Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ukraine

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November 21, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you to Assistant Secretary-General Jenca and WFP Country Director Hollingsworth, for your briefings today.

This month, we mark the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor, which translates to “death by starvation.” Death by starvation. Millions of Ukrainian women, men, children perished because of the Stalin regime’s harsh and repressive policies. Because of a man-made, deliberate famine. It has become a cautionary tale of what happens when we let cruelty and tyranny go unchecked.

But Putin has not taken heed. Rather, he’s taken inspiration. Like Stalin, Putin has used food as a weapon of war. And like Stalin, Putin has inflicted hunger and death on Ukraine.

And let’s be clear: Russia is not only waging war on Ukraine’s people and food supply. It is also waging war on vulnerable people around the world who rely on Ukraine’s food exports.

We know that Russia has exacerbated global food insecurity. Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine was one of the top agricultural producers and exporters. But Ukraine’s wheat production is 35 percent lower than pre-war levels. Why? Because Russia has stolen Ukrainian grain, sabotaged farmlands, and bombarded Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure and port cities. One Russian attack destroyed 60,000 tons of grain, which according to the WFP would have been enough to feed more than 270,000 people for a year.

Despite these relentless attacks the Ukrainian people have stood strong. And they continue to be a beacon of hope to the world’s most vulnerable. Ukrainian farmers continue to harvest crops even in the face of grave danger.

And for a long time, grain was getting out to the world through the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was brokered by the UN and Türkiye. More than 60 percent of wheat exported through this Initiative went to developing economies, including those at risk of severe hunger and malnutrition. But Russia decided to unilaterally end this arrangement without cause and without regard for the needs of developing countries.

Still, Ukraine was not deterred. By setting up a Black Sea grain corridor for ships to pass through, Kyiv is doing everything in its power to feed the world.

Russia, predictably, hates this. It has threatened to attack cargo vessels in the ports of the Black Sea. And earlier this month, there were reports that Russia struck a civilian vessel in the port of Pivdennyi.

These actions compromise shipping safety and commercial activity. And we must all call on Russia to comply with its international legal obligations and respect freedom of navigation.

Colleagues, President Putin is counting on us. He is counting on us to become numb to the horrors his forces have carried out. The killing, and the torture, and the rape, and other forms of sexual violence. The indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure. The illegal forcible transfer and deportation of Ukraine’s children to Russia and Russian-occupied territories, as well as the transport of children from Russian-occupied territories to Belarus.

And Putin is hoping that, given the number of crises before us, in Sudan and Syria, in the DRC and Yemen, in Israel and Gaza, we will forget about the plight of the Ukrainian people. I also expect you will hear Russia try to change the topic today and throw a litany of “whataboutisms” our way.

As U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin said during his visit to Kyiv yesterday, and I quote: “The United States will continue to stand with Ukraine in their fight for freedom against Russia’s aggression, both now and into the future.”

Colleagues, we must not let Russia trample on the UN Charter. We must not let Russia carry out war crimes with impunity. And we must not let Russia continue to weaponize food and inflict so much pain and suffering on Ukraine by attacking Ukraine’s critical infrastructure as the cold, dark winter approaches.

Let us all stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes. Until families are reunited. Until children can go back to school and people can return home. And until a just and comprehensive peace, in accordance with the UN Charter, is secured.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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