President Joe Biden said he believes Vladimir Putin doesn’t want full blown war in Ukraine and would pay a “dear price” if he moves forward with a military incursion.
Mr. Biden, speaking at a news conference on January 19 to mark his one-year anniversary in office, also said he believes that Russia is preparing to take action on Ukraine, though he doesn’t think Putin has made a final decision.
He suggested that he would limit Russia’s access to the international banking system if it did further invade Ukraine.
“I’m not so sure that he is certain what is he going to do,” Mr. Biden said. He added, “My guess is he will move in.” With critical talks approaching, the United States and Russia on Wednesday showed no sign either will relent from entrenched positions on Ukraine that have raised fears of a Russian invasion and a new war in Europe.
Speaking in Kyiv, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of planning to reinforce the more than 1,00,000 troops it has deployed along the Ukrainian border and suggested that number could double “on relatively short order.” Mr. Blinken did not elaborate, but Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s far east to its ally Belarus, which also shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games next month.
Ukraine, meanwhile, said it was prepared for the worst and would survive whatever difficulties come its way. The President urged the country not to panic.
Mr. Blinken’s visit to the Ukrainian capital came two days before he is to meet in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. That follows a series of inconclusive talks last week that failed to ease rising tensions.
Russian military activity has been increasing in recent weeks, but the U.S. has not concluded whether President Vladimir Putin plans to invade or whether the show of force is intended to squeeze the security concessions without an actual conflict.
In Kyiv, Mr. Blinken reiterated Washington’s demands for Russia to de-escalate the situation by removing its forces from the border area, something that Moscow has flatly refused to do. And, Mr. Blinken said he wouldn’t give Russia the written response it expects to its demands when he and Mr. Lavrov meet in Geneva.
Meanwhile, a top Russian diplomat said Moscow would not back down from its insistence that the U.S. formally ban Ukraine from ever joining NATO and reduce its and the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had no intention of invading Ukraine but that its demands for security guarantees were non-negotiable.
The U.S. and its allies have said the Russian demands are non-starters, that Russia knows they are and that Mr. Putin is using them in part to create a pretext for invading Ukraine, which has strong ethnic and historical ties to Russia.
The former Soviet republic aspires to join the alliance, though has little hope of doing so in the foreseeable future.
Mr. Blinken urged Western nations to remain united in the face of Russian aggression. He also reassured Ukraine’s leader of NATO support while calling for Ukrainians to stand strong.
Mr. Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the U.S. and its allies were steadfast in backing his country and its democratic aspirations against Russian attempts to incite division and discord through “relentless aggression.” “Our strength depends on preserving our unity and that includes unity within Ukraine,” he told Mr. Zelenskyy. “I think one of Moscow’s long-standing goals has been to try to sow divisions between and within our countries, and quite simply we cannot and will not let them do that.” The Mr. Biden administration had said earlier it was providing an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Mr. Blinken said more assistance is coming and that it would only increase should Russia invade.
Mr. Zelenskyy thanked Mr. Blinken for the aid, which was approved in late December but not confirmed until Wednesday.
“This [military] support not only speaks to our strategic plans of Ukraine joining the alliance, but more importantly to the level of our military, our military supplies,” he said, referring to Kyiv’s desire to join NATO.
“Your visit is very important,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “It underlines once again your powerful support of our independence and sovereignty.” Mr. Zelenskyy released a video address to the nation on Wednesday evening, urging Ukrainians not to panic over fears of a possible invasion. But he said the country has been living with the Russian threat for many years and should always be prepared for war.
“Ukraine doesn’t want a war, but must always be prepared for it,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.
From Kyiv, Mr. Blinken plans a short trip to Berlin for talks with German and other European allies on Thursday before meeting with Lavrov.
On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron called on the European Union to draw up a plan to ease tensions with Russia. “We should build it among Europeans, then share it with our allies in the framework of NATO, and then propose it for negotiation to Russia,” he said.
Washington and its allies have kept the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for hostilities.