Jan 31, 2022 - World

U.S. and Russia clash over Ukraine at UN Security Council

Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya attends a United Nations Security Council

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya attends a United Nations Security Council meeting on Jan. 31. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In a tense UN Security Council meeting on Monday, the Russian and U.S. ambassadors traded barbs over Ukraine, with Russia accusing Washington of "whipping up" tensions and the U.S. warning of an "urgent and dangerous" situation.

Why it matters: Monday's meeting, held at the request of the U.S., was the first open Security Council session on the recent crisis. Western leaders have warned of an imminent Russian invasion, pointing to intelligence and the estimated 100,000 troops they say Moscow has amassed on Ukraine's borders.

  • Russia, with support from China, tried to block the public meeting, but the majority of the 15-member council voted to proceed with the session, which President Biden called "a critical step in rallying the world to speak out in one voice."

What they're saying: During the meeting, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya accused the U.S. of "provoking escalation" of the crisis by saying Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine.

  • "They themselves are whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation," Nebenzya said.
  • "The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this. You want it to happen. You're waiting for it to happen," Nebenzya added.

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded sharply, saying: "I cannot let the false equivalency go unchecked ... The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine — yes on its border — is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative."

  • Earlier, she remarked: “Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops on your border."
  • “If Russia further invades Ukraine, none of us will be able to say we didn’t see it coming. And the consequences will be horrific, which is why this meeting is so important today.”
  • The session ended with no action taken.

For its part, Ukraine has sought to downplay Western warnings and media coverage of an imminent Russian invasion, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky saying Friday that the "panic" is destabilizing Ukraine's economy.

  • "I'm the president of Ukraine, I'm based here and I think I know the details deeper than any other president," Zelensky told reporters when asked about last week's phone call with Biden, while stressing that he appreciates the U.S. support for Ukraine, Axios' Zachary Basu reports.
  • Zelensky contended that the current Russian troop buildup on Ukraine's border is not a significant escalation from the large military exercises Moscow carried out in April 2021, but that the media coverage is far more intense.

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