Russia launched a blistering attack on the US on Monday for “whipping up hysteria” over a potential invasion of Ukraine amid repeated warnings from Washington that Vladimir Putin is preparing to attack.
In the first United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the escalating tensions, Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, cast doubt on US intelligence assessments that Putin, Russia’s president, has amassed 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.
“We have never cited that figure, we have never confirmed that figure.”
Nebenzya also said there was “no proof” that an invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces was imminent.
He compared the US warnings to Colin Powell’s fateful appearance at the UN in 2003, when the late secretary of state laid out evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “They didn’t find any weapons,” Nebenzya said.
“They are making heroes out of those people who fought on the side of Hitler who destroyed Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and Russians,” Nebenzya said of US support for Ukraine, without elaborating.
The meeting in New York comes amid a ratcheting up of tensions between Russia and the West over a possible invasion of Ukraine, with Washington threatening to sanction Putin and his inner circle in the event of a military incursion. Russia and China had voted to block the meeting from taking place.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, accused Moscow of “attempting, without any factual basis, to paint Ukraine and Western countries as the aggressors to fabricate a pretext for an attack”.
“In addition to military activity, we’ve also seen a dramatic spike in cyber attacks on Ukraine in recent weeks,” she said. “Russian military and intelligence services are spreading disinformation through a state on media and proxy sites.”
Thomas-Greenfield defended the push to discuss the tensions at the UN, arguing that while diplomatic exchanges between Moscow and western capitals had taken place in private it was “now time to have a meeting in public”.
However, she said that while the situation was “urgent” and “dangerous”, the US remained committed to solving the crisis through peaceful diplomacy.
She said: “We seek the path of peace. We seek the path of dialogue. We do not want confrontation. But we will be decisive and swift . . . should Russia further invade Ukraine,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She added: “We’re offering them an opportunity to address these concerns at the negotiating table. The test of Russia’s good faith in the coming days and weeks is whether they will come to that table and stay at that table until we reach an understanding.”