During his first press conference of the year on Wednesday, President Joe Biden predicted that Russia will move to invade Ukraine.
“I’m not so sure [Putin] has ascertained what he will do. My guess is that he will move in. He has to do something,” Biden said. “He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West.”
Biden’s prediction marks the first time he or his administration has publicly revealed what they predict Putin will do.
Putin “still does not want any full-blown war,” Biden said, though he also predicted Putin would “test” the U.S. and NATO “as significantly as he can.”
Biden threatened to make Putin “pay a serious and dear price” for invading Ukraine, and repeatedly touted harsh sanctions that he described as never-before-seen.
“He’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves,” Biden said, though he noted that the severity of the sanctions would depend on the level of action Putin takes, and seemingly indicating that a “minor incursion” would result in less severe consequences than an invasion.
“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. 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,” Biden said.
“Our allies and partners are ready to impose severe cost and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy,” he said. “And we’re going to fortify our NATO allies.
A Ukrainian official told CNN that Biden’s distinction between an “incursion” and invasion “gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure,” adding that the Ukrainian government is “stunned” by his comments.
The White House released an urgent statement after Biden’s press conference to walk back his “incursion” remarks, pointing out that any Russian forces moving into Ukraine is an invasion.
“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,” the statement said.
“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,” the statement concluded.
Biden’s comments came one day after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a press conference, “We believe we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine. I would say that’s more stark than we have been.”