Feb 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden says U.S. has "not verified" Russian troop pullback


Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden acknowledged reports on Tuesday that Russia has ordered the partial withdrawal of its troops near Ukraine's borders, but stressed that the U.S. has "not yet verified" the Kremlin's claims and that an invasion remains "distinctly possible."

Why it matters: Biden's update from the White House came at a critical moment in the crisis over Russia's massive military buildup, with U.S. officials warning that an invasion of Ukraine could take place as soon "at any moment."

  • Biden said Moscow's claims of a military pullback, which President Vladimir Putin acknowledged himself on Tuesday, would be "good" — but that U.S. analysts believe Russia's forces "remain very much in a threatening position."
  • He added that Russia currently has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and in Belarus, a higher estimate than U.S. officials had previously provided.

The big picture: Biden used his remarks to emphasize that the path to diplomacy and de-escalation remains open, while forcefully condemning Russia's aggressive actions toward Ukraine and outlining the devastating costs of an invasion.

What they're saying: "If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction," Biden said.

  • "The United States and our allies and partners around the world are ready to impose powerful sanctions and export controls, including actions that we did not pursue when Russia invaded Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014," he continued.
  • "We will put intense pressure on their largest and most significant financial institutions and key industries. These measures are ready to go as soon and if Russia moves."

Between the lines: Biden at one point spoke directly to the people of Russia, telling them that the U.S. and NATO pose no threat to their country and do not view them as "our enemy."

  • "I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine, a country and a people with whom you share such deep ties of family, history and culture," he said.
  • "77 years ago our people fought and sacrificed side-by-side to end the worst war in history. World War II was a war of necessity. But if Russia attacks Ukraine, it would be a war of choice — a war without cause or reason."

Go deeper: Putin confirms "partial withdrawal" of troops but signals threat not over

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