US, Russia face off over Ukraine at Security Council meeting

The U.S. on Monday sought to rally the international community to confront Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border by labeling it a threat to global peace and security, drawing condemnation from Moscow that Washington is stoking hysteria.

The U.N. Security Council meeting marked a public face-off between the U.S., Russia and the global community, following weeks of intensive diplomacy aimed at pressuring Moscow to withdraw more than 100,000 troops positioned on Ukraine’s border, which Washington says are poised to invade. 

“Russia's actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. Charter. This is as clear and consequential a threat to peace and security as anyone can imagine,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in her remarks. 

“This is the largest, hear me clearly, mobilization of troops in Europe in decades.”

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya vehemently dismissed arguments from the U.S., and accused Washington of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation.” 

“You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen, you're waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality,” Nebenzya said.

The Russian ambassador further condemned what he said was U.S. and Western-backed support of Ukraine’s government that came into power with the 2014 revolution in that country, calling them “nationalist radicals, Russophobes” and “Nazis.”

Thomas-Greenfield called Russia’s actions “irresponsible” and urged diplomacy. 

“I say to Russia simply this, your actions will speak for themselves and we hope and encourage that you make the right choices before this Council today,” she said.

The U.S. had called for the Security Council to hold a meeting discussing “threats to international peace and security” related to Russia’s military buildup against Ukraine, with the meeting taking place one day before Russia is set to take over the rotating presidency of the Security Council. 

The Russian delegation condemned the move, saying the open forum preempted an already scheduled meeting on the situation regarding Ukraine to take place in February, and accused the U.S. of “megaphone diplomacy” and a desire to “whip up hysterics.”

The Chinese delegation joined Russia in opposing holding the meeting Monday, while the U.S. and nine other countries voted to proceed to the debate. Three countries abstained from the vote. 

“Russia has repeatedly stated that it has no plans to launch any military action and Ukraine has made it clear that it does not need a war. Under such circumstances, what is the basis for the countries concerned to insist that there would be a war?” China’s ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun, said in his remarks, voicing support for Russia’s assertions that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. 

The position of the Chinese flew in the face of hopes by the Biden administration that officials from Beijing would offer support in the Security Council forum for the importance of respecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity, with Beijing instead looking to establish opposition to public forums where China could face international scrutiny.

“What we urgently need now is quiet diplomacy, but not microphone diplomacy,” Zhang said. 

The Security Council meeting built on weeks of diplomacy spearheaded by the U.S. and its allies and partners in Europe to stave off Russian threats to Ukraine that have escalated since mid-November, including Russian military buildup on its western border with Ukraine.

Russia denies that it has plans to invade but has issued security ultimatums to the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that include denying Ukraine any entrance to the alliance in the future and committing to never placing offensive arms in the former Soviet state.

The U.S. has sought to offer Russia diplomatic talks to address such concerns  as well as steps both sides can take to enhance transparency about military movements and offset tensions.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday, a signal that diplomatic engagement continues to proceed, despite Moscow’s rejection of U.S. demands to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s border.

President Biden issued a statement on Monday saying the U.S. and allies will “continue to engage in good faith” with Russia to address its security concerns through dialogue but warned that if “Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility, and it will face swift and severe consequences.”

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