WASHINGTON — The United States worked Sunday to step up diplomatic and financial pressure on Russia over Ukraine, vowing to put Moscow on the defensive at the UN Security Council as Capitol lawmakers said they were about to agree on ‘the mother of all sanctions’.
The US ambassador to the United Nations has said the Security Council will pressure Russia in a session on Monday to discuss its troop build-up near Ukraine and fears it is planning an invasion.
“Our voices are united in calling on Russians to explain themselves,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of the United States and the other council members on ABC’s “This Week.” “We come into the room ready to listen to them, but we are not going to be distracted by their propaganda.”
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, has warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to lead an “attack on democracy”, not just one country. It’s a case some senior foreign policy officials have urged President Joe Biden to make, including on the Security Council.
“If Ukraine is attacked by Russia again, of course they won’t stop in Ukraine,” Markarova said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Any formal action by the Security Council is extremely unlikely, given Russia’s veto power and its ties to other Council members, including China. But the United States’ referral of Russian troop reinforcements to the United Nations’ most powerful body gives both sides a stage in their fight for world opinion.
Russia’s muster of around 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine has brought increasingly loud warnings from the West that Moscow intends to invade. Russia demands that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, and to stop the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders and to withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe East. NATO and the United States call these demands impossible.
Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev on Sunday dismissed Western warnings of an invasion.
“Right now they are saying that Russia is threatening Ukraine – it’s completely ridiculous,” he told the official Tass news agency. “We don’t want war and we don’t need it at all.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hit back on Twitter, saying: “If Russian officials are serious when they say they don’t want another war, Russia must continue its diplomatic engagement and withdraw its military force”.
The United States and European countries say a Russian invasion would carry heavy penalties.
On Sunday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez said this 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.
The sanctions under consideration would apparently be much harsher than those imposed after Russia annexed Crimea to Ukraine in 2014. These sanctions have been considered ineffective.
Menendez also raised the prospect of imposing certain punishments preemptively, before any invasion.
“There are sanctions that could really happen right off the bat, because of what Russia has already done – cyberattacks on Ukraine, false flag operations, efforts to undermine the Ukrainian government internally,” the New Jersey Democrat said on CNN.
The desire to hit Russia harder financially for its actions against Ukraine has been a rare area of bipartisan agreement in Congress. But Republicans and Democrats are split on the timing of any new sanctions package.
Many GOP members are pushing for the United States to impose tough sanctions immediately instead of waiting for Russia to send new troops to Ukraine. The Biden administration and many Democratic lawmakers argue that imposing sanctions now on Putin would remove any deterrent to invasion.
Sen. James Risch of Idaho, the Republican ranked on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he was “more than cautiously optimistic” that Republicans and Democrats will be able to resolve their differences over the penalty schedule.
Russia has long been unhappy with NATO granting membership to countries that were once part of the Soviet Union or were within its sphere of influence as members of the Warsaw Pact.
NATO “has already moved closer to Ukraine. They also want to drag this country there,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday, “although everyone understands that Ukraine is not ready and could not make any contribution to strengthening security. of NATO”.
Ukraine has sought NATO membership for years, but any prospect of membership seems remote as the country struggles to find political stability and tackle corruption.
Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois and a member of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, suggested that Ukraine’s backsliding from its NATO aspirations could hasten a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.
If Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy “decided that future NATO membership, if there should be one for Ukraine, and the issue of Russian occupation of Ukraine are two things to put on the table , I think we can move towards a solution to this,” Durbin said on NBC.
Ukraine has shown no signs of willingness to make concessions on possible alliance membership. It is unclear whether Durbin’s suggestion has wider support.
Lavrov also pointed to Russia’s assertion that NATO expansion is a threat, saying the alliance has engaged in offensive actions outside of its member nations.
“It’s hard to say it’s defensive. Remember that they bombed Yugoslavia for almost three months, invaded Libya, violated the UN Security Council resolution, and how they are behaved in Afghanistan,” he said.
The United States and NATO have formally rejected Russia’s demands for a halt to NATO expansion, although Washington has outlined areas where talks are possible, raising hopes there could be a way to avoid war.