Ambassadors to the United Nations from the US and Russia traded verbal blows Monday during the first public meeting of the UN Security Council since the crisis in Ukraine came to a head.
Russian envoy Vasily Nebenzya accused his American counterpart, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of “whipping up hysterics” about a potential Russian invasion and using “megaphone diplomacy.”
“You are almost pulling for this,” he said, looking at Thomas-Greenfield. “You want it to happen. You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality.”
Thomas-Greenfield responded by telling Nebenzya, “Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops on your border.”
Calling the massive Russian force along its western border “a threat to peace and security,” Thomas-Greenfield told the 15-member council that it had been created precisely to address Moscow’s menacing behavior.
“Our charge is not only to address conflicts after they occur, but also to prevent them from happening in the first place,” she said. “This is why today’s meeting is so crucial.”
Nebenzya repeated Russian government denials that it has any intention of attacking Ukraine and blamed the US for escalating the crisis.
“Our Western colleagues are talking the need for de-escalation. However, first and foremost, they themselves are whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation,” he said. “The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself.”
Russia and China tried and failed to keep matters behind closed doors by opposing a motion to hold an open meeting. The motion passed 10-2, with the US, the UK and France — the other three permanent members of the Security Council — being joined by Albania, Brazil, Ghana, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, and the United Arab Emirates. Gabon, India, and Kenya abstained.
During debate, Thomas-Greenfield said Russian President Vladimir Putin had organized “the largest mobilization of troops in Europe in decades” while “attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for attack.”
Along with more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, Russia has deployed more than 5,000 military personnel in Belarus with short-range ballistic missiles, special forces, and anti-aircraft batteries — and has ramped up cyberattacks in Ukraine to spread disinformation through state-owned media and its proxies.
Thomas-Greenfield called on her fellow diplomats to rise up and meet Russia’s threats.
“If Russia further invades Ukraine, none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming. And the consequences will be horrific,” she said.
Nebenzya suggested that the US estimate of Russian troop figures had been fabricated.
“Where did you get the figure of 100,000 troops that are deployed, as you state, on the Russian-Ukrainian border, although that is not the case?” he asked. “We have never cited that figure. We’ve never confirmed that figure.”
The Russian also blamed the US for the 2014 ouster of Kremlin-friendly Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, saying it brought to power “nationalists, radicals, Russophobes and pure Nazis,” and created the current antagonism between Ukraine and Russia.
“If they hadn’t done this, then we to date would be living in a spirit of good neighborly relations and mutual cooperation,” Nebenzya said. “However, some in the West just don’t clearly like this positive scenario. What’s happening today is yet another attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine.”
At another point, Nebenzya pointedly left the council chamber as the Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya started to speak.
“How long Russia will pressure, will pursue a clear attempt to push Ukraine and its partners into a Kafka trap?” Kyslytsva asked.
As the meeting was in progress, the White House issued a statement urging Russia to continue to engage in diplomatic talks before warning that Moscow would face “swift and severe consequences” if it attacks.
“Today’s Security Council meeting is a critical step in rallying the world to speak out in one voice: rejecting the use of force, calling for military de-escalation, supporting diplomacy as the best path forward, and demanding accountability from every member state to refrain from military aggression against its neighbors,” President Biden said.
Efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis are ongoing, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to phone his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday.
Discussions between Blinken and Lavrov in Geneva earlier this month over Putin’s demands that Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites be barred from joining NATO failed to reach any breakthroughs.
With Post wires