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 mobilisation” in Europe in decades, adding there has been a spike in cyberattacks and Russian disinformation.
“And they are attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for attack,” she said.
The harsh exchanges in the Security Council came as Moscow lost an attempt to block the meeting and reflected the gulf between the two nuclear powers. It was the first open session where all protagonists in the Ukraine crisis spoke publicly, even though the UN’s most powerful body took no action.
Although more high-level diplomacy is expected this week, talks between the US and Russia have so far failed to ease tensions in the crisis, with the West saying Moscow is preparing for an invasion. Russia denies it is planning to attack. It demands pledges that Ukraine will never join NATO, a halt to the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders, and a rollback of the alliance’s forces from Eastern Europe. NATO and the US call those nonstarters.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the Biden administration of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and provoking escalation.”
“You are almost pulling for this,” he said, looking at Ms Thomas-Greenfield. “You want it to happen. You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality.”
He blamed the US for the 2014 ousting of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kiev, saying it brought to power “nationalists, radicals, Russophobes and pure Nazis,” and created the antagonism that exists between Ukraine and Russia.
“If they hadn’t done this, then we to date would be living in a spirit of good neighbourly relations and mutual cooperation,” Mr Nebenzia said. “However, some in the West just don’t clearly like this positive scenario. What’s happening today is yet another attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine.”
Mr Nebenzia pointedly left the council chamber as the Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya started to speak. “How long Russia will pressure, will pursue a clear attempt to push Ukraine and its partners into a Kafka trap?” Mr Kyslytsva asked.
The vote on holding an open meeting passed 10-2, with Russia and China opposed, and India, Gabon and Kenya abstaining. The vote needed nine votes to be approved.