Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 21, 2022
Thank you, Mr. President.
Since World War II, the United Nations Charter – the key tenets of which this Council is mandated to uphold – has stood as a bulwark to the worst impulses of empires and autocrats. Earlier today, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, announced that Russia will recognize as “independent states” the so-called DPR and LPR regions, the sovereign territory of Ukraine, an area controlled by Russia’s proxies since 2014. He has since announced that he will place Russian troops in these regions. He calls them peacekeepers. This is nonsense. We know what they really are. In doing so, he has put before the world a choice. We must meet the moment, and we must not look away.
History tells us that looking the other way in the face of such hostility will be a far more costly path. Russia’s clear attack on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unprovoked. It is an attack on Ukraine’s status as a UN Member State, it violates a basic principle of international law, and it defies our Charter. What is more, this move by President Putin is clearly the basis for Russia’s attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine. The consequences of this action will be felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders.
We do not have to guess at President Putin’s motives. Today, President Putin made a series of outrageous, false claims about Ukraine aimed at creating a pretext for war, and immediately thereafter, announced Russian troops are entering the Donbas. He claimed that Ukraine is seeking nuclear weapons from the West. This is not true. Ukraine is in fact one of only four countries to have voluntarily surrendered their nuclear weapons. The United States and our allies have no intention of supplying nuclear weapons to Ukraine, and Ukraine doesn’t want them.
And then, President Putin asserted that Russia today has a rightful claim to all territories – all territories – from the Russian Empire; the same Russian Empire from before the Soviet Union, from over 100 years ago. That includes all of Ukraine. It includes Finland. It includes Belarus and Georgia and Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. It includes parts of Poland and Turkey. In essence, Putin wants the world to travel back in time. To a time before the United Nations. To a time when empires ruled the world. But the rest of the world has moved forward. It is not 1919. It is 2022. The United Nations was founded on the principle of decolonization, not recolonization. And we believe the vast majority of UN Member States and the UN Security Council are committed to moving forward – not going back in time.
The consequences of Russia’s actions will be dire – across Ukraine, across Europe, and across the globe. In our past two meetings on Ukraine, I’ve mentioned nearly 3 million Ukrainians need food, shelter, and lifesaving assistance right now. The UN estimates the humanitarian toll will expand significantly should Russia further invade. Already, Russian proxies dramatically increased shelling and artillery fire over the weekend, killing Ukrainian civilians and soldiers. If Russia invades Ukraine even further, we will see a devastating loss of life. Unimaginable suffering. Millions of displaced people will create a refugee crisis across Europe. Nevertheless, Russia has declined repeated entreaties to state its intentions before the world, including by Secretary Blinken in the Security Council last Thursday.
Colleagues, President Putin is testing our international system, he is testing our resolve and seeing just how far he can push us all. He wants to demonstrate that through force, he can make a farce of the UN. We must act together in response to this crisis. Over the past few weeks, the world has heard the other 14 members of the Security Council speak with one voice asking Russia to pursue diplomacy. Other members of this Council – even those who often align with Russia on other matters – have been clear that the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of every UN Member State should be respected and safeguarded – including Ukraine – that this is a basic norm of international relations, and that it embodies the purpose of the UN Charter.
The sequence of events that Secretary Blinken spelled out for this Council last Thursday appear to be proceeding exactly as he predicted. Today, President Putin has torn the Minsk agreements to shreds. We have been clear that we do not believe he will stop at that. In light of President Putin’s latest actions, we must all stand up for the principles upon which this organization was founded.
President Biden issued an Executive Order today that will prohibit new investment, trade, and financing in the so-called DPR and LPR regions. Tomorrow, the United States will take further measures to hold Russia accountable for this clear violation of international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But we and our partners have been clear that there will be a swift and severe response were Russia to further invade Ukraine.
In this moment, no one can stand on the sidelines. We must make it clear that an attack on Ukraine is an attack on the sovereignty of every UN Member State and the UN Charter – and that it will be met with swift and severe consequences. We continue to believe that the diplomatic table is the only place where responsible nations resolve their differences. That is the only place to preserve peace.
Thank you, Mr. President.