President Joe Biden said Wednesday it would be a ‘disaster’ for Russia if President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of neighboring Ukraine – as he said he did not know Putin’s intentions but said his counterpart doesn’t want a ‘full-blown war.’
But the president also said publicly it was unclear what the response would be if Russia did something short of an all-out invasion – requiring the White House to move immediately to clean up his remarks.
‘It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,’ Biden said at a White House press conference where Russia came up repeatedly.
Later Wednesday evening, National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne wrote that Biden had ‘clarified this. He was referring to the difference between military and non-military/para-military/cyber action by the Russians. Such actions would be met by a reciprocal response, in coordination with Allies and partners,’ she said.
A Ukrainian official, responding to Biden’s original comments, told CNN after the press conference: ‘This remark potentially gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure.’
The White House was also forced to issue a full clarifying statement. ‘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,’ according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
‘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,’ she said.
Biden said he wasn’t certain of Putin’s intentions – saying it may be based on ‘which side of the bed he gets up on in the morning as to exactly what he’s going to do.’
‘I’m not so sure he is certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something,’ Biden said, saying that Russia already has intelligence agents operating inside the country.
He also speculated on the issues Putin is weighing, amid the collapse of the old Soviet empire.
‘He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West, ‘Biden said.
He said he was ‘very concerned’ about the situation, which he said could ‘very easily get out of hand.’ He called it one of the ‘most consequential’ situations since World War II ‘in terms of war and peace.’
‘I think he still does not want a full-blown war,’ Biden said, warning of the short and long-term consequences it would face.
Biden outlined part of what he said Putin would face in some detail – suggesting that Russia would be black listed and unable to deal in dollars on a global system of interbank electronic transactions – which could take a severe bite out of its economy.
‘We find ourselves in a position where … there will be severe economic consequences,’ Biden said. ‘For example., anything that involves dollar denominations – if they invade, they’re going to pay. Their banks will not be able to deal in dollars. So there’s a lot that’s going to happen,’ he said.
The president said Russia would pay a ‘dear price’ through sanctions if it acts, after assembling more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. But he also spelled an area for possible talks on one of Russia’s demands – and even provided a reassurance on the issue of NATO expansion.
‘He has never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves,’ Biden said of the economic response the U.S. would impose should Russia once again its neighbor, after seizing Crimea in 2014.
‘It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,’ he said.
He said it would be a ‘disaster for Russia if they invade Ukraine.’
‘But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. And that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy,’ the president said.
President Joe Biden said said Russia would pay a ‘dear price’ through sanctions if it invades Ukraine
He also spoke about his conversations with Putin – which included a summit in Geneva as well as calls and a zoom session.
He said he told Russia it has occupied nations before but ‘the price has been extremely high.’
He asked how long Russia could sustain such an effort, which would cause great economic loss.
‘How many years,’ Biden asked. One? Three? Five? Ten? ‘What toll does that take? It’s real. It’s consequential.’
‘This is not all just a cake walk for Russia,’ he predicted. ‘They’ll pay a stiff price immediately’ and in the medium and long term ‘if they do it,’ Biden said.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Biden had ‘clarified’ his comments and Russia’s actions would be met by a ‘reciprocal response’
Biden said he is not sure of Vladimir Putin’s intentions, and that it may depend ‘what side of the bed’ he wakes up on
Biden spoke of the difficulty of Russia invading Ukraine from the North
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken with Biden about concerns of a potential invasion. A Ukrainian official fumed to CNN that Biden’s comments could give a ‘green light’ to Putin
He also mentioned two Russian demands: Assurances that NATO not allow Ukraine to join the alliance, and a commitment not to position strategic weapons in Ukraine.
‘We can work out something on the second piece,’ Biden predicted.
But on a pledge on admitting Ukraine to NATO, he said countries get to choose their own alliances. Then he added that in the ‘near term’ it was ‘not very likely’ Ukraine had been admitted since there was more work they have to do on democracy and other issues.
He also did not correct a questioner when a reporter said Ukrainian admission could be decades away.