At a fierce United Nations Security Council meeting on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley sharply criticized Russia for its continuing evasion of sanctions targeting North Korea.
Haley's concern is significant in that China and Russia are heavily supporting Kim Jong Un's regime against President Trump's "maximum pressure" diplomatic strategy. But unlike many western diplomats, Haley didn't pull her punches. She again accused Russia of altering a report by a U.N. independent panel of experts that evidenced illicit Chinese and Russian support for Pyongyang. Russian denials of those alterations, Haley suggested, fit in a "sustaining" Russian strategy: "Deny, distract, and lie."
Fortunately, Haley also outlined an often-underutilized mechanism for countering Russia's deception strategy: preventing the deception from taking root in news narratives. Facing Russian-sculpted edits to the report which hid its smuggling culpability, Haley said, the U.S. had prevented the report's publication from the Security Council.
It's a clever riposte. After all, Haley recognizes that Putin's edits aren't designed only to promote a fictional reality, but also to proffer propaganda under the guise of U.N. authority. The ambassador knows that had the report become public, it would have immediately flourished on western-focused Kremlin propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT. And there, at least some readers would come to the conclusion that the U.N. has found little or no evidence of Russian sanctions evasion. And thus that the U.S. has been lying in its claims to the contrary.
By blocking the report's publication, Haley has thus struck a rare U.S. victory in Russia facing information warfare.
Still, Haley was also clear about the broader strategic context of this showdown: why Putin is so interested in disrupting the North Korean sanctions regime. She noted that it's not just to weaken U.S. interests in constraining North Korean nuclear weapons development, but also in service of Russian economic strategy. Haley noted that Russia wants sanctions relief "so that it can connect its Trans-Siberian railway into North Korea so that it can ultimately reach a global port in South Korea."
While Russia's overarching global strategy is sometimes harder to perceive than its various regional strategies, it takes shape in Putin's effort to ensure his economic-political influence reaches as deep and as far as possible. Retaining his strong relationship with Kim and forging an improving structural relationship with South Korea is therefore a top Putin priority.
Identifying and disrupting that strategy, Haley thus offered a masterclass in diplomacy: cogent, unwavering, and situated in broader strategy. On Monday, Haley showed why she's Russia's least favorite ambassador at the U.N. And why she's America's best ambassador to the U.N. for the last 50 years.