NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. My name is Melissa Waheibi; I am your moderator for today’s briefing. We are honored to have the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield here to speak on the United States’ intensive diplomatic engagement with Ukraine, Russia, our partners and allies as it seeks to avert a crisis of peace and security, not just for Ukraine and Europe, but for every UN member state.
Following the ambassador’s opening remarks, I will moderate the Q&A portion of this briefing. If you have a question, go to the participant list and raise your virtual hand, and wait for me to call on you. When called on, please enable both your audio and your video, and identify yourself by your full name and outlet. You may also ask your question in the chat box.
And with that, Madam Ambassador, we thank you for being here, and we welcome your remarks.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much, Melissa. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining me here today. As you know, over the last two weeks, the United States has engaged in intensive diplomacy, working in close and consistent coordination with Ukraine, with NATO, the G7, the European Union, OSCE, and other key allies and partners. We’ve spoken directly with the Russians on a number of occasions, including most recently Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday, to ensure that they understand our concerns and positions and we understand theirs. In every meeting in every venue available to us we are continuing to pursue the path of diplomacy and dialogue, and we have made clear we need to see signs of de-escalation from Russia.
While we can’t predict exactly what will happen next, we know Russia’s playbook. We know it includes measures beyond overt military action. It often starts with cyber attacks, paramilitary activity, disinformation campaigns intended to obscure the facts and create a pretext for their own aggression, and other efforts to destabilize their targets. In this case, they have already been trafficking in disinformation and propaganda and attempting to paint Ukraine and Ukrainian government officials as the aggressors and Russia as the victim.
So let’s be clear: There’s only one country with 100,000 troops pre-positioned on the border, participating in war games, and spreading propaganda, and that’s Russia. We have consistently pushed back against Russia’s fictitious narratives and we will continue to do so. And it is imperative that the world sees Russia’s actions rather than just listening to its words. It is also crucial that other UN Member States understand how Russia’s aggression undermines their own peace and security. Today, Russia is threatening Ukraine and its sovereignty and territorial integrity, but this is also bigger than Ukraine. Russia’s actions undermine the foundational principles enshrined in the UN Charter. These are principles to which we have collectively and freely agreed in order to maintain global peace and security. Specifically, UN Member States have all agreed that one nation cannot simply change the borders of another by force, nor can one nation dictate to another its choices, its alliances, its partnerships under threat of violence. If Russia further invades Ukraine, it would strike at the very heart of the UN Charter and it would – to use Secretary Blinken’s phrase last week – open up a Pandora’s box of concerns for all of us.
Russia’s actions toward Ukraine are not only a regional issue. They impact every UN Member State, and we must be prepared to stand together in unity and solidarity should Russia defy the shared values and principles that undergird our international system.
Thank you. And with that, I’m looking forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Our first question will go to Dmitry with Inter TV, Ukraine. Dmitry, please go ahead and enable your camera and your audio.
QUESTION: Oh, yes, ma’am. You do hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Lovely. Madam Ambassador, thank you so very much for this chance to go the first-hand information and first-hand answers. I’ve got two short questions, please. Firstly, there are a lot of speculations around the statement you made (audio cuts out) –
So could you explain what exactly it was, because media –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Dmitry, I’ve lost –
MODERATOR: Yeah, your audio went out.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I lost your audio, so you have to start all over. Thank you.
QUESTION: I’m very sorry. Can I start over?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, please. You had two questions.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. I am sorry. It’s connection. Well, so firstly, could you please explain the messages you told in your interview to Moldovan broadcaster Jurnal TV? Because there are a lot of speculations about what you exactly told about the possible military scenario which is still in the agenda.
And second –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t – you have to tell me – repeat the quote, because I had a number of interviews last week.
QUESTION: Yes, ma’am. So, it was a lot of speculations about the interview you gave to Moldovan broadcaster, which is Jurnal TV. And it was reportedly stated that they asked you, do you think that military reaction is still possible, and you told reporter that all – that everything is in the agenda or everything is at the table. I am translating back from Russian. So could you explain that statement?
