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Russia, US face off at UN over Ukraine

January 31, 2022

Washington has called the Russian troop buildup a major threat to "international peace." Meanwhile, Moscow has dismissed the summit as a "PR stunt."

USA New York | UN Sicherheitsrat -
Image: Richard Drew/AP/picture alliance

Russia and the United States traded accusations on Monday as the UN Security Council held a meeting on Moscow's troop buildup on the border with Ukraine.

Washington said Russia's troop deployment was a "threat to international peace and security," while a Kremlin spokesperson called the UN summit a "PR stunt" and accused the White House of creating "hysteria."

The US in turn said that Russia was planning to increase its troop presence in Belarus to 30,000 in the coming weeks, to add to the 100,000 it has moved near the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Belarus, for its part, denied that it was being used as a staging ground for a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The United States managed to convince 10 of the 15 security council members to back a public meeting, thwarting a Russian bid to stop the proceedings.

But any formal action by the Security Council is considered extremely unlikely, given Russia's veto power and its ties with others on the council, including China, who had supported Moscow's attempt to block an open meeting.

"This is really the right time calling for quiet diplomacy," said Beijing's UN envoy Zhang Jun.

What was said at the meeting?

Over more than two hours, the US and Russia exchanged heated words, with Moscow's envoy Vassily Nebenzia accused the US of installing "pure Nazis" into power in Kyiv.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield shot back that Russia's growing military force of more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine's borders was "the largest mobilization" in Europe in decades, adding there has been a spike in cyberattacks and Russian disinformation.

"They are attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for attack,'' she said.

Nebenzia then accused the West of hypocrisy, saying: "Our Western colleagues are talking about the need for de-escalation. However, first and foremost, they themselves are whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation."

"The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine ... is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative," Thomas-Greenfield said.

Stalled diplomacy

Despite ongoing high-level talks, Russia and the US have not been able to come to any agreement regarding a way to ease tensions. Although Moscow claims it has no plans to invade Ukraine, it has demanded that NATO promise never to allow Kyiv membership to the alliance, roll back its forces in Eastern Europe and end the deployment of weapons near Russia's borders.

Both the White House and NATO have refused, calling Russia's demands impossible. The US has threatened crippling economic sanctions should Moscow continue its military posturing on the border. 

And on Tuesday, the US announced plans to sanction Russian elites, in a coordinated move with the UK.

Diplomatic efforts between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, yielded no results when they spoke earlier in January, and neither did telephone calls between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.

The two top diplomats were scheduled to speak again on Tuesday, the same day British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was scheduled to fly to Kyiv to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about how to diffuse the situation.

Zelenskyy has accused the West of creating "panic" and hurting his country's economy with talk of war.

aw, es/nm (AP, dpa, Reuters)