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A year into Russia's war in Ukraine, UN ambassador says diplomacy is still an option


It's been a year since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, so we're going to start by taking a look at how one of the world's most important diplomatic organizations has responded. I'm talking about the United Nations. As a body, the U.N. quickly and strongly condemned Russia for the invasion, removed the country from the U.N. Human Rights Council and directed billions of dollars in aid for Ukrainian refugees. But as the conflict grinds on, it raises the question of what more, if anything, multilateral groups like the U.N. can do to bring peace.

We called the U.S. representative to the U.N. to hear more about this. Linda Thomas-Greenfield is a veteran diplomat and is among those who advise President Biden on key diplomatic issues. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, welcome back. It's good to have you back on the program. Thanks for joining us.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thanks, Michel. I'm delighted to be with you.

MARTIN: Can I just start by asking your kind of top-line reflections? As we acknowledge a year of this war, is there something in particular that's been on your mind these past few days?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it's been a year, and it's been an incredibly challenging year, but it's also been a year where we have succeeded in keeping the world united in support of Ukraine, united in its condemnation of Russia. We know that when Putin started this war last year, his intent was to spend two weeks and bring the Ukrainians to their knees. And he was wrong. Their commitment to fight for their independence has not at all waned a single inch, and they've continued to fight for their territory, to fight for their people, to fight for democracy.

MARTIN: So your colleague, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, spoke to the U.N. Security Council on the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion. And I should say all-out war because, of course, there were previous incursions into Ukrainian territory. But anyway, he said, quote, "council members should not be fooled by calls for a temporary or unconditional cease-fire. Russia will use any pause in fighting to consolidate control over the territory it's illegally seized and replenish its forces for further attacks." And he went on to say, "and members of this council should not fall into the false equivalency of calling on both sides to stop fighting." To whom was he directing those remarks?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think he was directing it to the council. He was directing it to the broader membership of the U.N. There is no equivalency between what Russia is doing and what Ukraine is doing. Russia is an aggressor. Ukraine is defending its right to exist, its right to survive. And so in calling for both sides as if somehow they are equal - and we heard many statements along those lines in the council - really ignores the fact that Ukraine is defending itself. It's the aggrieved here.

MARTIN: Given all that, given everything that you've talked about so far, given the brutality of this, given the viciousness of this, given the attacks on civilians and given what the secretary of state said, that, you know, don't be fooled by calls for a pause or things of that sort, I mean, how - where does that - is there still a role for diplomacy here?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There's absolutely a role for diplomacy. And we started with diplomacy at the beginning of this, and Russia chose war over diplomacy. But diplomacy is still on the table. Diplomacy is always the best alternative to conflict. But Russia has to stop its brutal attacks on the Ukrainian people. But if Russia ended this war tomorrow and chose to go to the negotiating table, the Ukrainians would be there with them.

MARTIN: And, of course, one of the most difficult situations going on some time now but the West Bank, you know, this - what seems to be a real sort of dramatic escalation in violence on the West Bank. And, you know, the secretary of state was recently in Israel meeting with people there. And what is your sense here? Is there something that the U.N. could be doing to bring tensions down?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. I - as you know, and the secretary said that we're concerned about the levels of violence in Israel, in the West Bank, and we've called on both sides to desist from taking actions that will inflame the tensions, inflame the violence and move us away from finding a peaceful path that will allow both Palestinians and Israelis to live safely and securely. But, yes, there is a role for the U.N., both in terms of supporting efforts to find the peaceful path.

As you know, in the Security Council, we were able to support a very strong presidential statement that we issued on Monday, and it demonstrated that the Security Council can work unanimously and collectively on these difficult issues. It showed diplomacy at work, and we think it signified to all parties how seriously the council takes what is happening. So, yes, there's more that the U.N. can do, but it really is going to be up to the two parties to find a path forward where they can diminish the tensions between them, stop the escalation and look for a way forward so that both Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and security.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Ambassador, we're two years into the administration. Other members of the cabinet are moving on. Do you plan to stay?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look, I just commemorated my two-year anniversary here. I was sworn into this job on February 24, 2021, and it's been two extraordinary years. I feel as if I jumped on a roller coaster or treadmill, and I have not come off. I serve at the pleasure of the president. And I think that at this point, we're having tremendous success and doing what the president sent me here to do, and that was to bring U.S. leadership back to the multilateral system. And I'll continue to do it as long as I'm successful at it and as long as the president has confidence in me.

MARTIN: That was Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She is the United States ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for joining us.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Michel, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.