GENEVA — U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that any Russian troop movements across Ukraine’s border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.
It was the latest White House effort to clear up comments Biden made a day earlier when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukrainian territory could result in a more measured response by the United States and allies.
Facing an avalanche of criticism from Republican lawmakers and Ukrainian officials that Biden’s comments had invited limited military action by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden sought to clarify his remarks at the start of a meeting at the White House focused on domestic policy.
“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: Any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” said Biden, adding that an invasion would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response.”
He made these comments as U.S. Secretary Of State Antony Blinken was preparing to meet with Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia in Geneva in an important attempt to reduce tensions. It appears that this meeting will fail.
Biden stated that the U.S. prepared for Russia to act outside of the boundaries of conventional warfare.
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“Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression — paramilitary tactics, so-called gray zone attacks and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms,” he said.
On Wednesday, Biden said he thinks Moscow will invade and warned Putin that Russia would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
But Biden also prompted consternation among allies by saying the response to a Russian invasion “depends on what it does.”
“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,” he said.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian president, was one of those who expressed concern.
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones,” he tweeted.
Before traveling to Geneva, Blinken warned in Berlin that there would be a “swift, severe” response from the United States and its allies if Russia sent any military forces into Ukraine.
“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border and commit new acts of aggression against Ukraine, that will be met with a swift, severe, united response from the United States and our allies and partners,” Blinken told a news conference with his German counterpart.
Blinken later accused Russia of jeopardizing the foundations and order of the world with its estimated 100,000-strong military presence in Ukraine.
Russia should face a coordinated and serious global response to invaders, he stated in Berlin. Berlin is the symbol of the Cold War between West and East.
“These are difficult issues we are facing, and resolving them won’t happen quickly,” Blinken said. “I certainly don’t expect we’ll solve them in Geneva tomorrow.”
He later told an audience at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences that Russia’s actions toward Ukraine are an attempt to subvert international norms and just the latest in a series of violations of numerous treaties, agreements and other commitments Moscow has made to respect the sovereignty and territory of other countries.
“Perhaps no place in the world experienced the divisions of the Cold War more than this city,” Blinken said. “Here, President Kennedy declared all free people citizens of Berlin. This is where President Reagan asked Mr. Gorbachev for help in tearing down the wall. At times, it appears that Putin wishes to go back in time to the old era. We hope not.”
Blinken had earlier met top diplomats of France, Germany, and Britain to present a united front in the face of fears about Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine. He met Ukraine’s president in Kyiv a day earlier.
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Blinken took pains Thursday to stress the U.S. and its partners were united, noting that American diplomats have held more than 100 meetings with allies in recent weeks “to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.”
“That unity gives us strength, a strength I might add that Russia does not and cannot match,” he said. “It’s why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. It’s also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us.”
Washington: The Biden administration has announced that it will impose new sanctions Thursday against four Ukrainian officials. Officials claim they are part of an effort by Russia to create the excuse for invasion. Named are Taras Kozak (Parliament member) and Oleh Voshyn (ex-government officials). All four have been intimately involved in disinformation efforts by Russia’s federal security service, known as the FSB, according to Treasury.
Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine, citing the delivery of weapons to the country by British military transports in recent days.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged Ukrainian and Western talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”
Russia demands binding security assurances. These include a prohibition of Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Kyiv is interested in this. Also, the U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe must be removed.
While the U.S. and European partners are open to considering certain gestures that are less dramatic, they say that they cannot consider Russian demands and Putin is aware that they are not feasible. That, Blinken said, is proof of Putin’s ulterior motive.
“So far, our good-faith gestures have been rebuffed -– because, in truth, this crisis is not primarily about weapons or military bases,” he said. “It’s about the sovereignty and self-determination of Ukraine and other post-Soviet states. And at its core, it’s about Russia’s rejection of a post-Cold War Europe that is whole and free.”
Russia has announced that they will conduct massive naval maneuvers in February. These maneuvers are expected to take place in the Black Sea and involve over 140 warships as well as more than 60 aircraft. Separately, Spain’s defense minister said the country was sending two warships to the Black Sea with NATO approval.
Blinken appealed to Russians to resist any interference amid concerns about Putin’s inability to be moved by sanctions.
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“You deserve to live with security and dignity, like all people everywhere, and no one — not Ukraine, not the United States, not the countries of NATO — is seeking to jeopardize that. But what really risks your security is a pointless war with your neighbors in Ukraine, with all the costs that come with it — most of all, for the young people who will risk or even give their lives to it,” he said.
NATO and the U.S. face an extremely difficult task in Ukraine. Biden said that he doesn’t plan on sending combat troops to Ukraine in the event of an additional Russian invasion. He could, however, pursue more risky and less dramatic military options like supporting post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.
It is easy to see why the U.S. should not join a Russia-Ukraine conflict. The U.S. does not have a treaty obligation towards Ukraine and it would be incredibly risky for them to war with Russia. There are also risks when you do too little.
—Vladimir Isachenkov, Moscow, and Vanessa Gera, Warsaw, Poland were the Associated Press journalists who contributed.