Remarks on Russia and Ukraine and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Good afternoon.
Today I made two vital calls, as I've been making for some months now—but two vital calls that—on the situation in Russia and Ukraine. The first was to a bipartisan group of Members of Congress who are currently representing the United States, along with Vice President Harris, at the Munich Security Conference.
The second was the latest in a series of calls over the past many months with the heads of state of our NATO allies and the European Union to bring them up to date on what the United States thinks is the current state of affairs and what's likely to happen in Ukraine in the coming days, to ensure that we continue to remain in lockstep—that is the European Union and NATO.
Despite Russia's efforts to divide us at home and abroad, I can affirm: That has not happened. The overwhelming message of both—on both calls was one of unity, determination, and resolve. I shared with all of those on the calls what we know about a rapidly escalating crisis in Ukraine.
Over the last few days, we've seen reports of a major uptick in violations of the cease-fire by Russian-backed fighters attempting to provoke Ukraine in the Donbas. For example, a shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten yesterday, which Russia has falsely asserted was carried out by Ukraine. We also continue to see more and more disinformation being pushed out by—to the Russian public, including the Russian-backed separatists, claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbas.
Well, look, there is simply no evidence of these assertions, and it and—it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a year-long conflict.
Russia state media also continues to make phony allegations of a genocide taking place in the Donbas and push fabricated claims warning about Ukraine's attack on Russia without any evidence. That's just what I'm sure Ukraine is thinking of doing, attacking Russia.
All these are consistent with the playbook the Russians have used before: to set up a false justification to act against Ukraine. This is also in line with the pretext scenarios that the United States and our allies and partners have been warning about for weeks.
Throughout these tense moments, the Ukrainian forces have shown great judgment and, I might add, restraint. They've refused to allow the Russians to bait them into war.
But the fact remains: Russian troops currently have Ukraine surrounded—from Belarus, along the Russian border and with Ukraine, to the Black Sea in the south—and all of its border.
You know, look, we have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week—in the coming days. We believe that they will target Ukraine's capital, Kiev, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.
We're calling out Russia's plans loudly and repeatedly, not because we want a conflict, but because we're doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving.
Make no mistake: If Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice. The United States and our allies are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory from any threat to our collective security as well.
We also will not send troops in to fight in Ukraine, but we will continue to support the Ukrainian people.
This past year, the United States provided a record amount of security assistance to Ukraine to bolster its defensive—$650 million, from Javelin missiles to ammunition.
We also previously provided $500 million in Ukrainian—in humanitarian aid and economic support for Ukraine. And earlier this week, we also announced an additional sovereign loan guarantee of up to $1 billion to strengthen Ukraine's economic resilience.
But the bottom line is this: The United States and our allies and partners will support the Ukrainian people. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions. The West is united and resolved. We're ready to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it further invades Ukraine.
But I say again: Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to deescalate and return to the negotiating table.
Last night Russia agreed that Secretary of State Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov should meet on February 24—February 24 in Europe. But if Russia takes military action before that date, it will be clear that they have slammed the door shut on diplomacy. They will have—they will have chosen war, and they will pay a steep price for doing so—not only from the sanctions that we and our allies will impose on Russia, but the moral outrage that the rest of the world will visit upon them.
You know, there are many issues that divide our Nation and our world, but standing up to Russian aggression is not one of them. The American people are united. Europe is united. The transatlantic community is united. Our political parties in this country are united. The entire free world is united.
Russia has a choice between war and all the suffering it will bring or diplomacy that will make a future safer for everyone.
Now, I'm happy to take a few questions. Nancy [Nancy Cook, Bloomberg] from Bloomberg.
President Volodomyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine/Russia
Q. Thank you so much, sir. Do you think that it is wise for President Zelenskiy to leave Ukraine if an invasion is as imminent as the U.S. says it is?
The President. That's a judgment for him to make and a determination as to whether or not—I've spoken with Zelenskiy a dozen times—maybe more, I don't know. And it's—and in the pursuit of a diplomatic solution, it may not be false—it may be the wise choice. But it's his decision.
Q. And do you have any indication about whether President Putin has made a decision on whether to invade? Do you feel confident that he hasn't made that decision already?
The President. As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision. We have reason to believe that.
Coordination of International Sanctions Against Russia
Q. There seems to be a unanimity, a spirit to do—between the United States and Europe to do some sanctions—comprehensive sanctions. But are—is everyone on board with the exact same sanctions that you want to do?
The President. Yes. There will be some slight differences, but none—there will be more add-ons than subtractions.
Russia/Military Exercises/President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia
Q. And President Putin is going to oversee some nuclear drills this weekend. How do you see that happening? What's your reaction to that, sir? Thank you.
The President. Well, I don't think he is remotely contemplating nuclear—using nuclear weapons. But I do think it's—I think he is focused on trying to convince the world that he has the ability to change the dynamics in Europe in a way that he cannot.
But I don't—how much of it is a cover for just saying, "We're just doing exercises," and there's more than that, I just can't—it's hard to read his mind.
Q. Mr. Biden, Mr. President—[inaudible]——
[At this point, several reporters began speaking at once.]
President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin of Russia/Ukraine
Q. To be clear—to be clear, you are convinced——
The President. I'll—I'll take one.
Q. ——you are convinced—you are convinced that President Putin is going to invade Ukraine? Is that what you just said a few moments ago?
The President. Yes, I did. Yes.
Q. So is diplomacy off the table then?
The President. No. There's always—until he does, diplomacy is always a possibility.
Q. What reason do you have to believe he is considering that option at all?
The President. We have a significant intelligence capability. Thank you very much.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:54 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Russia and Ukraine and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354485