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U.S. and Russia share tense exchange at U.N. Security Council meeting

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation between Russia and Ukraine on Monday.
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation between Russia and Ukraine on Monday.

At Monday's U.N. Security Council meeting, the U.S. hoped to get an explanation from Russia on what exactly it was doing regarding Ukraine. But instead, the meeting was full of tense exchanges between the countries.

It ultimately ended the same way it started – with a political impasse between the two powers.

"We didn't hear much. They didn't give us the answers that any of us would have hoped that they would provide," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said afterward.

The Security Council was formed to address exactly the kind of threats facing Ukraine today, Thomas-Greenfield said in her opening remarks.

"The situation we are facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous," she said. "Russia's actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. charter. ... 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."

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. continued "to hope Russia chooses the path of diplomacy over the path of conflict in Ukraine. But we cannot just 'wait and see.'"

She went on to detail the actions Russia had already taken, including placing more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine's border and spreading disinformation "to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors, to fabricate a pretext for attack."

She also recounted Russia's history of invasions, including 2014 in Crimea and 2008 in Georgia.

Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia claimed that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday.
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Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia claimed that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday.

When it came time to hear from Russia, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia struck back and said the U.S. was "whipping up tensions and rhetoric" about the situation and claimed that Russia had no plans to invade Ukraine.

"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," Nebenzia said. "This is despite the fact that we are constantly rejecting these allegations and this is despite the fact that no threat of a planned invasion into Ukraine from the lips of any Russian politician or public figure over all of this period has been made."

As part of his argument, Nebenzia quoted Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has asked other world leaders to tone down their talk of war out of concerns for the Ukrainian economy and the "panic" it has contributed to.

"President Zelensky himself said the rhetoric about what is happening is scaling up and is not justified," Nebenzia said.

He also called into the question the U.S. estimation on the number of troops Russia has along Ukraine's border. Nebenzia rejected the reports of a large buildup and presence of troops. He said the troops in Belarus were only there for "regular exercises" and nothing more.

Following the meeting, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslysya said any provocations would not come from Ukraine and accused Russia of setting a "a Kafka trap."
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Following the meeting, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations Sergiy Kyslysya said any provocations would not come from Ukraine and accused Russia of setting a "a Kafka trap."

But the U.S. was not the only one skeptical of Russia's claims that it had no plan to invade Ukraine. British Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki pointed out Russia's history of saying one thing and doing another when he spoke on Monday.

"In 2014, Russia denied to this council the presence of its forces in Crimea. In reality, its soldiers were annexing part of an independent, democratic Ukraine," Kariuki said.

Nebenzia maintained the position that Russia does not have plans to invade, but he warned Ukraine against any provocations – then leaving the room prior to Ukraine Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya's speech.

Kyslytsya said any provocations would not come from Ukraine, and he accused Russia of setting "a Kafka trap," as he spoke to reporters after the meeting.

"I said repeatedly in my speech, I have instructions for my government to reiterate: We plan no offense, no military offense, not in our plans," Kyslytsya said.

Monday's Security Council meeting came the day before Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to speak with his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.