Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, attends a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation between Russia and Ukraine, Jan. 31, 2022, in New York City.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, attends a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the situation between Russia and Ukraine, Jan. 31, 2022, in New York City. Getty Images / Spencer Platt

US, Russia Spar Over Ukraine At Confrontational U.N. Meeting

Russian official claims the U.S. is trying to “drive a wedge” between Moscow and Kyiv with “unfounded accusations.”

Russia issued a scathing public rebuke of America on Monday, saying the United States is “whipping up tensions” based on “unfounded accusations” that Moscow is preparing to launch a military strike on Ukraine. 

The meeting at the United Nations Security Council did nothing to turn down the temperature as the threat of conflict looms in eastern Europe, and underscored the chasm between the American and Russian perspectives. 

Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, repeatedly emphasized that Russia has deployed forces only within its own country. He said that it was wrong to say that the forces were on the border with Ukraine. He alleged that the United States is “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and…provoking escalation” despite Russia’s insistence that it is not planning a military invasion.

“What’s happening today is yet another attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine,” Nebenzya said through a translator. “The Ukrainians are actively being brainwashed.”

The United States and its allies are trying “to prevent the natural brotherly coexistence” of Ukraine and Russia, he continued.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American ambassador to the United Nations, responded to Nebenzya, saying that she couldn’t let his many false statements “go unchecked.” 

“The threat of aggression on the border of Ukraine—yes, on its border—is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative,” she said during the security council meeting. “The provocation is from Russia, not from us or other members of this council.”

Nebenzya also pushed back on the American assessment that about 100,000 Russian troops have gathered on the border, saying that officials in Moscow had not publicly talked about the number of forces. He called on the United States to show “evidence” that Russia is planning to attack Ukraine, while pointing out that American testimony has been unreliable in the past. 

“We recall…Secretary of State Colin Powell, in this very room, waved around a vial with an unidentified substance as so-called evidence of the presence of WMDs in Iraq. They didn’t find any weapons, but what happened with that country is well known to one and all,” he said. “Ukraine as well is a country it seems that our colleagues are prepared to sacrifice for their own pernicious interests.”

The White House defended the intelligence that indicates there are 100,000 Russian troops encircling Ukraine.  

“We have based the information we have provided to all of you on substantive reports out there, our own assessments, our own coordinated intelligence gathering with our partners on the ground,” Jen Psaki said Monday at a White House press briefing. “We know what we see with our own eyes.” 

Most allies sided with the United States, and spoke about the need to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty and solve differences with diplomacy. Many argued that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would not just be a regional conflict in Europe, but rather would threaten the entire world order.

“It would be wrong to consider the threat of a military attack by Russia against Ukraine as another crisis between Russia and the West. This is a challenge to the European security order and the whole international security architecture, which is based on the UN Charter,” said Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s representative to the United Nations. 

China was one notable exception on Russia’s side. The representative from Beijing was the only council member who joined Russia in a vote to not hold the open meeting on Monday, saying that “quiet diplomacy,” is needed, not “microphone diplomacy.”

“Some countries, led by the United States, have claimed there will soon be a war in Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly stated that it has no plans to launch any military action, and Ukraine has made it clear that it does not need a war,” the representative said. “Under such circumstances, what is the basis for the country’s concern to insist that there may be war?”