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U.S. and Russia clashed over the Ukraine crisis at the U.N. Security Council meeting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The U.S. and Russia faced off at the U.N. Security Council today over the situation in Ukraine. The U.S. calls Russia's buildup a threat to international peace and security. Russia accuses the U.S. of whipping up hysteria. Well, the council may not be the place to resolve this, but as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, most council members are urging Russia to take a diplomatic path.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says the Security Council was formed to address the kind of threat Ukraine faces today.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: One country cannot simply redraw another country's borders by force or make another country's people live under a government they did not choose.

KELEMEN: Over the years, she says, Russian leaders have claimed that Ukraine is not a real country. Now it has amassed over 100,000 troops along Ukraine's border.

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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We continue to hope Russia chooses the path of diplomacy over the path of conflict in Ukraine, but we cannot just wait and see.

KELEMEN: Russia's ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said his country has no plans to invade Ukraine. He even quoted Ukraine's president, who wants to tamp down the talk of war out of concerns for the Ukrainian economy.

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VASSILY NEBENZIA: President Zelensky himself said that the rhetoric about what is happening is scaling up, and it is not justified.

KELEMEN: Nebenzia, speaking to reporters outside the chamber, has questioned the U.S. information that there are more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border. He claims that there's been no large buildup and that the troops in neighboring Belarus on Ukraine's border are just there for, quote, "regular exercises."

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NEBENZIA: Even talking about an imminent war is a provocation by itself.

KELEMEN: He tried but failed to block today's open debate. The Russians did get support from China's Ambassador, Zhang Jun, who spoke to reporters before the meeting.

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ZHANG JUN: This is really the right time, calling for quiet diplomacy with more diplomatic efforts instead of microphone diplomacy of public confrontation.

KELEMEN: But the situation is ripe for miscalculation. Russia's ambassador is warning Ukraine against any provocations, but he left the room before Ukraine's ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, had his turn to speak. Kyslytsya sounded frustrated by that, telling reporters that any provocations won't come from his side and accusing Russia of setting what he calls a Kafka trap.

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SERGIY KYSLYTSYA: I said repeatedly in my speech, I have instructions for my government to reiterate, we plan no offense, no military offense - not in our plans.

KELEMEN: That's what Russia says, too, but it has a history of saying one thing and doing another, as the British Deputy Ambassador James Kariuki pointed out in his speech to the Security Council.

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JAMES KARIUKI: In 2014, Russia denied to this council the presence of its forces in Crimea. In reality, its soldiers were annexing parts of an independent democratic Ukraine.

KELEMEN: That's one reason why the U.S. called for the public meetings says Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. She says it was a chance for Russia to explain what they're actually doing.

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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We didn't hear much. They didn't give us the answers that any of us would have hoped that they would provide. So we hope that they continue along the route of diplomacy.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to speak by phone with his Russian counterpart tomorrow. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, The State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "LIGHTHOUSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.