The United States and its allies are stepping up the pressure on Russia, warning the country faces “the mother of all sanctions” in the standoff over Ukraine and vowing to confront Moscow publicly at the United Nations on Monday.
The double salvo of diplomatic and economic pressure came as the West looked to ward off a potential Russian invasion of its neighbor. Ukraine says the Kremlin has now massed 130,000 troops on its border; Moscow has denied planning any attack but issued bold security demands to the US and NATO.
As they awaited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move after their response to those demands last week, Washington and its European allies sought to put Moscow on the back foot.
The two sides are set to square off on one of the world’s most high-profile diplomatic stages on Monday morning.
The United Nations Security Council, the organization’s most powerful body, is meeting at the request of the US to discuss tensions over Ukraine for the first time. Any formal action against Moscow appears unlikely, given Russia’s veto power and its ties with other powerful council members, including China.
Ahead of the meeting, the American ambassador to the UN said she will press Russia on its military buildup near Ukraine.
“The Security Council is unified, our voices are unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday.
“We’re going into the room prepared to listen to them, but we’re not going to be distracted by their propaganda,” she added.
Moscow did not show much enthusiasm about the meeting.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, called the US move a “PR stunt.”
On Sunday hey mockingly accused Washington of viewing the security council as “a club of worried people with US telling them what to worry about.”
Both sides are keeping diplomatic efforts alive, however, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov due to hold a phone call on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Sunday that Russia must pull back its troops from Ukraine’s borders if it’s serious about not wanting a war.
“Diplomacy is the only responsible way,” he said in a tweet.
Kyiv has consistently played down the threat of an imminent Russian invasion even as its allies sound the alarm.
On Monday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov seized on that divide, blaming Western media for spreading what he called “distorted” information that “triggers hysteria in Ukraine, where people are almost starting to pack their bags for the front line.”
Meanwhile, Russia conducted more military drills on Monday after a flurry of exercises throughout the country last week, with the country’s Northern Fleet vessels engaged in anti-submarine drills in the Norwegian Sea, the Russian defense ministry said on its website.