President Joe Biden said Thursday that any Russian troop movements across Ukraine's border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.
It was the latest White House effort to clear up comments Biden made a day earlier when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukrainian territory could result in a more measured response by the United States and allies.
Facing an avalanche of criticism from Republican lawmakers and Ukrainian officials that Biden's comments had invited limited military action by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden sought to clarify his remarks at the start of a meeting at the White House focused on domestic policy.
“I've been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: Any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” said Biden, adding that an invasion would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response.”
His comments came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to meet today in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a high-stakes bid to ease tensions that appears likely to fail.
Biden said the U.S. was preparing for Russia to take action outside the parameters of conventional warfare.
“Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression – paramilitary tactics, so-called gray zone attacks and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms,” he said.
On Wednesday, Biden said he thinks Moscow will invade and warned Putin that Russia would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
But Biden also prompted consternation among allies by saying the response to a Russian invasion “depends on what it does.”
“It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was among those expressing concern.
“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,” he tweeted.
Before traveling to Geneva, Blinken warned in Berlin that there would be a “swift, severe” response from the United States and its allies if Russia sent any military forces into Ukraine. Later, Blinken accused Russia of threatening the foundations of world order with its buildup of an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine.
Russia must face a concerted and severe global response if it invades, he said in a speech in Berlin, the city that symbolized the Cold War split between East and West.
“Here, President Kennedy declared all free people citizens of Berlin. Here, President Reagan urged Mr. Gorbachev to tear down that wallm” Blinken said. “It seems at times that President Putin wants to return to that era. We hope not.”
Blinken met earlier with top diplomats from Britain, France and Germany. He met Ukraine's president in Kyiv a day earlier.
“That unity gives us strength, a strength ... that Russia does not and cannot match,” he said. “It's why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. It's also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us.”
The Biden administration announced Thursday it has levied new sanctions against four Ukrainian officials who administration officials say are part of a Russian influence effort to set the pretext for an invasion.