At a rare UN Security Council debate Monday, which was urged by the US but slammed by Russia as a publicity stunt - in order for Moscow to "explain itself" over what Washington has for weeks asserted are "imminent" plans to "invade" Ukraine - Russia's ambassador charged the US with seeking to provoke Russian action.
"They themselves are whipping up tensions and rhetoric and are provoking escalation," Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said of US and NATO motives. "The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this. You want it to happen. You're waiting for it to happen."
Just prior to the meeting at UN headquarters in New York, the Kremlin once again charged the US and and some allies, especially Britain, of stoking "hysteria": "To our dismay, American media have lately been publishing a very large amount of unverified, distorted and deliberately deceitful information about what's happening in Ukraine and around it," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
"Hysteria hyped up by Washington is causing hysteria in Ukraine, almost to the point that people are packing their bags for the front. It's a fact," he added. Last week Ukrainian leaders surprisingly made similar statements, seeking to calm their own population amid reports of people raiding grocery stores and taking out all their cash from banks. There have also been reports that average Ukrainians are stockpiling weapons in preparation for a Russian onslaught and occupation.
During the UN back-and-forth, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of not just building up forces near the Ukrainian border, but of a massive force build-up in Belarus. She said Russia aims to send at least 30,000 troops to its closest former Soviet satellite state ally:
After placing some 5,000 troops in Belarus, "we've seen evidence that Russia intends to expand that presence to more than 30,000 troops near the Belarus border" with Ukraine by early February, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the UN Security Council, noting the forces would be "less than two hours north of Kyiv."
Her words had echoes of recent admin officials who bizarrely claimed (without evidence) that Russia is looking to invade and take over the Ukraine capital. During the remarks, Thomas-Greenfield decried what she described as "the largest... mobilization of troops in Europe in decades."
"You heard from our Russian colleagues that we're calling for this meeting to make you all feel uncomfortable. Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops sitting on your border in the way that these troops are sitting on the border with Ukraine," she said. "This is not about antics. It's not about rhetoric. It's not about 'U.S. and Russia.' What this is about is the peace and security of one of our member states."
Lavrov: "There is still a small group of people who stand to benefit" from war in Ukraine pic.twitter.com/fQzCbutPGc— Clint Ehrlich (@ClintEhrlich) January 31, 2022
Addressing the specific Russian charge that it's actually the US seeking to provoke, she responded, "I cannot let the false equivalency go unchecked, so I feel I must respond. ... The threats of aggression on the border of Ukraine - yes on its border - is provocative. Our recognition of the facts on the ground is not provocative."
Notably backing Russia was its powerful neighbor to the south, China:
In a sign of their increasing alignment, China was the only country to back Russia's effort to squash the public meeting. Its ambassador Zhang Jun said they oppose "microphone diplomacy of public confrontation" and believed the open discussion of the issue would add "fuel to the tension."
Monday's UNSC meeting didn't result in any specific action or even a joint statement, but appeared geared toward making each side's allegations official before the global body.
Separately on Monday, President Biden addressed the ongoing crisis, saying, "We continue to urge diplomacy as the best way forward, but with Russia continuing its buildup of its forces around Ukraine, we are ready no matter what happens."
"I had a productive talk last week with President Zelenskyy, and we continue engage in non-stop diplomacy," he added, but stressed the US would remain "ready" to act.