Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
January 31, 2022
The New York Times headline reads: Angry U.S.-Russia Exchange at U.N. Punctuates Deepening Ukraine Rift
With vitriolic accusations that echoed the Cold War era, the United States and Russia sparred in a bitter debate over the Ukraine crisis in a Security Council meeting watched by the world on Monday.
But the voice from Ukraine was hardly heard at UN. It appears that the US and Russia were still living in the cold war era today. However, China did take a position during the debates.
The Chinese delegation joined Russia in opposing holding the meeting Monday, while the U.S. and nine other countries voted to proceed to the debate. Three countries abstained from the vote.
“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. Under such circumstances, what is the basis for the countries concerned to insist that there would be a war?” China’s ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun, said in his remarks, voicing support for Russia’s assertions that it has no plans to invade Ukraine.
“What we urgently need now is quiet diplomacy, but not microphone diplomacy,” Zhang said.
It is obvious the position of the Chinese flew in the face of hopes by the Biden administration that officials from Beijing would offer support in the Security Council forum for the importance of respecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity, with Beijing instead looking to establish opposition to public forums where China could face international scrutiny.
But it is un-realistic for the Biden administration to “hope” that China would support of the US position at UN, given the current US-China relation. It is not clear that the US even attempted to consult China in advance.
It is reported that the U.S. on Monday (January 31, 2022) sought to rally the international community to confront Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border by labeling it a threat to global peace and security, drawing condemnation from Moscow that Washington is stoking hysteria.
The U.N. Security Council meeting marked a public face-off between the U.S., Russia and the global community, following weeks of intensive diplomacy by the US aimed at pressuring Moscow to withdraw more than 100,000 troops positioned on Ukraine’s border, which Washington says are poised to invade.
“Russia’s actions strike at the very heart of the U.N. Charter. This is as clear and consequential a threat to peace and security as anyone can imagine,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said in her remarks.
“This is the largest, hear me clearly, mobilization of troops in Europe in decades.”
Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya vehemently dismissed arguments from the U.S., and accused Washington of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation.”
“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,” Nebenzya said.
The Russian ambassador further condemned what he said was U.S. and Western-backed support of Ukraine’s government that came into power with the 2014 revolution in that country, calling them “nationalist radicals, Russophobes” and “Nazis.”
Thomas-Greenfield called Russia’s actions “irresponsible” and urged diplomacy.
Russia denies that it has plans to invade but has issued security ultimatums to the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that include denying Ukraine any entrance to the alliance in the future and committing to never placing offensive arms in the former Soviet state.
The Russian delegation condemned the move, saying the open forum preempted an already scheduled meeting on the situation regarding Ukraine to take place in February, and accused the U.S. of “megaphone diplomacy” and a desire to “whip up hysterics.”
Today, routine daily briefing at the US State Department spent a significant amount of time on the Ukraine crisis, the following is the most relevant text.
(STH Comments in italic)
MR PRICE: But I think it is important because not everyone is the famed Matt Lee, diplomatic reporter extraordinaire. And I think the context here is important because the UN Security Council, as we know, under the UN Charter has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. It takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to international peace and security and takes the lead in examining instances of aggression. And that is precisely what we are seeing here. And you have heard that from us over the past couple months. You have heard that from our allies and partners. You heard that from members of the Security Council today.
The point today, Matt, to come to your question, was to continue to shine a spotlight on what we are seeing and to demonstrate to the international community, to demonstrate to the Russian Federation, that the world is united in the viewpoint that aggression, violations of core tenets of the rules-based international order, that these elements must not be allowed to be conducted with impunity.
We heard a good deal of consensus from the Security Council. We heard from many of the speakers today that this situation, the situation and the crisis on the border that Russia has needlessly precipitated, should be resolved diplomatically. That is the point that we have been emphasizing all along. Diplomacy and dialogue remains our preferred course. But there was a resounding call from the Security Council this morning that Russia should avail itself of that course.
We heard from the Russian Federation, as we’ve heard from Moscow before, that they have no plans to invade Ukraine. But as we’ve consistently said, we’ll be looking for deeds. We’ll be looking for concrete signs of de-escalation. We and the members of the Security Council will, even as we look for those concrete signs of de-escalation and those deeds, will hold them to those words. We’re continuing to monitor their actions. You heard that from us in the council this morning. You’ve heard that from any number of allies and partners around the world.
So this was the first time, despite dozens and dozens of private engagements, about 180 engagements in recent weeks alone, but this was the first time that the Security Council took up this question in an open session, and we thought that was important. We thought it was important that they do so in that venue and with that level of exposition so that the world could hear it and the Russian Federation could hear it.
QUESTION: Okay, but I’m just trying to – because it just sounds like the same thing going back and forth between both sides. And when you say that the Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to international peace and security, did the Security Council actually do anything?
MR PRICE: Matt, this was not about a resolution. It was not about a vote. This was about an exposition of the facts.
QUESTION: And hasn’t there been expositions after expositions after expositions of this going back months now?
MR PRICE: Matt, we are not – we are not —
QUESTION: You yourself get up here every single day and talk about – or whenever you get up here, I’m just saying – I mean, just when you’re briefing, you get up here and you talk about the G7, you talk about the EU, you talk about NATO, you talk about any number of international fora that —
MR PRICE: Sure.
QUESTION: — where this stuff has actually come out and been agreed on. And when you say —
MR PRICE: Matt, we are not going to apologize for engaging in robust diplomacy.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MR PRICE: For bringing this to every conceivable fora and appropriate fora.
QUESTION: But when you say – okay, fine.
MR PRICE: And for continuing to be transparent with our concerns.
QUESTION: Okay, but that’s —
MR PRICE: If the criticism is that we are engaging too robustly in diplomacy, that we’re being too transparent, that we’re being too consistent in what we’re saying, that is criticism that we will accept if that’s a criticism you want to lodge.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I’m not criticizing at all. I’m just curious as to when you say the world is united in opposing Russian aggression, but – and you say that because of what happened in the Security Council today, then that’s just flat wrong because the world isn’t united. There were two members (Russia and China) of the council that vetoed, wielding members of the council that didn’t even want to have this meeting in the first place.
MR PRICE: Well, I —
QUESTION: So when you talk about – when you talk – I’m just wondering, what do you think? How do you think you have advanced the cause, or your cause, the cause of the United States, of Europe, of NATO, in countering Russian aggression with this meeting?
MR PRICE: So you raised two countries. I think one country we can explain their —
QUESTION: They’re pretty big countries, Ned.
MR PRICE: We – you can explain their opposition pretty easily.
QUESTION: One of them has got more people in it than any other.
MR PRICE: The country that is behind this aggression, the country that is behind this buildup, the country that has consistently engaged in disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda in an effort to obfuscate the facts. So we can – we can explain that country’s vote.
But I assume you’re also referring to the PRC. A couple facts. One is that the PRC frequently does side and vote with Russia on the Security Council. That did not come as a surprise. We also understand, I think as you alluded to, that their objection today was more of an objection to the format than a dismissal of the subject. And we know that this is a matter of concern for the PRC. Secretary Blinken discussed it with Foreign Minister Wang when they connected last week.
But I’d make a couple other points. One, we often hear from the PRC very forceful – very forceful support for territorial integrity and the concept of sovereignty. That is a refrain of the PRC in New York, in Beijing, and around the world.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one thing about that? And when they talk about that, they’re talking about Tibet. They’re talking Hong Kong. They’re talking about —
MR PRICE: These —
QUESTION: – all things that you actually disagree with.
MR PRICE: These principles – the principle of sovereignty, the principle of territorial integrity – these are principles that are universal. They have universal applicability. So —
QUESTION: So then you do believe that the PRC has territorial sovereignty over Hong Kong and Tibet?
MR PRICE: If any country believes in the concept of sovereignty, this —
QUESTION: It should be China? Is that what you’re saying?
MR PRICE: This is an episode that has the potential to undermine that core tenet, that core tenet of the rules-based international order.
MR PRICE: Two, there, of course, are a lot of issues where we don’t see eye to eye with our PRC counterparts. But I think where we do see eye to eye – and you saw from the PRC’s remarks their support for diplomacy, for dialogue, their support for a diplomatic resolution – I think it speaks to the fact it is no one’s interest – not in our interest, of course, not in NATO’s interest, not in our European allies’ and partners’ interest, and not in the PRC’s interest – to see a potentially destabilizing conflict emerge in the European continent. It would impact the PRC’s interests all over the world as well.
So we know how the PRC tends to operate, including in the UN Security Council. We’re clear-eyed about that. But we also know that Russian aggression, a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, it would be a matter of great import and presumably a matter of great concern for the PRC as well.
QUESTION: Okay, I have a couple of others. So last week Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman made a comment about the potential timing of a potential Russian invasion, and she was speaking in reference to the Olympics. She said given the timing and the Olympics starting soon, she said President Xi wouldn’t be excited if Putin chose to invade. Now surely you will say I’m not in Vladimir Putin’s brain and I don’t speak for him, but certainly the U.S. has an assessment on this. Is it now the U.S. assessment that Putin will wait until after the Olympics? Can you talk a little bit towards that end?
MR PRICE: So there is not much I’m in a position to say here beyond a couple broad points. And you heard this from Secretary Austin, you heard this from Chairman Milley last week: We don’t believe that Vladimir Putin has made a firm decision. The other point is that only one person can make that decision. So if Putin hasn’t made a decision, that decision to move forward or not has yet been made. It is our goal in all of this to attempt to influence Moscow’s decision making and Moscow’s calculus, because even as we’ve made very clear that our preferred course is dialogue and diplomacy, we have continued to make prudent preparations vis-à-vis the other path, and that is defense and deterrence. (It is a contradiction for mixing Putin with Moscow! The US has maintained all the time that Putin is the only single decision maker in Russia. So where is the Moscow’s calculus? Any US attempt to influence Moscow’s decision is a waste of time. US should focus on Putin and Putin alone. But who in the US should deal with Putin directly? it is Biden and Biden alone!)
And so it is up to us and to our partners and allies to make very clear the costs that – the costs that would befall the Russian Federation if renewed invasion were to go forward. We’ve been very clear about that – again, to Matt’s question, perhaps too clear in the words of some. But that’s what we’ve been engaged in all along. Even as we continue to prefer the path of dialogue and diplomacy, we’re continuing to, with our partners and allies, prepare with defense and deterrence.
QUESTION: Are you feeling a credibility squeeze at all? Just because obviously this is being contested by the Russians, but the intelligence is also being questioned by the Ukrainians as well. So while neither are in Langley, they’re clearly on different sides of this conflict.
MR PRICE: John, we are sharing information, sharing intelligence, with our Ukrainian partners. We do that as a routine matter with our European allies as well. I do not think that aside from a dissonant perspective in Moscow, a perspective that relies on propaganda, disinformation – aside from that perspective, I don’t think you hear doubt about what the Russians are capable of and the concern that their military movements have engendered around the world.
STH Comments: From the public exchanges between State Department Speak Person, Mr. Ned Price, and news reporters, it showed that the public are already anxious about what the US has made any specific progress toward resolving the Ukraine crisis. They also concerned about the future of this crisis.