By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia on Monday accused the West of “stirring up tensions” over Ukraine and said the United States had brought “pure Nazis” to power in Kiev as the The UN Security Council was holding a heated and bellicose debate over Moscow’s troop build-up near its southern neighbor.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield countered that the growing Russian military force of more than 100,000 soldiers along Ukraine’s borders was “the biggest mobilization” in Europe in decades, adding that there had been an upsurge in cyberattacks and Russian disinformation.
“And they are trying, without any factual basis, to portray Ukraine and Western countries as aggressors to fabricate a pretext for the attack,” she said.
The tough exchanges in the Security Council came as Moscow lost an attempt to block the meeting and reflected the rift between the two nuclear powers. It was the first public session where all the protagonists of the Ukrainian crisis spoke publicly, even if the most powerful organ of the UN did nothing.
Hours later, the Russian government sent a written response to a US proposal aimed at defusing the crisis, according to three Biden administration officials. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity. A State Department official declined to provide details of the response, saying it “would be counterproductive to negotiate in public” and would leave it to Russia to discuss the counter-proposal.
Although more high-level diplomacy is expected this week, talks between the United States and Russia have so far failed to ease tensions in the crisis, with the West saying Moscow is bracing for a invasion. Russia denies any intention to attack. It demands promises that Ukraine will never join NATO, a halt to the deployment of NATO weapons near Russia’s borders and a withdrawal of alliance forces from Eastern Europe. NATO and the United States call these non-starters.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the United States of interfering in his country’s internal affairs and seeking “a classic example of megaphone diplomacy”.
Thomas-Greenfield countered that the United States had held more than 100 private meetings in recent weeks with Russian officials and European and Ukrainian colleagues and “now is the time” to have a public discussion.
To Russia’s claim that the United States called the meeting to make all council members uncomfortable, she retorted: “Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100 000 soldiers seated at your border.
After the council gave the go-ahead for the meeting, Nebenzia accused the Biden administration of “stirring up tensions and rhetoric and causing an escalation.”
“You almost shoot for this,” he said in his address to the council, looking at Thomas-Greenfield. “You want this to happen. You wait for it to happen, as if you want to make your words come true.
He blamed the United States for the 2014 ouster of a pro-Kremlin president in Kyiv, saying it brought “nationalists, radicals, Russophobes and pure Nazis” to power and created the antagonism that exists between Ukraine and Russia.
Nebenzia ostensibly left the council chamber when Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya began to speak. “How long will Russia press, pursue a clear attempt to push Ukraine and its partners into Kafka’s trap?” asked Kyslytsva.
The vote on holding a public meeting passed 10 to 2, with Russia and China opposing, and India, Gabon and Kenya abstaining. Nine “yes” votes were needed for the meeting to take place.
The United States and its allies had insisted that the meeting be held on Monday, the last day of Norway’s rotating presidency of the council, before Russia takes over on Tuesday for the month of February.
Any Security Council statement or resolution is extremely unlikely, given Russia’s veto power and its ties to other Council members, including China.
After the 15-member council spoke, the US and Russia quarreled again, with Thomas-Greenfield saying she was ‘disappointed’ by Nebenzia’s comments, noting that Russian threats of aggression are ‘provocative’ .
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that the meeting was “a crucial step in rallying the world to speak with one voice” to reject the use of force and seek military de-escalation.
At the start of a White House meeting with Qatar’s ruling emir, Biden said the United States continued to engage in “nonstop diplomacy,” but “we are ready no matter what. “.
The State Department on Monday ordered the departure of the families of American diplomats to Belarus, where Russia is deploying troops, tanks and other equipment in what Moscow calls a military exercise.
Western officials fear Russian troop buildup could use Belarus as a jumping off point to invade neighboring Ukraine, particularly its capital, Kiev, from the north. Tens of thousands of other Russian troops are already stationed elsewhere along Ukraine’s borders.
Belarusian officials have already expelled most US embassy staff from the country, leaving fewer family members affected by Monday’s order. The United States has also reduced its diplomatic presence in Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are due to speak by phone on Tuesday, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. A senior State Department official confirmed the Russian account.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Ukraine on Tuesday for talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and will also meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to urge him to “take a step back”, Johnson’s office said. Johnson says he plans to send hundreds of British troops to NATO countries in the Baltic region as a show of force.
Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress said on Monday they were still divided on some of the timing of the Russia sanctions bill. A Republican push to impose sanctions on a Russian gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 2, even before any further Russian push to Ukraine is the main sticking point, lawmakers said. The Biden administration argues to wait for any invasion, saying sanctioning Nord Stream now could alienate an ally, Germany, and remove the deterrent power of this sanctions threat.
On Sunday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez said that in the event of an attack, lawmakers want Russia to face “the mother of all sanctions.” This includes actions against Russian banks that could severely undermine the Russian economy and increased lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the administration was encouraged by the bipartisan effort in Congress “to hold Russia accountable.” The administration has previously expressed concern that preemptive sanctions could diminish its leverage over Russia, but the White House has warmed to the prospect as the Foreign Relations Committee prepares to act.
“Our view is that sanctions can be an effective deterrent, and deepening the sell-off in Russian markets reflects our message to Russia,” Psaki said.
Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Aamer Madhani, Matthew Lee and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s articles on the crisis in Ukraine at: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine