Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sharply criticized President Joe Biden for his remarks about Russia and Ukraine during a Wednesday press conference.
Haley tweeted, “Imagine being Vladimir Putin and contemplating invading Ukraine. Then you see this train wreck of a press conference broadcasting Biden’s weak leadership. Biden is emboldening Putin. This is so embarrassing.”
During his press conference, Biden predicted Russia will invade Ukraine but said the U.S. response would depend on the degree to which Russia attacks.
“I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” Biden said. “And 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 not do.”
Asked later in the press conference if he was suggesting the U.S. might not respond to a “minor incursion,” Biden said “Big nations can’t bluff” and he wants to avoid a situation where NATO would be divided over how to respond.
“If it’s a — something significantly short of a significant invasion — or not even significant, just major military forces coming across,” Biden said. “For example, it’s one thing to determine that if they continue to use cyber efforts, well, we can respond the same way, with cyber.”
Moments later, Biden said, “It depends on what [Putin] does, as to the exact — to what extent we’re going to be able to get total unity on the NATO front.”
In another tweet, Haley said, “I am cringing at the thought of Putin hearing this press conference with Biden. Never show your cards. Especially when your cards aren’t good.”
Biden’s comments about a “minor incursion” also raised concerns among officials in Ukraine.
On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “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. I say this as the President of a great power.”
Haley retweeted Zelensky’s comments on Thursday and added, “Joe Biden needs to show strength and stand with our friends, not leave them to fend for themselves. America needs to have their back—not hang them out to dry.”
Even as he spoke, the Biden administration began efforts to explain his remarks.
During the press conference, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne tweeted, “[email protected] 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.”
In a Wednesday night press statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “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.”
USA Today reported on Thursday that Biden told reporters ahead of an infrastructure meeting, “If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. Let there be no doubt if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”