Tough words for Moscow over Ukraine from Biden, top diplomat

 U.S. President Joe Biden in his repeated warnings said Russia will pay a stiff price in the case of an invasion of Ukraine.

Biden said in a White House speech that though Russia has an overwhelming superiority over Ukraine militarily, an invasion would not be cakewalk and threatened Russia with consequences in the short, medium and long term.

But Biden also caused some confusion by appearing to suggest that the NATO sanctions Moscow was threatened with could hinge on the scale of Russia’s actions.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine,’’ he said.

U.S. broadcaster CNN cited an unnamed Ukrainian official saying he was shocked that President Biden would distinguish between incursion and invasion and suggested only the latter would trigger sanctions.

The comments give Putin a green light to enter Ukraine, the official told CNN.

White House National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said Biden was referring to the difference between military and non-military/para-military/cyber action by the Russians.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also sought to clarify Biden’s comments in a later statement.

“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 U.S. and our Allies.’’

“President Biden knew 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.”’’

Earlier Wednesday during a visit to Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had threatened Moscow with massive consequences in the case of an escalation of Russian aggression against Kiev.

The sanctions would have financial, economic and export control components, Blinken said in Kiev after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Blinken said the U.S. knows that there are Russian plans in place to increase an already very significant force near the Ukrainian border on very short notice.

That would give Russian President Vladimir Putin the capacity, “also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine.’’

Russia currently has around 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, Blinken said and warned that this number could double in a relatively short time.

Zelensky was more restrained about the danger of a Russian invasion in a video message.

“The risks have not just existed for a day, and they have not become bigger. The only thing that has become bigger is the hype around them,’’ he said.

He cautioned against panicking and said Ukrainians should refrain from hoarding and hastily withdrawing cash.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also called on Russia to de-escalate tensions near the borders with Ukraine during a virtual plenary at the World Economic Forum, saying that borders must not be moved by force.

“The Russian side is aware of our determination. I hope they also realise that the gains of cooperation outweigh the price of further confrontation.’’

Scholz has firmly rejected the delivery of any weapons to Ukraine.

However, the Ukrainian side is not giving up and is now naming concrete weapon systems it hopes to receive from Germany, warships and air defence systems.

Weapons deliveries are necessary to drive up the costs of an invasion and to dissuade Putin “from his insane course,’’ the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk told dpa.

On Friday, Blinken planned to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in Geneva.

The U.S. and NATO have been accusing Russia of planning an incursion into Ukraine for months, which Russia denies.

Russia meanwhile accuses the U.S. and its allies of arming Ukraine for years, thereby fuelling the confrontation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a discussion forum that the European security situation was “critical’’ and put the blame on Washington and NATO, which he said are using Ukraine to apply pressure on Russia.

He further said the U.S. routinely accuses Russia of planning Ukrainian invasions but has yet to offer any proof of such a plan.

As for NATO, he said it was using the alleged threat against Ukraine as a justification for its continued existence.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas has advocated a further strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank with additional U.S. troops in Europe, according to Lithuanian media reports.

Latvia wants to help Ukraine with military equipment and is ready to deliver lethal and non-lethal goods to Kiev, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said at a news conference in Riga.

Blinken also promised Ukraine further support in case of a Russian invasion.

Then an additional material would be provided.

“We continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and make clear the costs that the U.S. and Europe will impose on Moscow if it rejects the diplomatic path that we’ve laid out.’’ (dpa/NAN)