Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
United States Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 15, 2022
QUESTION: We are therefore speaking at a time when we could see, perhaps, a potential change in the situation around Ukraine, and with the announcement of the departure of certain Russian forces. So I was – I just want to ask, have you seen any evidence of this? And have you seen any sign of change in your Russian colleague, perhaps?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s an excellent question. We saw no sign of this Russian troop movement. We have heard it, as you have, and we would like a decision from the Russians on this point. But that ignores the fact that they still have over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and they are still threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty and the integrity of its border.
We want to continue to look for a diplomatic solution to this situation, and we have been looking at the highest levels of the US government regarding our engagement with the Russians. And again, high-level engagements are being made by our European allies with the Russians to find a diplomatic channel to address their security concerns as well as the security concerns of all of our allies.
QUESTION: So administration officials, I think, Jake Sullivan said it’s still not clear – he said it on Friday – it’s still unclear whether the Russians are serious about these talks and whether they negotiate in good faith. Have you – has anything changed in this respect?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Nothing has changed in the sense that we are going to continue our diplomatic efforts, and we are still going to push the Russians to make the right choice, which is to choose diplomacy, to choose to sit down at the negotiating table with us to address their security concerns. They cannot address these concerns on the battlefield. They threatened their neighbor and they threaten the peace and security of Europe. And we have to find a diplomatic way to address these issues, because what a confrontation would mean is a huge humanitarian crisis in the region. This will mean the loss of many thousands of lives. And that will mean destabilizing not only Ukraine but also other countries in the region.
QUESTION: So another piece of news we saw today is that the Russian parliament has passed a bill calling for the recognition of so-called breakaway republics. And I assume that he would be accompanied, if that happens, by (inaudible) Russian forces. Would this constitute a new aggression and therefore trigger the sanctions you are threatening?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is absolutely a new aggression. This shows that the Russians are not defusing. This is yet another sign of confrontation, and that the Russians are not negotiating in good faith. But again, we will continue to push for diplomacy because we also believe that it would not be in Russia’s interest to start a conflict in the region, as we have made it clear that our response will – especially with regard to the sanctions and the impact on their economy – that it will be strong and supportive of our European colleagues. And so the impact of this on ordinary Russian citizens will be felt very, very strongly.
QUESTION: And so the Administration said that they had several packages of sanctions, according to the scenarios, different scenarios. Do you have a package for this particular scenario, where there is recognition of these breakaway republics?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, we have a number of options for responding to Russian aggression, and we will continue to review these sets with respect to Russian actions.
QUESTION: You mentioned that Russia threatened Ukraine and that the United Nations Charter prohibits the threat of force. So is this a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, and would it not call for sanctions because they cause this damage to the economy, for example?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The Secretary-General, in his statement yesterday, made it clear that any attack on Ukraine is a violation of the Charter of the United Nations. And we’ve been very clear on that from the start, that this is not a confrontation between Russia and the United States. It is a confrontation between Russia and the world, because we have all adhered to the values set out in the Charter of the United Nations.
QUESTION: But is the presence of the troops itself a violation?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The presence of troops is a sign of confrontation. If they were to invade Ukraine any further, it would absolutely be a violation of the UN Charter. And that is why we continue to work diplomatically to discourage the Russians from making the mistake of crossing the Ukrainian border again.
QUESTION: So President Biden said months ago last year that he wanted a stable and predictable relationship with Russia. But given what happened, whatever the ending, do you think it’s still possible, or do we live in a different world now?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, it is still possible to have a stable and predictable relationship with the Russians if they choose to go in this direction. We will continue to pursue this type of relationship with them. But we are also ready to respond to any confrontation the Russians choose to make towards our allies as well as towards the United States.
QUESTION: Your State Department colleague, Ned Price, recently said that the presence of Russian troops in Belarus could somehow undermine its status as an independent country, and there are fears that the forces there may remain permanently. What do you think are the implications of this for –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. Certainly, Belarus, as an independent country, compromises its own integrity and it compromises its own independence with these troops in Belarus who threaten Ukraine. And so they too will be responsible if Russia uses its border to invade Ukraine. They too are responsible for a confrontation with their neighbors of which they can choose not to be a part.
QUESTION: And I want to ask you – since I come from Poland, what is your opinion on the role that Poland has played in this crisis? We have seen many consultations with – between the two parties – I mean between Poland and the United States.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have a close alliance and very close relations with the Polish government. They are members of NATO, and we are working with Poland to make sure we provide them with the security they need on their eastern flank. And we very much appreciated the relationship that we developed with Poland during this relationship.
QUESTION: And one of the things Polish diplomats are saying about this is that they tried to work out a common European position on sanctions. Do you see progress in the coordination of this – these movements?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have been very united in NATO and in Europe in terms of sanctions. And I think one of the results of the Russian action and its aggression is that it has brought us closer together. They have made NATO stronger and more unified than ever. And I don’t think that was their goal in the first place because they sought to divide us, and they resulted in a stronger alliance between us and our European neighbours.
QUESTION: So you mentioned that there is still room for diplomacy and that the United States is serious about dialogue on security issues. So what are the areas where you can improve, where progress is possible?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, we hope that we can sit down at the negotiating table with the Russians and find a way to address their security concerns, to address Europe’s security concerns and, in particular, to address to Ukraine’s concerns. And we think it’s possible, and we’re leaning aggressively to find a diplomatic solution that will allow that to happen so that we don’t end up with a confrontation that will lead to a humanitarian crisis, the loss of thousands of lives , and to the disorganization and destabilization of Ukraine.
QUESTION: And speaking of a humanitarian crisis, if that happens, Poland expects a massive influx of refugees. And the Polish government has already said that if this happens, it will ask for help, also from the United States. Is America ready to provide such help?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If there is a humanitarian crisis and an influx of refugees into Poland, Poland can be assured that the United States will be there to support them along with other European allies. We are also working closely with humanitarian organizations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others, to provide the necessary support. We have had discussions with them to encourage them to make contingency plans to prepare for such an eventuality, and we will be there to support their efforts as well as to support Poland.