And secondly, I’d like to ask you if possible about your vision. Is the UN peacekeeping operation or peace-forcing operation – is possible in Ukraine during this condition, during this situation? Do you see – is there a real way to stabilize the situation? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Dmitry. In response to your first question, we have used every diplomatic effort in our tool book to find a diplomatic solution, and we are continuing to push for a diplomatic solution. Secretary Blinken’s meeting with Lavrov on Friday was part of that effort, and we will continue to engage with our allies in Europe, with the Ukrainians, and continue to have discussions with the Russians. That’s our ultimate goal, is to find a diplomatic solution.
But what I said and what Secretary Blinken has said is that we are prepared, should a diplomatic solution not work, we have – are making our own plans and working with our allies to respond aggressively should the diplomatic solution not succeed. But we have not given up on diplomacy, let me be clear.
And then in answer to your second question regarding a UN peacekeeping force, I can’t preview that. That is a decision that will be made in the context of how the Security Council decides to engage on this issue. But as far as I know, no one has discussed the possibility of a UN peacekeeping force in Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question, James Bays with Al Jazeera. Go ahead and enable your audio.
QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador. Thank you very much for doing this. I’m going to sound like a broken record, because I’m going to ask you exactly the same question I asked you on Thursday. You say you’ve done everything diplomatically, but the Security Council has not met during this crisis to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Would it not be sensible to have a Security Council meeting in the month of January before Russia assumes the presidency in February?
And if I may very quickly, the other news of the day, Burkina Faso, the coup or attempted coup there – again, should the Security Council meet on that? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: In terms of the Security Council, I have been engaging intensively with members of the Security Council over the course of the past two weeks. I have met with members of the E10; I’ve met, in fact, even with Russian colleagues. And we will continue to engage. This is a threat to peace and security. That is the responsibility of the Security Council, and the Security Council is having discussions over what our responses should be, but we have not made any firm decisions on a meeting just yet.
And I don’t have anything today, James, on Burkina Faso. I saw the information on the attempted coup. That is really of concern to us, but I don’t have a specific response on that right now.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question to Ms. Solomko with VOA.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you so much, Iryna Solomko. Madam Ambassador, thank you so much for this opportunity to ask a question directly, and I would like to ask – it’s about two questions. I know that today in the first – like, in a couple hours, you will have a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador to UN. So what are your expectations regarding this meeting? So can you just give us a little bit like briefing us about what you will be discussing?
And my second question is about the Council – Security Council in February. Because as my colleague already mentioned, so in February, Russia will be in charge of Security Council. And I don’t know – like, because, we, of course, journalists, expect some provocations from Russia. So what is your perspective on like – on this topic? Because of course, if the aggression will start in February, can you see any threats from this regard if Russia will be in charge of the Security Council? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t preview my discussions with other diplomats. As I noted earlier, we’ve been engaging intensively with PRs here in New York, and the Ukrainian is – PR is one of those meetings. I will be in listening mode but also look to see where he sees things moving forward.
And then in terms of the Security Council, should Russia make the unfortunate move of further invading Ukraine, it is a threat to peace and security. The fact that the Russians are building up along the border and threatening Ukraine is a threat to peace and security, and that is what the Security Council is there for, to address those issues. So the fact of Russia being president of the Security Council in February does not change the fact that the Security Council will have responsibilities to respond to the situation.
MODERATOR: Ma’am, we had a question submitted in advance. This is from Ildiko Eperjesi from ATV, Hungary. I’ll read it verbatim: “The UK has accused President Putin of plotting to install a pro-Moscow figure to lead Ukraine’s government. Washington considers it valid information. Do U.S. agencies cooperate with Kyiv in order to hinder the plot?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’ve seen these reports in the press, and this is part of the Russian playbook. This is how they do things. So again, this is something that we’re watching very, very closely, but I can’t comment on the UK report.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question over to Simon Ateba.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Ambassador. And thank you for taking my question. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. Late last year President Biden pulled U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The President said it wasn’t in the national interest of the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan and pay – and spend trillions of dollars. And I’m wondering if the U.S. is prepared to go to war with Russia, if the U.S. is prepared for a World War III with a superpower. And if the economic sanctions will have an impact, do you think those economic sanctions in Africa and different places that have no impact on the people in the power, but have impact maybe on the economy and the people, the impoverished people in the countries?
