President Joe Biden said during his White House news conference Wednesday that Russia’s military “will be able to prevail over time” if it launches an invasion of Ukraine — moments after suggesting that a “minor incursion” by Moscow on Kiev’s territory may see a less severe response from Washington and its NATO allies.
Biden began by vowing that “Russia will be held accountable” if it launches an attack against Ukraine, but then hedged by saying: “It 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 what not do, etc.,” the president went on. “But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force they’ve massed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia.”
“I’ve already shipped over $600 million worth of sophisticated equipment, defensive equipment to the Ukrainians,” Biden said moments later. “The cost of going into Ukraine in terms of the physical loss of life for the Russians — and they’ll, they’ll be able to prevail over time, but it’s going to be heavy. It’s going to be real. It’s going to be consequential.”
Biden later reiterated that a potential invasion would not be a “cakewalk” for Russia before adding: “Military, they have overwhelming superiority in relation to Ukraine, but they’ll pay a steep price immediately, near-term, medium-term and long-term, if they do.”
Later in the news conference, Biden was asked by Alex Alper of Reuters to clarify his “minor incursion” comment.
“Are you saying that a minor incursion by Russia into Ukrainian territory would not lead to the sanctions that you have threatened or are you effectively giving Putin permission to make a small incursion into the country?” Alper asked.
After initially responding that “big nations can’t bluff,” the president doubled down on his initial statement, saying: “The question is, if it’s something significantly short of a significant invasion — or not even significant, just major military forces coming across. For example, it’s one thing to determine that if they continue to use cyber efforts, well, we could respond the same way, with cyber.”
“But it’s very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page,” Biden went on before acknowledging that “there are differences” among the allies about what their response to a Russian invasion should be.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) tweeted that he was “deeply troubled” by Biden’s “minor incursion” comment, saying it was “the wrong way to view this threat.”
“Any Russian military incursion into Ukraine should be viewed as a major one that could likely destabilize Ukraine and Europe,” Portman added.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki later rushed out a statement saying that 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.
“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,” Psaki added. “And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”
The president also said Wednesday he all but expected Putin to launch an invasion, musing at one point: “Do I think he’ll test the West, test the United States and NATO as significantly as he can? Yes, I think he will. But I think he’ll pay a serious and dear price for it.”
At another point, Biden began a thought by saying: “I think, as usual, he’s going to …” before pausing for several seconds.
“I probably shouldn’t go any further,” he finally said. “I think we will hurt him badly.”
Biden’s news conference took place hours after Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev and stressed the importance of unity among Western nations in the face of the Russian threat.
America’s top diplomat was scheduled to meet his Russian counterparts for further talks on Friday.