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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky clapped back at President Joe Biden for a remark he made regarding the threat his country is now facing from some 100,000 Russian forces deployed at his doorstep.
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we have to fight about what to do and not to do,” Biden said during a Wednesday press conference. “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.”
Biden was speaking in the context of a “minor incursion” possibly dividing NATO in terms of how best to respond.
“There are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens, the degree to which they’re willing to go,” Biden said, noting further that the most severe sanctions on Russia “are gonna have a negative impact on the United States as well as a negative impact on the economies of Europe as well, [and] a devastating impact on Russia.”
But as Zelensky faces the prospect of a full-on Russian invasion, he took umbrage with the manner in which Biden framed the situation, saying there is no such thing as “minor incursions.”
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of great power,” Zelensky said following Biden’s comments, which he no doubt was watching with interest, as was Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Psaki also addressed Zelensky’s tweet during a Thursday morning appearance on Fox News.
“The president has conveyed directly to President Putin if there is the movement of any military troops across the border, that is an invasion,” she said. “If they go in, that is an invasion, and there will be severe economic consequences. I know President Zelensky knows that, we’ve conveyed it.
“It is also true, as President Zelensky has experienced, that there is a range of tactics the Russians use. We have been warning about some of those steps, including the spreading of misinformation out there, which has been widespread, was widespread in 2014, the use of cyber tools, and we also will be ready to respond to that as well and working in lockstep with Ukraine,” the White House spokeswoman continued.
Others were also critical of Biden’s ‘minor incursion’ remark.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Wall Street Journal, “Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You’re either aggressive or you’re not aggressive.”
“We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations,” he added. “This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.”
“Unbelievable,” a former senior U.S. official told the Washington Examiner. “Acknowledging it is Putin’s to decide. Ceding him the initiative. Differentiating between an incursion and an all-out invasion, and suggesting our response would be different. Talking about differences among allies rather than conveying unity and resolve. And ultimately saying that he thinks Putin WILL go in because he can’t back down now.”
The former official also suggested that “jaws must have been dropping in both Moscow and Kyiv.”