Psaki clarifies Biden's 'minor incursion' comment about hypothetical Russian move against Ukraine

"The cost of going into Ukraine, in terms of physical loss of life for the Russians – they'll prevail over time, but it's going to be heavy," Biden said.

Published: January 19, 2022 9:20pm

Updated: January 19, 2022 9:41pm

White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified President Joe Biden's comments during Wednesday's press conference after he seemingly dismissed the severity of a hypothetical 'minor incursion' by Russia into Ukraine. Biden additionally said the former Communist country would "prevail over time" in such an invasion. 

Biden's comments spurred critics to charge that he seemingly gave Russian President Vladimir Putin permission to invade Ukraine - and prompted Psaki to clarify the president's remarks.

"President Biden has been clear with the Russian President: 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 United States and our Allies," Psaki stated.

"President Biden also knows 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," she said.

During a press conference earlier that day, Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Epstein asked Biden: "Given how ineffective sanctions have been in the past, why should the threat of new sanctions give [Putin] pause?"

Biden responded that Russia will be held accountable if it invades Ukraine, but "it depends on what it does. It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we fight about what to do and not do, etc, but if they 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 in invade Ukraine."

He added that if Russia invades, it eventually would be successful.

"The cost of going into Ukraine, in terms of physical loss of life for the Russians – they'll prevail over time, but it's going to be heavy. It's going to be real. It's going to be consequential," Biden said. "In addition to that, Putin has a stark choice: either de-escalation or diplomacy; confrontation or consequences."

Later in the press conference, Reuters reporter Alexandra Alper asked Biden: "Are you saying a minor incursion would not lead to the sanctions you have threatened? Are you effectively giving Putin permission to make a small incursion into the country?"

"Good question. That's what it sounded like, didn't it?" Biden responded, without providing a clear answer to her question. "The most important thing to do – big nations can't bluff, number one. Number two, the idea that we would do anything to split NATO, which would be -- have a profound impact on one of, I think, profound impact on one of Putin's objectives to weaken NATO, would be a big mistake."

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said he was "deeply troubled" over Biden's comments. "Any incursion by the Russian military into Ukraine should be viewed as a major incursion because it will destabilize Ukraine and freedom-loving countries in Eastern Europe," Portman said.

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