Biden says he is now convinced Putin has decided to invade Ukraine
“As of this writing, I’m convinced he made the decision, we have reason to believe,” Biden said when asked if Putin made the decision to invade Ukraine.
It was a notable change of position for the president, who previously said he didn’t think the Russian leader had made up his mind but acknowledged his insight into Putin’s thinking was limited. Noting that he hoped diplomacy could de-escalate the situation, he said: “Diplomacy is always a possibility.”
Russian misinformation is building up into a false justification for Putin to take the step, Biden said, blaming Russia for ceasefire violations in the “rapidly escalating crisis.”
“In recent days we have seen reports of a sharp increase in ceasefire violations by Russian-backed militants trying to provoke Ukraine in the Donbass,” Biden said, pointing to several examples of disinformation he believes circulated by Russian state media, including a “false” claim of genocide in the Donbass region.
Biden said the Russians’ claims just didn’t make sense.
“It defies basic logic to think that Ukrainians would choose this moment – with well over 150,000 troops on their borders – to escalate a year-long conflict,” he said.
On Friday, his White House announced that it blamed Russia for a massive cyberattack on Ukraine earlier in the week.
“We believe the Russian government is responsible for widespread cyber attacks on Ukrainian banks this week. We have technical information connecting Russia’s General Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, as the GRU infrastructure is known to deliver large volumes of communications to Ukraine-based IP addresses and domains,” said Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and new technologies.
The attribution for the attack came unusually quickly for the US government, and Neuberger noted that Russia had previously benefited from US delays in attributing Russian hacking operations.
“Russia likes to hover in the shadows and anticipates a lengthy attribution process so it can continue its malicious behavior toward Ukraine in cyberspace, including pre-positioning for a possible invasion,” Neuberger told reporters in the White House briefing room.
“It’s very high because they haven’t withdrawn any of their troops. They’ve pulled in more troops, number one. Number two, we have reason to believe they’re involved in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in. All indications are that they are ready to invade and attack Ukraine,” he said.
Friday’s remarks come amid escalating tensions, as US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter warned on Friday that the US has seen a significant Russian military buildup near Ukraine only in the past two weeks have rated.
“Russia is likely to have assembled between 169,000 and 190,000 troops in and around Ukraine, compared to around 100,000 on January 30,” he said in a statement at the OSCE meeting. These include Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders as well as Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine, which were not included in previous US assessments of Russia’s strength in the region.
Shortly before his remarks, Biden is scheduled to speak to allies in North America and Europe on Friday afternoon. He will hold phone calls with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO to discuss the ongoing crisis.
The president on Friday convened a meeting that Vice President Kamala Harris was holding with members of Congress, all of whom are attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany, according to one person in the room, and reiterated the work of the US and its allies to try to establish a Russian prevent invasion of Ukraine. He also informed members about the situation on the borders of Ukraine.
Biden has previously predicted a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but previously framed his prediction by saying Putin has not yet made up his mind and he has repeatedly urged further diplomatic efforts to avoid a military conflict. He was more definitive on Thursday, a day after US officials said 7,000 more Russian troops had arrived near Ukraine, contradicting earlier Russian claims of a withdrawal.
When asked if he thinks an attack will happen — and when — Biden said, “Yes. My feeling is that it will happen in the next few days.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.