Biden and White House clarify US policy on possible Russian invasion of Ukraine

President Joe Biden on Thursday sought to clarify US policy on a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine after his remarks about how America might respond to a “minor incursion” raised questions about US intervention.

“If there are assembled Russian units crossing the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion,” Biden told reporters at the White House. It will be answered with a “tough and coordinated” economic response that has been discussed in detail with allies and presented to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Biden indicated that Russia might bear a lower cost for an incursion rather than an invasion and suggested there was some discord among NATO allies, while warning that an invasion would result in severe penalties for Putin.

White House officials rushed to clarify the U.S. position in emailed statements Wednesday and remarks Thursday.

“If there’s a movement of military troops across the border, it’s an invasion,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News.

In a meeting with his counterpart in Germany, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Moscow would receive a “swift…severe” united response if its forces crossed into Ukraine.

What constitutes an invasion of Ukraine was previously a matter of debate between US and German diplomats as they discussed when the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe could be disabled.

Ukrainian officials said they saw no policy deviation from Biden’s remarks, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted “there are no minor incursions and small nations.”

US Vice President Kamala Harris and others have said Russian actions will trigger a reaction, no matter how big.

“We will interpret any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia and Vladimir Putin as an aggressive action and it will come with costs, serious and certain,” Harris said on NBC.

Spain ships to the Black Sea

Meanwhile, Spain has sent warships to join NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean and Black Sea as tension mounts in the region over Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border, it said. Defense Minister Margarita Robles on Thursday.

A minesweeper is already on the way and a frigate will leave in three or four days, Robles told reporters. The Madrid government is also considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria, she said.

“Russia cannot tell any country what to do, so NATO will protect and defend the sovereignty of any country that can or wants to join NATO,” she said.

Spain’s preference was for an “exclusively diplomatic response” to resolve the conflict, she added.

Spain’s contribution to NATO’s military deployment in Eastern Europe comes after Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed a coordinated response to the Russian threat against the Ukraine at a meeting in Washington on Tuesday.

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with Ukraine and Western states fear Moscow is planning another assault on a country it invaded in 2014.

The Kremlin denies planning an attack, but says it could take unspecified military action if a list of demands are not met, including a NATO pledge never to admit Ukraine as a member.

Denmark has announced it will send a frigate to the Baltic Sea this week and French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to send troops to Romania. Further troop decisions could be made as soon as the NATO summit in Madrid in June, diplomats and officials said.

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