Tensions between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s troop build-up near Ukraine spilled into the United Nations Security Council on Monday when diplomats for both countries fiercely outlined their positions.
Russia failed to stop what it dubbed a “provocative” Security Council meeting on its troop build-up, which the United States and other council members called a threat to international peace and security.
“The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine … is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the 15-member council.
“The provocation’s from Russia, not from us or other members of this council,” she said.
Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of having more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus preparing “to conduct offensive action into Ukraine.” She said that Washington has seen evidence that Moscow plans to deploy 30,000 more troops in Belarus by early February.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said there was “no proof” Moscow was planning military action against Ukraine and that Russia had consistently rejected such accusations.
“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,” Nebenzia 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, as if you want to make your words become a reality,” he added.
The United States requested Monday’s public discussion in the council and needed at least nine votes to proceed with the meeting after Russia called a procedural vote. Ten council members voted in favor, Russia and China voted no, while India, Gabon and Kenya abstained.
Nebenzia said Russia was not “scared” to discuss Ukraine, but didn’t understand the reason for the meeting, saying Moscow has never confirmed how many troops it has deployed.
The discussion centered on whether the build-up of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine is a threat to international peace and security – which the Security Council is charged with maintaining – and whether the situation warranted a public council meeting.
“What is urgently needed now is quiet diplomacy, not megaphone diplomacy,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said.
The Security Council has met dozens of times over the crisis in Ukraine since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. It is unable to take any action as Russia is one of the council’s five veto powers, along with the United States, China, France and Britain.
The United States had described Monday’s meeting as a chance for Russia to explain itself.
“We didn’t hear much,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters later. “We hope that they continue along the route of diplomacy.”