomats you have at least nine votes, but I want to hear it from you whether you have at least nine votes to avoid a procedural challenge to this meeting. Secondly, who will the briefer be on this meeting?   

And then the substantial question is about China. China – obviously, the Olympics coming up next week. Russia would always want the support of China. China abstained last time in 2014 on the annexation of Crimea. What is your view of China’s position right now? And particularly China – the Chinese ambassador has been talking a lot about the Olympic truce. Do you think Russia will hold back on any military action until the Olympics are over on the 20th of February? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE Well, why don’t I start and my colleague can jump in to add anything. I would just say in terms of the meeting itself, we are confident that there’s broad support across the Council for this meeting. So, we do believe that there is more than sufficient support. There’s, in fact, very broad support for having this conversation on Monday, and that’s why we’re confident that it will move forward. 

I would say when it comes to China that we’ve been in very active dialogue with China, obviously about a range of issues, but also in particular the situation – Russia and Ukraine. Secretary Blinken just talked to his counterpart just a day ago, and we’ve been in active diplomatic conversation with the Chinese mission in New York about this meeting and the issue as it comes to the Security Council as well. 

I would have to say we frequently hear from our Chinese colleagues in New York about the concerns that China has that go to the fundamental principles of the UN Charter. China often speaks out very forcefully about territorial integrity and respect for sovereignty. I think those are fundamental principles on which we have a very shared basis and view about the importance of the UN Charter and the role of the Security Council. And I think we’ve said, and I would certainly suggest that it’s not in China’s interest to see a conflict in this situation, not just because of the Olympics, as your question suggested, but I think more broadly the impact of a devastating conflict in Europe would have on China’s interests all over the world. So, we hope that China will be speaking to these principles, the importance of upholding these principles, and to the path of diplomacy on Monday as well. Over. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  I think the only thing I would add to what my colleague said is that if you look at China’s statements in the Security Council, you’ll see a frequent refrain that China urges Council members and the broader UN membership to pursue the peaceful settlement of disputes, and that is indeed one of the fundamental tasks of the Security Council. And so I think that points again to the reason why we think this is so important to have the Security Council meeting on Monday, because we’re trying to use the Security Council as a preventative tool in our diplomatic efforts.  

MODERATOR:  Thanks, both. We can take the next question. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question will come from the line of Christiane Meier of ARD German TV New York. Please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Yes, good morning and thank you for doing this. You were talking about getting everyone in the Security Council on the record, which is certainly interesting. But from a German perspective, I was wondering how you integrate the European perspective apart from the United Kingdom and France, of course, and if you have any hopes that in the background there is support for what you tried to achieve. 

MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official One], do you want to take this? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, I would say, first – well, let me just say two things about that. First of all, as you know, we have been engaged in relentless diplomacy with our European allies throughout the course of this crisis, and you’ve seen that happen at all levels, from the President on down. Secretary Blinken has been in frequent touch with his German and other European counterparts. And at the United Nations in New York Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been meeting frequently with her EU, German, UK, French, Ukrainian, and other counterparts on a regular basis to touch base on this crisis and chart a path forward and make sure that we’re aligned on a diplomatic approach and to compare notes on the very serious threat that we see given the Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border. 

So, there’s a regularly diplomatic conversation happening, and I think it’s fair to say that you see the alignment in terms of public statements, in terms of approach that has come by having this regular consultation and making sure that each other are – that we’re keeping each other informed. 

I don’t know that other members beyond the Security Council will speak at this session on Monday. Ukraine has submitted a letter to the Security Council supporting this meeting as a clear threat to international peace and security and will have the opportunity to speak under the rules of the Security Council. So I think we’ll expect to hear from a number of voices on the Council during the meeting on Monday. 

MODERATOR:  We can take the next question. 

OPERATOR:  Rick Gladstone of New York Times. Please, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hi. Thank you very much for the briefing. My colleagues have asked some of the basic questions I had. But I’m curious about Monday. Are you absolutely sure this can go ahead as planned? I mean, I know you’ve spoken about the procedural issues that Russia could attempt to invoke to delay or block it. But you’re confident this is going to happen on Monday?  

