US ambassador to UN confronts Russian official

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Monday confronted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a meeting of the Security Council in New York, condemning the Russian war with Ukraine.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield also called for the immediate release of two Americans Washington says have been wrongfully detained by Moscow. 

“Russia simply wants to redraw international borders by force in violation of this very U.N. Charter and that goes against everything this institution stands for,” Thomas-Greenfield said as Lavrov presided over the Security Council meeting. 

Russia holds the council’s rotating presidency through the end of April.

“It has violated international law. That includes the wrongful detention of American citizens,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Russia arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on charges of spying, and has refused to release Paul Whelan, who has served four years of a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction. 

The U.S. rejects the charges against both men and has determined both cases are “wrongful detentions.”

“Paul was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Evan is a journalist, he was just doing his job. Using people as pawns is a strategy of weakness,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The U.S. ambassador then called out Lavrov personally, telling the foreign minister to look into the eyes of Elizabeth Whelan, Paul’s sister, who sat in the gallery of the Security Council session, “and see her suffering.”

“I want you to see what it’s like to miss your brother for four years. To know he is locked up in a Russian penal colony simply because you want to use him for your own means,” the ambassador said.

“I’m calling on you right now, to release Paul Whelan, Evan Gershkovich immediately. To let Paul and Evan come home and to cease this barbaric practice once and for all.”

The Security Council meeting was titled “Open Debate – Maintenance of international peace and security: Effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the U.N. Charter.”

“This is a serious topic, even if it was convened by a council member whose actions demonstrate a blatant disregard for the U.N. Charter,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Elizabeth Whelan, in remarks to the press alongside the U.S. ambassador, said she no longer knows what her brother looks like, since “no one has been allowed to take a photo of him since his trial almost three years ago.”

Whelan criticized Russia for escalating wrongful detentions.

“Who will be their next victim?” she asked. “I am here today to tell the global community that one way to engage in effective multilateralism is to confront those countries that resort to hostage diplomacy. I am here to tell Russia, free Paul Whelan.”

Moscow has released two other U.S. citizens, Trevor Reed and the WNBA superstar Brittney Griner, in prisoner exchanges.

Lavrov presided over the meeting even though he is subject to U.S. sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. is generally obliged to provide entry visas to individuals with official business at the U.N. headquarters in New York City, though it has reportedly denied certain visa requests in the past. 

Lavrov on Monday accused the State Department of denying visas for Russian journalists to cover the foreign minister’s visit to the U.N. headquarters. 

A State Department spokesperson, in a statement to The Hill, did not address the foreign minister’s allegation, saying visa records are confidential. But the spokesperson said “we repeatedly remind the Russian Mission to the U.N., as we do all other U.N. Missions, that the United States needs applications as early as possible.” 

Tags Evan Gershkovich Linda Thomas-Greenfield Linda Thomas-Greenfield Paul Whelan russia Sergey Lavrov ukraine

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