President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he believes the Russian public does not want “a bloody and destructive war against Ukraine” and said diplomatic solutions to the standoff in Eastern Europe are still available to Russian leaders.
“While I will not send American service members to fight in Ukraine, we have supplied the Ukrainian military with equipment to help them defend themselves,” Biden said in an address from the White House. “We’ve provided training and advice and intelligence for the same purpose.
“And make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power.”
In recent weeks, the White House has ordered about 3,000 American troops into the region in a show of force. Biden’s comments Tuesday came amid conflicting reports of Russian military moves along the border with Ukraine.
Russian officials announced earlier in the day that some units participating in military exercises in the area would begin returning to their bases.
“We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases,” Biden said. “Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position. And the fact remains right now Russia has more than 150,000 troops circling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine’s border and invasion remains distinctly possible.”
Also on Tuesday, a massive cyberattack targeted the web sites of numerous Ukrainian government agencies and banks, White House and Pentagon officials would not say if intelligence showed a link between those moves and Russian forces.
Biden said he welcomed the unverified reports of Russian troops being redeployed to other areas but warned that the Russian military “remains in a threatening position” in regards to Ukraine.
“Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Biden said. “They have the freedom to set their own course and choose with whom they will associate, but that still leaves plenty of room for diplomacy and for de-escalation. That’s the best way forward for all parties in our view.
“We will continue our diplomatic efforts in close consultation with our allies and our partners. As long as there is hope of diplomatic resolution that prevents the use of force and avoids the incredible human suffering that would follow, we will pursue it.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, explaining the military show of force as a counter to growing NATO threats in the region.
Biden dismissed those arguments, blaming tensions in the region not on western powers but Russia’s decision to invade and annex Crimea in 2014.
“If Russia does invade in the days and weeks ahead, the human costs for Ukraine will be immense, and the human costs for Russia will also be immense,” Biden warned. “It will be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction.”
White House officials again urged all U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country as soon as possible, to avoid being caught in the crossfire should an invasion occur.
In recent days, State Department officials have moved the U.S. embassy there out of Kyiv and to Lviv, close to the country’s border with Poland.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.