And my second question is:  Are there any of the non-permanent members to your knowledge who are going to express sympathy with Russia’s position or take a stand that aligns with Russia? Have you already looked – have you already done your research on that and know what the outcome will be?  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Well, I’d just say we’re in regular touch with all members of the Council. This is an active diplomatic conversation happening at Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s level, and other parts of our mission are in regular touch with their counterparts. So it’s very active. Obviously, this is a serious crisis, and it’s one that we’re seized with at the UN and obviously now will be in the Security Council on Monday.  

We’re very confident that there is overwhelming support for having this conversation. It goes right to the heart of the role of the Security Council itself. This preventative diplomacy is exactly what the Council is supposed to be doing, and I think Member States understand that. 

I think the question that – at least the way that I’ve been thinking about it, given the issues that are at stake and the questions on the table on Monday really go to the heart of the UN Charter – whether one country can militarily threaten or invade its neighbor, whether a country can seek to change the borders of another by force, even whether a former empire can use force to wrench its former territory from a sovereign nation. These are the profound questions of international peace and security, and I think the world’s powers, the members of the Security Council have an opportunity to speak, as I said, on the record on this crisis. And it basically boils down to the question of whether there should be a path of war or whether there should be a path of diplomacy. And I think the question is – and I think the expectation is – that members of the Security Council will be weighing in on that question in support of a diplomatic approach. 

MODERATOR:  We can take the next question. 

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from the line of Edith Lederer of the Associated Press. Please, go ahead.   

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. A quick follow-up on Monday’s meeting. Is there going to be a briefing by somebody from the Secretariat, and if so, who? Is it going to be Rosemary DiCarlo?   

And secondly, today Secretary – Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia didn’t want war and that President Putin was looking at the U.S. response to its issues. Are you expecting any kind of a reply from the President himself? And what’s your reaction to what Foreign Minister Lavrov said? Thank you. 

MODERATOR: [Senior Administration Official Two], do you want to start with –  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO:  Yeah, I can take that. And I think I know the answer for the first two but, [Senior Administration Official One], correct me if I’m wrong. So, my understanding on – in the Council meeting on Monday is that there will definitely be a briefer from the UN Secretariat. I haven’t seen the Council president announce who that would be yet, but it’s a briefing that we’re looking forward to. 

I would say on the Russian foreign minister’s comments from this morning, I’d say we welcome his comments that Russia does not want war. And we would welcome reply from the Russian government to the principles we have laid out for them. But this needs to be backed up with action. We needed to see Russia pulling some of the troops that they have deployed away from the Ukrainian border and taking other de-escalatory steps. And so I think, while we welcome the message, we need to see swift – we need to see it backed up by swift action.  

MODERATOR:  Okay. We can take the next question.  

OPERATOR:  Okay. Our last question will come from the line of Jennifer Hansler of CNN. Please go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you for doing this. I was wondering if you could discuss whether there’s been any bilateral contact between the U.S. and Russian mission in New York? And if so, what have those conversations been like? When was the last contact? And then does the U.S. have any concerns about Russia taking over the presidency at this turbulent time? Thank you.  

MODERATOR[Senior Administration Official One].  

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE:  Yeah, I would – thanks for that question, and I really appreciate the questions today. I think they’ve been really useful. When it comes to Russia’s presidency in February, I won’t get into the procedural details on this, but there’s really – the role of the president of the Security Council is more about when a meeting happens or the sort of – when the consultations in the Council happen, rather than whether they happen. So, the Council as a whole can take decisions to address issues that come up, and so I think the issue in terms of the function of the Council is not something that I would be particularly concerned about.   

I think the bigger issue and maybe the question is how Russia wants to use the events that it puts on the calendar in February to address or potentially distract from the situation in Ukraine and its own actions. So that’s what we’ll be looking for. As for diplomacy in New York, as I said, it’s very active and in many ways is parallel to the diplomatic activity that you see happening in Washington and in Europe and elsewhere.   

So, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is regularly in touch with her counterparts, including her counterpart from Ukraine, her European counterparts as I mentioned, and her counterpart in Russia, from China, and indeed all of the members of the Security Council.  So, both – I won’t characterize those private diplomatic conversations, but obviously it’s a very active on the agenda and one that we’re pursuing in New York as we are elsewhere around the world.  

OPERATOR:  Ladies and gentlemen that does conclude our conference call for today. On behalf of today’s panel, we’d like to thank you for your participation in today’s USUN background briefing teleconference call. Have a wonderful day. You may now disconnect.