GENEVA – US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that any movement of Russian troops across the Ukrainian border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.
It was the latest effort from the White House to clarify comments Biden had made a day earlier when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukrainian territory could prompt a more measured response from the United States. United and their allies.
Faced with an onslaught of criticism from Republican lawmakers and Ukrainian officials that Biden’s comments invited limited military action from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden sought to clarify his remarks at the start of a House meeting. White focused on domestic politics.
“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: all the assembled Russian units are crossing the Ukrainian border, this is an invasion,” Biden said, adding that an invasion would result in a “severe and coordinated economic response.”
His comments came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday in a high-stakes bid to ease tensions that appears doomed.
Biden said the United States was preparing for Russia to take steps outside the parameters of conventional warfare.
“Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression – paramilitary tactics, so-called gray area attacks and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms,” he said. he declared.
On Wednesday, Biden said he believed Moscow would invade and warned Putin that Russia would pay a “heavy price” in lost lives and a possible shutdown of the global banking system if it did.
But Biden also caused consternation among allies, saying the response to a Russian invasion “depends on what it does.”
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up arguing about what to do and what not to do and so on,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among those who expressed concern.
“We want to remind the big powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just like there are no minor victims and little grief over the loss of loved ones,” he tweeted.
Before heading to Geneva, Blinken warned Berlin that there would be a “swift and severe” response from the United States and its allies if Russia sent military forces to Ukraine.
“If Russian military forces cross the Ukrainian border and commit further acts of aggression against Ukraine, this will prompt a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies and partners,” Blinken said during a briefing. a press conference with his German counterpart.
Blinken later accused Russia of threatening the foundations of the world order with its buildup of around 100,000 troops near Ukraine.
Russia must face a concerted and harsh global response if it invades, he said in a speech in Berlin, the city that symbolized the Cold War split between East and West.
“These are difficult issues that we face, and solving them won’t happen quickly,” Blinken said. “I certainly don’t expect us to solve them tomorrow in Geneva.”
He then told an audience at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences that Russia’s actions towards Ukraine are an attempt to subvert international norms and are just the latest in a series of breaches of numerous treaties. , agreements and other commitments that Moscow has made to respect the sovereignty and territory of other countries.
“Perhaps no place in the world has experienced the divisions of the Cold War as much as this city,” Blinken said. “Here President Kennedy declared all free citizens citizens of Berlin. Here, President Reagan urged Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wall. Sometimes it seems that President Putin wants to go back to that time. We hope not.
Blinken earlier met with senior diplomats from Britain, France and Germany to project a united front over fears that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine. He met the Ukrainian president in Kyiv a day earlier.
Blinken took pains Thursday to emphasize that the United States and its partners stand together, noting that American diplomats have held more than 100 meetings with allies in recent weeks “to ensure that we speak and act as one. voice as far as Russia is concerned”.
“This unity gives us strength, a strength which I might add that Russia does not have and cannot match,” he said. “That’s why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. This is also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us.
In Washington, the Biden administration announced Thursday that it had imposed new sanctions on four Ukrainian officials who administration officials say are part of an effort to influence Russians to serve as a pretext for an invasion. The sanctions name parliamentarians Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn and two former government officials. All four were intimately involved in the disinformation efforts of Russia’s federal security service, known as the FSB, according to the Treasury.
Russia denies planning an invasion and, in turn, has 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 claimed that Ukrainian and Western talk of an impending Russian attack was a “cover to organize their own large-scale provocations, including those of a military character”.
Russia wants binding security guarantees, including a permanent ban on Ukraine’s NATO membership, which Kyiv aspires to, and the withdrawal of most US and allied military presence in Eastern Europe. ‘East.
The United States and its European partners say they are ready to consider some less dramatic gestures, but that Russian demands are out of the question and that Putin knows they are non-starters. This, Blinken said, is proof of Putin’s ulterior motive.
“So far, our good faith gestures have been pushed back – 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 is about Russia’s rejection of a post-Cold War Europe that is whole and free.
Russia on Thursday announced extensive naval maneuvers through February, some apparently in the Black Sea, involving more than 140 warships and more than 60 aircraft. Separately, the Spanish Defense Minister said the country was sending two warships to the Black Sea with NATO approval.
Amid fears that Putin will not be moved by sanctions threats, Blinken made a direct appeal to the Russian people to oppose any intervention.
“You deserve to live in safety and dignity, like everyone else everywhere, and no one – not Ukraine, not the United States, not NATO countries – is trying to compromise that. But what really threatens your security is an unnecessary war with your Ukrainian neighbors, with all the costs that come with it, especially for the young people who risk or even give their lives in it,” he said.
The United States and NATO face a difficult task regarding Ukraine. Biden has said he does not plan to send combat troops in the event of another Russian invasion. But he could pursue less dramatic but still risky military options, including supporting a post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.
The reason for not directly joining a Russian-Ukrainian war is simple: the United States has no treaty obligations to Ukraine, and a war with Russia would be a huge gamble. But doing too little also carries risks.
Madhani reported from Washington; Jordan from Berlin. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, contributed.
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