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U.S., Russia Square Off Over Ukraine in U.N. Security Council Debate


A senior U.S. diplomat accused Russia of trying to destabilize Ukraine, and a Kremlin representative in turn criticized Washington for stoking fears and tensions as the two sides squared off in a fractious debate in the United Nations Security Council.

Ambassadors from the U.S., Ukraine and member-nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization questioned Russia’s motivations, its troop buildup and what they described as its threat to Ukraine’s and Europe’s security, during Monday’s Security Council meeting.

“The situation we’re facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous, and the stakes for Ukraine and every other U.N. member state could not be higher,” said U.S. Ambassador

Linda Thomas-Greenfield,

who called for the meeting. “This is as clear and consequential a threat to peace and security as anyone can imagine.”

Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., Vasily Nebenzya, who tried unsuccessfully to block the meeting, said the West’s accusations are aimed at stirring division that could exacerbate rather than reduce tensions in Ukraine.

“Our Western colleagues have been talking about the need for de-escalation, yet themselves are stoking tensions with their rhetoric and provoking escalation,” Mr. Nebenzya said. “It is as if you are urging it, wanting and waiting for it to happen—as if you want to make your speculation reality.”

Russian tanks taking part in drills in the Rostov region near Ukraine’s eastern border in January.


/Associated Press

After Mr. Nebenzya spoke, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield listed what she called Russia’s provocative actions in and around Ukraine—including the military buildup and Moscow’s warnings about pursuing military options if its demands aren’t addressed. She said military aid to Ukraine is aimed at making sure the country is “prepared.”

Monday’s debate was a rare opportunity for Washington and its allies to spotlight the actions of another permanent Security Council member—Russia—in a public international forum after weeks of closed-door diplomacy in European capitals.

Beyond the U.N., a series of foreign leaders—including the prime ministers of the U.K., the Netherlands and Poland, and the president of Turkey—are scheduled to visit Ukraine this week to try to deter Russia from attacking and look for a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

Other diplomatic initiatives inched forward. Russian President

Vladimir Putin

and French President

Emmanuel Macron

spoke for the second time in recent days on Monday, discussing the situation around Ukraine and Russia’s security concerns, according to the Kremlin.

The State Department said it received a written response from Moscow to U.S. proposals last week on European security, a department spokeswoman said, declining to provide details. Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

and Russian Foreign Minister

Sergei Lavrov

are due to confer on Tuesday.

Given Russia’s veto power in the Security Council and Moscow’s probable support from China—which is also a permanent member with veto authority—any U.N. action against Russia is unlikely to gain momentum. Still, the debate offered a chance for the U.S. and Russia to gauge international support for their views of the Ukraine crisis.

After Russia called for a vote to block the session, 10 members of the council voted in favor of proceeding. China joined Russia in voting “no” while three members—India, Gabon and Kenya—abstained.

“What we urgently need now is quiet diplomacy, but not microphone diplomacy,” said China’s ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun. “Regrettably, the U.S. did not accept such a constructive proposal.”

Mr. Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador, accused Kyiv of stirring up anti-Russia sentiment, pointing to its aspirations to join the European Union and NATO, and the promotion of the Ukrainian language and other symbols of nationalism.

He compared Ukraine’s current nationalist movement to the Ukrainians who collaborated with Nazi invaders in World War II and opposed Soviet rule. “They are making heroes out of those people who fought on the side of Hitler, who destroyed Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians,” Mr. Nebenzya said. He accused the West of ignoring “the interest of the Ukrainian people in this destructive game.”

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya tried unsuccessfully to block the meeting from occurring on Monday at the U.N. in New York.



When Ukraine’s ambassador, who had requested to join the Security Council discussion, took his turn to speak, the Russian ambassador left, saying he had a meeting in the secretary-general’s office.

Addressing the departed Russian ambassador, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said Ukraine can speak for itself. He described Russia’s military buildup and exercises on three sides of his country, saying the actions constitute the kind of “grave threats to international peace and security” that the Security Council should address.

Aside from rallying support at the U.N., Washington is seeking to build a coalition with European countries to impose financial sanctions, export controls and even a halt to the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline if Russia attacks Ukraine. The U.S. is also looking to the Middle East and other countries to shift gas supplies to Europe in the event Moscow cuts off deliveries. President Biden, meeting with the emir of Qatar at the White House on Monday, said the U.S. is designating the emirate a “major non-NATO ally.”

Russia spurred the current crisis by massing troops near Ukraine and demanding that NATO not allow Ukraine to join the alliance and draw down its posture in Eastern Europe. Washington has rejected those core demands but has sought to interest Russia in talks on constraints on military exercises and other reciprocal steps they could take to lower tensions.

Monday’s debate took place on the final day before Russia takes its turn presiding over the Security Council for a month, giving it more influence over the chamber’s agenda.

Representatives from France and the U.K., both permanent council members, expressed the U.S. view that Russia’s actions were destabilizing, while Poland’s and Lithuania’s diplomats also spoke about their particular concerns about Eastern Europe.


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“The situation at Ukraine’s borders is a source of deep concern for France,” said the country’s U.N. ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière. “It raises legitimate questions on Russia’s intentions, particularly since this country has already infringed the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the past.”

Russia has denied it is planning an invasion, though it has said it may resort to military options if its security concerns aren’t addressed. In the Security Council, Russia’s ambassador, Mr. Nebenzya, reiterated that NATO’s actions and weapons transfers by the U.S. and others to Ukraine threaten Russia.

Given public assurances that neither side wants a conflict, two African countries—Gabon and Kenya—said the Security Council should avoid divisions among its members when security problems abound around the world and European tensions can be addressed in existing forums on the continent.

India’s U.N. ambassador, T.S. Tirumurti, said the country is seeking a “solution that can provide for an immediate de-escalation of tensions, taking into account the legitimate security interests of all countries.”

Nearly all the countries represented Monday backed the framework known as Minsk-2 for ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has backed Ukrainian separatists against Kyiv. U.S. officials have said that Moscow and the separatists are the ones violating most of the Minsk provisions, rather than Kyiv.

Corrections & Amplifications
Russia’s Rostov region is near Ukraine’s eastern border. A photo caption with an earlier version of this article incorrectly said it is near Ukraine’s western border. (Corrected on Jan. 31)

Write to William Mauldin at [email protected]

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