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U.N. General Assembly votes to condemn Russia's annexations in Ukraine

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The United Nations has a message for Russia - we condemn the attempted annexation of four regions of Ukraine. Also, you will not be allowed to intimidate the world. Yesterday the U.N. voted overwhelmingly to demand Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine and called on all countries not to recognize Russia's illegal annexations of four regions in Ukraine. But does the U.N. have any way to enforce the tough talk? Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. And I'm delighted to be here.

KELLY: This vote is designed to send a strong signal. I saw how you put it. You said it means Ukraine's borders stay the same in the eyes of the world stage. But - and it's a significant but - this is not legally binding. So what do you hope that it will actually accomplish?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I think it accomplishes two things. First, it sends a message to the Ukrainian people that the world has not forgotten them and that we will not stand by and allow Russia to get away with what is truly an illegal act against everything that we all believe in. But the second part is even more important. It sends a message to Putin and to the Russians that they are isolated, that they will not get away with this and that the world will condemn their actions. We got a monumental 143 member states to stand up for territorial integrity. And their isolation here is very clear.

KELLY: I heard you say it's about sending a message to the Ukrainians, to Russia. But the U.N. has sent a lot of messages. This is not the first U.N. resolution on Russia this year. Back on March 2, you all voted to demand that Russia immediately end military operations in Ukraine. Pull out. That obviously didn't happen. So let me push you on this. What gives you confidence - do you have any confidence this latest resolution might change Russia's behavior?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I do have confidence. And you have to always approach these kinds of situations from a position of strength. Putin said he was going to carry out this action in two weeks and it would be over. And we're seven months into it. And the Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. They're fighting for their country. But the Ukrainians have the backing of the world, and Russia is doing this alone.

KELLY: President Biden warned the other day about the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. He said - that was his words. He says this is the highest risk it has been in 60 years. In a CNN interview this week, pressed on whether he believes that Putin will actually use nuclear weapons, he said, I don't think he will. Has something changed between those two comments to temper concern in any way?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don't think anything has changed. We've heard all of Putin's rhetoric since the beginning, and we do not think these are the kinds of words of a country that is confident in their position. We take Putin's threats, however, very seriously, and we're not going to allow him to intimidate us by his rhetoric. He knows what would happen if he uses this kind of weapon, and we've communicated that directly, as well as privately, with the Russians about what the consequences might be.

KELLY: I wonder, though, you know, with him even hinting at the prospect of any possibility of the threat of nuclear escalation, does that change the way you think about trying to strike a balance between pressuring Russia, isolating Russia versus provoking Russia?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think the president has been very clear that we're not going to do anything from our side to escalate this war. And the provocations are all coming from the Russian side. They invaded Ukraine. They are attacking Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian civilian infrastructure. They're attacking a nuclear plant. So they're escalating, and they are the aggressor. But our intention is to continue to support the Ukrainian people's right to defend themselves.

KELLY: Ambassador, you gave us, gave NPR, an interview last month in which you talked about evidence that Russia is detaining Ukrainians, forcibly relocating them to Russia, where it is holding them, you said, in so-called filtration camps. Russia disputes this. Can you give any update on what's being done to investigate?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I mean, we're still seeing evidence of Russia using these filtration camps and taking Ukrainians into Russia. We've seen numbers as high as thousands a day of people who are being forcibly removed from Ukraine and taken into far distant places in Russia. And it absolutely has to be condemned. We're doing everything possible to collect evidence of what they're doing so that they can be held accountable but also that these people can be reunited with their families, and particularly children who have been filtrated and forcibly adopted.

KELLY: And to be clear about the scale, it sounds like you're not seeing this slowed down in any way. This is thousands of people every day.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. We've not seen any evidence that it's slowed down.

KELLY: Last thing - this week saw Russian missile strikes against a dozen or so Ukrainian cities, including ones that had not been hit in months, including in the heart of the capital, Kyiv. You're a diplomat, so perhaps I know the answer to this, but it sounds like you - do you still believe there is a diplomatic resolution, there's a diplomatic way this war ends?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have never given up on diplomacy to find a solution to this war. The Russians chose to push aside diplomacy and chose to attack Ukraine. But we've also been clear that we are not going to engage with Putin on diplomacy on the Ukrainian war without the Ukrainians. And so Ukraine has to be part of any discussions about a diplomatic way forward with the Russians.

KELLY: Linda Thomas-Greenfield on the line there from New York. She is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ambassador, thank you.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much. It's great to be here with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
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