Biden predicts Russia will attack Ukraine but warns Putin of a ‘stiff price’
Joe Biden has said he thinks Russia will make a move on Ukraine , warning Moscow it would face a “stiff price” for an attack yet suggesting that a “minor incursion” might be treated differently by the US and its allies.
The White House later clarified that any Russian military action would be met with a “swift, severe” response.
"My guess is he will move in," Mr Biden said of his Russian counterpart at news conference. "He has to do something."
"Russia will be held accountable if it invades - and it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and what to not do, et cetera," the US president said.
"But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing … it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. They’ll pay a stiff price, immediately, short-term, medium-term and long-term if they do it.”
Pressed on what he meant by a "minor incursion," Mr Biden said Nato allies are not united on how to respond depending on what exactly Mr Putin does, saying there were differences and that he was trying to make sure that "everybody’s on the same page."
"Big nations can’t bluff, number one. Number two, the idea that we would do anything to split Nato … would be a big mistake. So the question is, if it’s something significantly short of a significant invasion or … just major military forces coming across. For example, it’s one thing to determine if they continue to use cyber efforts; well, we can respond the same way," Mr Biden said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a tweet on Thursday that he wanted to remind the “great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations”.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied planning to invade, but the Kremlin has massed some 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, a buildup the West says is preparation for a war to prevent Ukraine from ever joining the Nato Western security alliance.
Shortly after the nearly two-hour news conference ended, the White House stressed any Russian military move into Ukraine would elicit a tough response.
"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," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Nato has said it would move troops to its eastern flank in the event of an attack, and the US has been discussing a range of sanctions with its European allies.
The European Union on Thursday threatened Russia with “massive economic and financial sanctions” if it attacked Ukraine.
“The transatlantic community stands firm in this,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
““We do not accept Russia’s attempt to divide Europe into spheres of influence. If attacks happen, we are prepared.”
The US State Department has cleared Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to send US-made missiles and other weapons to Ukraine, three sources familiar with the decision told Reuters.
The third-party transfer agreements will allow Estonia to transfer Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, while Lithuania will be permitted to send Stinger missiles, said one of the sources.
Mr Biden said a third summit with Mr Putin "is still a possibility" after the two leaders met twice last year. He said he was concerned that a Ukraine conflict could have broader implications and "could get out of hand."
The Biden administration has prepared a broad set of sanctions and other economic penalties to impose on Russia in the event of an invasion, and the US president said Russian companies could lose the ability to use the US dollar.
Mr Biden said Mr Putin had asked him for guarantees on two issues: that Ukraine would never join Nato and that "strategic" or nuclear weapons never be stationed on Ukrainian soil.
US officials see limiting Nato expansion as a non-starter, but Mr Biden noted there was little chance of Ukraine joining the alliance soon and he suggested there could be a deal under which the West might not station nuclear forces in Ukraine.
Visiting Kyiv in a show of support, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at "very short notice" but Washington would pursue diplomacy as long as it could, even though it was unsure what Moscow really wanted.
The Kremlin said tension around Ukraine was increasing and it still awaited a written US response to its sweeping demands for security guarantees from the West, including a halt to further Nato expansion and a withdrawal of alliance forces from central and eastern European nations that joined it after 1997.
The pessimistic statements highlighted the US-Russian gulf ahead of talks between Mr Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday that one Russian foreign policy analyst called "probably the last stop before the train wreck”.
Russia has also moved troops to Belarus for what it calls joint military exercises, giving it the option of attacking neighboring Ukraine from the north, east and south.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western weapons deliveries to Ukraine, military maneuvers and Nato aircraft flights were to blame for rising tensions around Ukraine.