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U.S. Faces Off With Russia at U.N. as Ukraine Standoff Continues

Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The United States and Russia engaged in a diplomatic brawl Monday at the U.N. Security Council over the Ukraine crisis, as the Americans accused the Russians of endangering peace by massing troops on Ukraine’s borders while Kremlin diplomats dismissed what they called farcical theatrics and fearmongering.

The meeting of the 15-nation council, requested by the United States last week, represented the highest-profile arena for the two powers to sway world opinion over Ukraine.

The tensions surrounding the former Soviet republic — smoldering since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula nearly eight years ago, and escalating sharply in recent months — have brought U.S.-Russian relations to their lowest point since the Cold War. The meeting adjourned, as expected, with no action taken.

Almost immediately after the meeting of the council convened, the Russians lost a procedural challenge to even holding it. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia of Russia accused the Americans of fomenting “unfounded accusations that we have refuted” and said no Russian troops were in Ukraine, questioning the basic premise of a meeting he described as “megaphone diplomacy.”

The American ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, countered that many private diplomatic meetings had been held about Russia’s military buildup and it was “now time to have a meeting in public.” She asked other members how they would feel “if you had 100,000 troops sitting on your border.”

The council voted to proceed with the meeting, with only Russia and China objecting. Although Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are all veto-wielding permanent members of the council, veto power cannot be used to block a meeting.

“The situation we are facing in Europe is urgent and dangerous,” Ms. Thomas-Greenfield said in her opening remarks. “Russia’s actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. charter.”

The Russian military buildup, she said, reflected “an escalation in a pattern of aggression that we’ve seen from Russia again and again.” While she emphasized American desires for a peaceful outcome, Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield said that if the Russians invaded Ukraine, “none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming.”

Mr. Nebenzia, in his remarks, said Russia wanted peace and that the United States and its Western allies had manufactured a nonexistent crisis to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine.

He accused his American counterpart of making a “hodgepodge of accusations but no specific facts.” He drew an analogy to the false American evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that preceded the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, adding that “what happened to that country is known to all.”





Border with Russian units

KAZAKHSTAN

Russian units

SEA OF

AZOV

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Russia invaded and

annexed the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces near

two breakaway provinces.

Border with

Russian units

Russian

units

Russia annexed

the Crimean

Peninsula from

Ukraine in 2014.

Transnistria, a

Russian-backed

breakaway region

of Moldova.

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian

and Russian-backed

forces.


Mr. Nebenzia’s remarks reinforced a message that other Kremlin diplomats have sought to project: that the Security Council meeting was a manufactured contretemps over what they call unjustified Western fears, instigated by the United States, that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine. The Russians have also seized on complaints by Ukraine’s president and others that the Americans are needlessly sowing panic.

Mr. Putin, who has not spoken publicly about Ukraine since December, maintained his silence.

His spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday that Mr. Putin would state his views on the situation “as soon as he determines it to be necessary.”

“I can’t give you an exact date,” Mr. Peskov said. Russian officials continued to maintain they were not at fault for the rising tensions, insisting that the United States was fabricating the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That was a rare point of common ground with Kyiv, where President Volodymyr Zelensky has also blamed the United States for needlessly sowing “panic” in Ukraine.

Russia has sent more than 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, part of an increasingly aggressive posture by Mr. Putin to protect and enlarge what he sees as Russia’s rightful sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon said on Friday that Russia had amassed enough forces to stage a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at a time of its choosing.

The Kremlin has accused the NATO alliance of threatening Russia and has demanded that it never admit Ukraine as a member. The possibility of a diplomatic solution has remained unclear at best.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, will have a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, but there are no plans at the moment to arrange an in-person meeting, Maria V. Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the ministry, said on Monday.

The Biden administration has said it wants a peaceful outcome to the crisis but is preparing for the possibility of what American military commanders have said would be a devastating armed conflict in Ukraine. The administration has vowed to respond with crippling economic sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.

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