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Biden predicts that Russia will invade Ukraine

WASHINGTON - President Biden said on Wednesday that he now expected Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to order an invasion of Ukraine and delivered a grim assessment that diplomacy and the threat of sanctions issued by the United States and its European allies were unlikely to stop Russia. leader from sending troops across the border.

"Do I think he wants to test the West, test the United States and NATO as much as he can? Yes, I think he will," Mr Biden told reporters during a nearly two-hour press conference in the White House East. He added, almost with a sense of fatalism: "But I think he will pay a serious and expensive price for what he does not think will now cost him what it is going to cost him. And I think he will regret doing so. "

Asked to clarify whether he accepted that an invasion was on the way, Mr. Biden: "I guess he wants to move in. He has to do something."

The president later acknowledged that Mr Putin's move might not be a full-scale invasion of the country.

Still, Mr Biden's comment went far beyond the current intelligence assessments described by White House officials, which conclude that Mr Putin has not made a decision on whether to invade. The comment is also likely to cause concern in Ukraine and among NATO allies, because Mr Biden acknowledged that if Mr Putin carried out only a partial invasion, NATO nations could be divided over how strongly they should respond.

"It is very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page," he said. Biden. "That's what I spend a lot of time on. There are differences. There are differences in NATO in terms of what countries are willing to do, depending on what happened, the extent to which they are able to go. "

Pentagon officials say such an invasion, which aims to divide and destabilize Ukraine, will most likely expand Moscow's control over the eastern regions of the country, where there has been an oppressive war with Russian-backed separatists in the eight years that have passed since Russia annexed Crimea.

But the president also seemed to contradict some of his own aides, who in the past week have said in background briefings to journalists that there would be no difference between a small intrusion into Russian-speaking territory in Ukraine and a complete attack on Land . An invasion is an invasion is an invasion, a State Department official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity said last week.

Half an hour after the president closed his press conference, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued a clarification of his remarks, saying Mr Biden would treat any cross-border move as an invasion - but reserved his assessment of, how NATO would respond to other forms of attack.

"If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, it is a renewed invasion and it will be met with a swift, serious and united response from the United States and our allies," she said in a statement. But she added that cyberattacks and paramilitary action could be treated differently, "with a decisive, reciprocal and united response."

Republicans jumped on Mr. Biden's description of a NATO that could easily be shared on how to respond, depending on whether Russia carries out a full-scale invasion or a more subtle undermining of the Ukrainian government.

"President Biden's remarks about Russia's construction near Ukraine tonight were nothing short of a disaster," said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that the president "shared the potential disagreement between Western nations on harsh sanctions and "Clearly gave Vladimir Putin the green light to launch a 'minor intrusion'."

The president's comments came as Russia has gathered about 100,000 troops, backed by tanks and heavy armor, on three sides of Ukraine. Mr. Biden has promised to impose extensive sanctions in the event of an invasion, but he acknowledged that reactions may vary depending on the scale of the attack. For example, he noted that even crippling cyber attacks, of the kind Russia used to remove the power grids in parts of Ukraine in 2015 and 2016, could lead to a different reaction.

"It's one thing to decide that if they continue to use cyber-experiments, we will respond in the same way with cyber," he said. But the president cut himself off, so it was unclear whether he was suggesting that a cyber attack on Ukraine would result in a US-led or NATO-led cyber-retaliation against Russia. While the United States has quietly brought war games on board to simulate such an exchange, there are concerns that it could quickly escalate and lead to more Russian cyber attacks on US targets.

The president appeared at one point to offer an exit to the Russian leader, saying out loud what his negotiators have said privately to the Russians about Mr Putin's demand that Ukraine should never join NATO and that the United States should not base nuclear weapons. there. Ukraine would not be accepted into the NATO alliance for years, Mr Biden said. He added that he could assure Mr Putin - as he did in a phone call several weeks ago - that the United States did not intend to base nuclear weapons there.

But when he was pressured, the president suggested that there was no room for negotiation on Mr Putin's other demands: that all US and NATO troops be withdrawn from countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc, and that all US nuclear weapons are being removed from Europe. Both of these demands are included in a draft "treaty" that Mr Putin's government sent to the United States and NATO nations in December, demanding written answers - which have not been released so far.

"We will actually increase the presence of troops in Poland and Romania, et cetera, if he actually moves," said Mr. Biden. "Because we have a sacred obligation" to defend these nations, both of which are NATO nations.

"We do not have that commitment to Ukraine, although we have great concerns about what is happening in Ukraine," he added.

Sir. Biden's press conference came just 36 hours before Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken, one of Mr. Biden's longest-serving national security adviser was due to meet his colleague, Sergey V. Lavrov, in Geneva on Friday. But Mr Biden said at one point that he was not sure whether the diplomats that Mr Putin had negotiated on his behalf understood what their own leader wanted - or what he wanted to decide.

Sir. Biden portrayed Mr Putin as more of a tactical thinker than a strategic thinker, describing him as trapped between larger, richer nations - and increasingly desperate to restore the kind of power the Soviet Union had when Mr Putin rose up as an intelligence service. officer in the KGB

"I think he's dealing with what I think he thinks is the most tragic thing that has happened to Mother Russia," said Mr. Biden, "in the fall of the Berlin Wall, the empire has been lost."

"He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West," he said.

With regard to Mr. Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, Mr. Biden: "I suppose it matters which side of the bed he gets up on in the morning, what exactly he wants to do."

Asked if he still believed, as he said in Geneva in June after meeting with Putin, that "the last thing" the Russian leader wanted was a restoration of the Cold War, the president hesitated for a moment.

"I still think he does not want a complete war," he said, noting whether Mr Putin was interested in the kind of short-lived actions that the two powers took on each other between the late 1940s. and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

When Mr Biden took office a year ago, he said he wanted a "predictable and stable" relationship with Russia. His first act was to renew the new START nuclear deal, which limits each country to 1,550 nuclear weapons. It was intended to avoid a renewed arms race between the two countries.

But Russia acted quickly in other arenas. It deployed troops near Ukraine in April, though not on the scale of recent efforts to surround the country. A series of ransomware attacks on U.S. companies alerted the Biden administration, particularly after one, on the Colonial Pipeline, disrupted the flow of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel up the east coast. The provocations led to the only face-to-face summit between Mr Biden and Mr Putin so far, although Mr Biden on Wednesday said he was open to another if he thought it would help calm Ukraine crisis.

Mr. Putin has argued that Russia has been increasingly surrounded by NATO forces and that Ukraine's shift to the West is a major security threat to Moscow. So he has essentially proposed scrapping an agreement reached by President Bill Clinton and President Boris N. Yeltsin of Russia in 1997, which allowed former members of the Soviet bloc to decide for themselves whether to join NATO, lean against Russia or adopt. a kind of neutral position.

If Mr Putin succeeds, he will have dismantled the basic understanding of how Europe has been organized since the collapse of the Soviet Union. But by answering questions on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Biden suggested that the implications of a decision by Russia to invade Ukraine would go much further.

"If he invades, it has not happened since World War II," said Mr. Biden. "This will be the most consistent thing that has happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II."

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