And I know you said you don’t have anything to say on Burkina Faso, where the president was overthrown a few hours ago. But that was the third president in West Africa that’s been overthrown over the past eight months. Do you have any reaction? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: In terms of your question about whether we’re going to go for World War III, we are focused intensely on finding a diplomatic solution to this crisis. We have not given up on a diplomatic solution, and we continue to engage with our allies and our partners with a unified voice to the Russians that de-escalation is the best choice that they can make.
And we’re hopeful that we will succeed in de-escalation, but should the Russians go for confrontation, we will respond aggressively in terms of sanctions on their economy that will have an impact not just, as you – you seem to imply that it’s on the people, but it will be on the leaders there, and they will feel that impact. And hopefully that will encourage them to come back to the diplomatic table and find a better way forward. We have heard their concerns about their security and we will – we have shared with them our concerns about our security and the security of our European colleagues. And we want to find a solution at the negotiating and diplomatic table, and not a full-fledged confrontation, as you imply.
And on Burkina Faso, again, it is very concerning to us that this is, as you noted, a third coup in West Africa. I will say that ECOWAS, the regional organization, has been extremely responsive and strong and unified in their responses to these coups, and we will look to work with them and others in the region to address this.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question to David with Politico.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, Madam Ambassador. (Inaudible) for being with us, and hello from Brussels. I wonder if we can return to the question of the Security Council involvement here, and wonder if in your view, should there be a renewed military conflict involving Russia, if Russia in your view should then abstain under Article 27(3) of the UN Charter from voting in any Security Council discussion on that. And for that matter, if Russia were to say that its military action was in response to a refusal by the U.S. to sufficiently answer security demands – if then, similarly, you would view the United States as willing to abstain in that kind of discussion as a party to this dispute. And if two of the P5 are in this kind of dispute and don’t abstain, your thoughts on the credibility for the UN going forward in fulfilling its mission to keep peace? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Just very broadly and generally, our view is that we will engage in the Security Council on this issue, and the veto power of a single country is not going to be at odds with our ability to expose what the Russians have done. They cannot use a veto power to stop the Security Council from having a broad discussion and countering their misinformation and propaganda campaign that they’ve used, not just here in New York, but across the globe. And that is our hope in terms of how we deal with this in the Security Council.
And I’m sorry, I didn’t hear your second question.
QUESTION: It’s along the same lines, but just as a quick follow-up: Didn’t they effectively do that in 2014 on Crimea? It’s not just about having a discussion, but about the Security Council being able to take action, to adopt resolutions that might end a conflict and serve toward peace.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think in 2014 it was clear that the Russians were isolated, and they were exposed. And the world, both in the Security Council and in the General Assembly, was unified against the Russians. And that will be part of our effort this time around as well. They can’t use their veto power to block a significant discussion and exposure of their actions and their aggressions in the region. And that is – I think we’ve heard very, very strongly from other members of the Security Council, as well as member states in the UN, that they have concerns about that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Ma’am, we’ve received a question in the chat function, which I will read verbatim. It’s from Le Monde. You’ve addressed a bit of it already, but I’ll recap. “The U.S. has warned about the Russian military buildup very early November. The allies and the Ukrainians were skeptical. Is there a risk of a self-fulfilling prophecy when you warn over and over again about an imminent military danger, and you even withdraw your non-essential diplomats from Kyiv?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, it’s not a – it’s not prophecy. We see 127,000 troops being – building up along the border. We have seen that the Russians have put troops in Belarus. So this is not a prophecy, this is fact. And that fact has led us to respond.
