Biden says he's "convinced" Putin has decided to invade Ukraine
President Biden said Friday that he is "convinced" that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, and that U.S. intelligence indicates he will target Kyiv — the capital and a city of 2.8 million people.
Why it matters: U.S. officials are now certain that Russia is planning not just a small invasion to take territory in eastern Ukraine, but a large-scale attack that could topple the Ukrainian government and cause massive devastation across the country.
- Asked how he could be so confident, given that the U.S. was uncertain about whether Putin had made a decision just days ago, Biden responded, "We have a significant intelligence capability."
Driving the news: Friday saw a surge in activity in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists ordered a mass evacuation of civilians, claiming Ukraine was preparing for a major military offensive.
- Moscow echoed those claims, which both the U.S. and Ukraine have dismissed as an attempt to fabricate a pretext for war.
- “There is simply no evidence to these assertions and it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a years-long crisis," Biden said in remarks from the White House.
Biden also accused Russia of violating the ceasefire in Donbas, attempting to pin it on the Ukrainians, and pumping out a flood of "disinformation" via state media — including "phony allegations of a genocide" against ethnic Russians.
- "We're calling out Russia's plans loudly and repeatedly not because we want a conflict, but because we're doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving," Biden said.
- "Ukrainians have refused to allow the Russians to bait them into war, but the fact remains that the Russians have them surrounded."
The big picture: Despite his dire warnings, Biden said "diplomacy is always a possibility."
- "Last night, Russia agreed that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Secretary Lavrov should meet on Feb. 24 in Europe, but if Russia takes military action before that date, we’ll be clear that they have slammed the door shut on diplomacy," Biden said.
- "They will have chosen war, and they will pay a steep price for doing so," he added. He said the U.S. and its European allies were united on the need for strong sanctions.
Between the lines: The U.S. is fighting a daily battle to control the narrative out of a belief that Putin is manufacturing false pretexts to justify an invasion, and in the hope that denying him that justification could stave off an invasion or at least help unify the international community against it.
Worth noting: Biden demurred when asked whether he thought it was a good idea for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to follow through with plans to leave Ukraine this weekend to attend the Munich Security Conference, saying that was Zelensky's decision to make.
- A source close to Zelensky told Axios that the Ukrainian president still plans to attend the conference, where he will meet with Vice President Kamala Harris.