Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ukraine

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 31, 2022


Thank you, Madam President. And thank you, Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo for your briefing.

Colleagues, the situation we’re facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous, and the stakes for Ukraine – and for every UN Member State – could not be higher. Russia’s actions strike at the very heart of the UN Charter. This is as clear and consequential a threat to peace and security as anyone can imagine. In the wake of World War II, the Council was formed to address precisely the kind of threat that Ukraine now faces. As Article 39 says, “the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace.” Thus, our charge is not only to address conflicts after they occur, but also to prevent them from happening in the first place. This is why today’s meeting is so crucial.

Russia’s aggression today not only threatens Ukraine. It also threatens Europe. It threatens the international order this body is charged with upholding. An order that, if it stands for anything, stands for the principle that one country cannot simply redraw another country’s borders by force, or make another country’s people live under a government they did not choose. We continue to hope Russia chooses the path of diplomacy over the path of conflict in Ukraine. But we cannot just ‘wait and see.’ It is crucial that this Council address the risk that their aggressive and destabilizing behavior poses across the globe.

First, let’s be clear about the facts. Russia has assembled a massive military force of more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s border. These are combat forces and special forces prepared to conduct offensive actions into Ukraine. This is the largest – this is the largest; hear me clearly – mobilization of troops in Europe in decades. And as we speak, Russia is sending even more forces and arms to join them. Russia has already used more than 2,000 rail cars to move troops and weaponry from across Russia to the Ukrainian border. Russia has also moved nearly 5,000 troops into Belarus, with short-range ballistic missiles, special forces, and anti-aircraft batteries. We’ve seen evidence that Russia intends to expand that presence to more than 30,000 troops near the Belarus-Ukraine border, less than two hours north of Kyiv, by early February. In addition to military activity, we’ve also seen a dramatic spike in cyberattacks on Ukraine in recent weeks. Russian military and intelligence services are spreading disinformation through state-owned media and proxy sites. And they are attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for attack.

Russia’s military buildup on the border has been paired with extensive new demands and aggressive rhetoric. This is an escalation in a pattern of aggression that we’ve seen from Russia again and again. In 2014, Russia illegally invaded and seized Crimea. In 2008, Russia invaded Georgia. Russian troops are currently refusing to depart Moldova despite the wishes of the Moldovan people and their democratically elected government. And in the Donbas region of Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists continue to foment and ignore* violence toward the Ukrainian people. Recently, Russia has threatened to take military action should its demands not be met.

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, which is why this meeting is so important today. Already, Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 14,000 Ukrainians. Nearly 3 million Ukrainians – half of whom are elderly people and children – need food, shelter, and lifesaving assistance. Devastating as this situation is, it would pale in comparison to the humanitarian impact of the full-scale land invasion Russia is currently planning in Ukraine.

Over the years, Russian leaders have claimed that Ukraine is not a real country and questioned its right to self-determination. So, let’s be clear: Ukraine is a UN Member State that recently celebrated three decades of independence. It has a proud people and a rich culture. Ukraine is a sovereign country and a sovereign people, entitled to determine their own future, without the threat of force. This is not just the conviction that Ukrainians hold – it is a right enshrined by the UN Charter, a right that Russia and every other member of this institution has freely committed to upholding.

Our international order is not perfect. But it is grounded in respect for people and countries to govern themselves, to defend themselves, and to associate with whom they choose. All countries have a stake in defending and preserving these principles. And nothing could be more fundamental. What would it mean for the world if former empires had license to start reclaiming territory by force? This would set us down a dangerous path.

Russia could, of course, choose a different path: the path of diplomacy. In recent weeks, the United States, along with our European allies and partners, and other nations around the globe concerned by Russia’s threat to Ukraine, have continued to do everything we can to resolve this crisis peacefully. In all of these talks, our messages have been clear and consistent: we seek the path of peace. We seek the path of dialogue. We do not want confrontation. But we will be decisive, swift, and united should Russia further invade Ukraine. We continue to believe there is a diplomatic path out of the crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked military buildup. We are working to pursue diplomacy in every possible venue. But we also know that diplomacy will not succeed in an atmosphere of threat and military escalation. That is why we have brought this situation before the Security Council today.

The United States has been clear: If this is truly about Russia’s security concerns in Europe, we are offering them an opportunity to address these concerns at the negotiating table. The test of Russia’s good faith in the coming days and weeks is whether they will come to that table and stay at that table until we reach an understanding. If they refuse to do so, the world will know why – and who is responsible.

Fellow members of the Council, and other UN Member States, we urge you to assess not only Russia’s statements, but their actions, with clear eyes. To evaluate the risk this presents not just to Ukraine’s border and its people, but to all of us. And to speak clearly and forcefully in favor of the path of diplomacy rather than the path of conflict.

Thank you, Madam President.