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White House looks to clarify Biden's 'minor incursion' comment on Russia and Ukraine

POLITICO
POLITICO
 2022-01-20

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The White House on Wednesday sought to clarify President Joe Biden’s comments about a potential Russian invasion into Ukraine, after Biden said the U.S. response would depend on the severity of Russia’s actions.

“President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

The statement came less than an hour after Biden wrapped up a marathon news conference, in which he said Russia would be held “accountable” for invading — though he added that the U.S. response would depend on the nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne took to Twitter during the news conference to clarify that Biden was talking about the difference between “military and non-military/para-military/cyber action by the Russians.”

“Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does,” Biden said, when asked how he would hold Russia accountable for an invasion.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.”



The answer immediately drew ire from Republican lawmakers who said the president gave Putin a green light to cross the border. And during the news conference, Biden didn’t do much to alter his answer when asked whether he was giving Putin permission, as long as it was a “minor incursion,” and whether Russia could avoid severe sanctions the U.S. has threatened.

“I think we will if there’s something that is — where there’s Russian forces crossing the border, killing Ukrainian fighters, et cetera. I think that changes everything,” Biden said. “But it depends on what he does.”

White House officials have been vocal this week about their growing concerns about a looming Russian invasion. The alarmist chatter comes after last week’s talks between Russia, the U.S. and allies flamed out, doing little to divert the path toward war.

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