In terms of our staff, we have an obligation to protect our staff. And we’ve been very, very clear that we see the situation deteriorating, and we want to make sure that we put our staff in a place where they feel protected. And we’re encouraging at the same time that American citizens use this time when they have the opportunity to use commercial airlines, they make the decision to move before the situation becomes non-permissive.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next question to Alex with Turan News Agency.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Melissa. And Ambassador, great to see you, albeit virtually. My name’s Alex Raufoglu. I’m from Turan News Agency of Azerbaijan. Let me start with the question of sanctions since we are all focused on deterrence these days. Should the sanctions be a punitive matter after the fact or a preventative matter before the fact, in your opinion?
And my second question – Ukraine seems to have some support from the West, but it also does need partners in peace in the region, particularly among the post-Soviet countries. I’m old enough to remember how leaders from Georgia, Poland, and Moldova, along with the U.S., shored up Ukraine due to difficult times last decade. Is the U.S. or the UN in a position to consolidate support in the region as well? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The sanctions that we have now announced will be punitive, but the fact of announcing those sanctions and letting the Russians know in advance that we will use such sanctions hopefully will be preventative. And we’re hoping that the diplomacy also will encourage the Russians to stick with a diplomatic and de-escalation approach. NATO has been strong in its – the NATO countries have been strong in their support for their regional partners, and we are regularly consulting with NATO, with European colleagues, and others within the region to ensure that they get the support that they require to bolster their own security concerns but also be supportive of Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Next question over to GEDI News Network. Go ahead and enable your audio.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Paolo Mastrolilli with the Italian daily La Republica. There has been some resistance from Germany to the idea of providing German-made weapons to Ukraine through the Baltic states. There are also some problems, of course, with the European allies in term of gas (inaudible) from Russia. What do you expect from the European allies? What is your message to them with a possible military action from Russia?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS GREENFIELD: As you know, Secretary Blinken was in Europe last week. He met with all of his European counterparts. He met with his German counterpart. Their voices are unified with ours. Our response to the situation is one in which we have coordinated closely with each other, and as President Biden has said regularly, there are no discussions about Europe without Europe and no discussions about NATO without NATO, no discussions about Ukraine without Ukraine. And that’s why we have had such intense engagements with our German and other European colleagues on these issues.
So I think there – again, there’s no question that we will respond aggressively to any new Russian incursions into Ukraine, and that message is coming strongly across the entire alliance.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Paolo. Thank you, ma’am. Our last question – we have time for one more – we’ll go to Kimberly Dozier with Time Magazine.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Along that line about acting as a united front, if Russia engages in a cyber attack, if it engages in something less than sending one Russian troop over the border, or if it employs little green men again, what is the trigger point that unites the U.S. and NATO in getting Germany to pull out of Nord Stream 2 or enacting an escalating series of sanctions that Secretary Blinken said on Sunday so far he wants to hold off on? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: These are all actions that are part of the Russian playbook. We’ve seen it before. It’s not something that we’re surprised at. We’ve already seen the cyber attacks and we expect more leading up to this action that they are previewing for us, and we’re prepared to respond to whatever actions they take, whether it’s sending little green men or sending cyber attacks into Ukraine or into our countries, as they have done before.
QUESTION: Sorry, just a quick follow: The EU hasn’t withdrawn its dependents, but the U.S. and the UK have. Why the difference in response, if you could just go over that again? I know you’ve touched on it a bit.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Our responsibility is to protect American citizens, and this is nothing new for us. We always lead, generally, in these actions. I’m sure these other countries are weighing what security risks their people face should there be a Russian invasion, and they have to make the decision when it’s time to withdraw their people. We’ve decided it’s time for us to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, great, now we are out of time. Thank you to all the journalists who joined. We especially thank you, Madam Ambassador, for making time today for this discussion. This briefing is on the record. I will share the transcript with those who participated. It will also be posted on our website at fpc.state.gov. And with that, I thank you for your time. Have a good day.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Melissa.
MODERATOR: Thank you.