Biden sees chance for Ukraine diplomacy, keeps pressure on Moscow

Paul Handley - Agence France-Presse
Biden sees chance for Ukraine diplomacy, keeps pressure on Moscow
US President Joe Biden speaks about Russia and Ukraine in the East Room of the White House on February 15, 2022 in Washington, DC.
AFP / Brendan Smialowski

WASHINGTON, United States — US President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to push for a diplomatic resolution of the Ukraine crisis, but warned that a Russian invasion remained "very much a possibility" and that retaliatory sanctions were primed and ready.

Biden said that despite Russian claims earlier in the day, Washington and its allies had yet to verify the withdrawal of any of the 150,000 troops he says Moscow has now mustered along Ukraine's border.

"Analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position," Biden said in an address on the crisis.

"The United States is prepared no matter what happens," the US leader said.

"We are ready with diplomacy," he said. "And we are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which is still very much a possibility," Biden said, warning of "powerful sanctions."

Earlier, Moscow's defense ministry announced some soldiers and hardware were leaving the border region to return to their bases at the end of planned exercises.

After a meeting Tuesday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said Russia "of course" did not want war, and was willing to look for solutions with the West.

"We are ready to work further together. We are ready to go down the negotiations track," Putin told a joint press conference with Scholz, confirming a "partial pullback of troops."

'Not our enemy'

Scholz called the Russian announcement "a good sign," but Washington said it wanted proof of a de-escalation, after warning over the weekend that Russian troops were poised to invade Ukraine as soon as this week.

In a call with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded proof of "verifiable, credible, meaningful de-escalation." 

Biden, who spoke directly with Putin on Saturday, said there were "real ways" to address both sides' security concerns.

"We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed," he said.

In answer to Putin's concerns that Ukraine would try to join NATO, and that the alliance would place more strategic weapons on Russia's borders, Biden said the United States had put forward "concrete ideas to establish a security environment in Europe."

However, he added on Ukraine: "We will not sacrifice basic principles though. Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity." 

He noted that Russia is not being threatened by the United States, NATO or Ukraine.

"To the citizens of Russia: you are not our enemy. And I do not believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine," he said.

'Absurd' situation

Scholz appeared to go further and reassure the Russians directly on the Ukraine-in-NATO question. 

After meeting Putin, he told German reporters that Ukraine is not about to join the NATO alliance.

"There is one fact: Ukraine's joining NATO is not the order of the day," Scholz said.

"Everyone has to take a step back and realize that we cannot have a military conflict over a question that is not on the agenda," he said, saying that such a situation would be "absurd."


Kyiv remained tense after a series of cyberattacks shut down the websites of the country's defense ministry and armed forces as well as two state banks.

For weeks, defense experts have predicted that a Russian invasion would be preceded by a cyber offensive.

The affected sites included the Oschadbank state savings bank and Privat — two of the country's largest financial institutions.

Both resumed service later Tuesday, but the military sites remained inaccessible hours after the initial reports of the attack emerged.

The defense ministry site showed an error message saying it was "undergoing technical maintenance."

In a separate move likely to anger Kyiv, Russian lawmakers voted Tuesday to urge Putin to recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as "sovereign and independent states."

The two regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, have large Russian-speaking, pro-Moscow populations that have been locked in a deadly fight with Kyiv since 2014, with the conflict claiming some 14,000 lives.

Declaring them independent republics would effectively end the Minsk agreements peace plan for the ongoing war, and potentially open the door to bringing in Russian troops.

Russia already controls the Crimean Peninsula that it seized from Ukraine in 2014. — with Michael Mainville in Moscow

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As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 18, 2023 - 10:13am

President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday secured Turkey's crucial backing for Ukraine's NATO aspirations after winning a US pledge for cluster munitions that could inflict massive damage on Russian forces on the battlefield.

Washington's decision to deliver the controversial weapons — banned across a large part of the world but not in Russia or Ukraine — dramatically ups the stakes in the war, which entered its 500th day Saturday.

Zelensky has been travelling across Europe trying to secure bigger and better weapons for his outmatched army, which has launched a long-awaited counteroffensive that is progressing less swiftly than Ukraine's allies had hoped. — AFP

October 18, 2023 - 10:13am

Washington's decision to supply Ukraine with ATACMS long-range missiles is "a grave mistake", Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov says Wednesday.

"The White House's decision to send long-range missiles to Ukrainians is a grave mistake. The consequences of this step, which was deliberately hidden from the public, will be of the most serious nature," he says in a statement. — AFP

October 15, 2023 - 3:26pm

President Vladimir Putin says Sunday that Russian forces had made gains in their Ukraine offensive including in Avdiivka, a symbolic industrial hub.

"Our troops are improving their position in almost all of this area, which is quite vast," he says in an interview on Russian television, an extract of which was posted on social media on Sunday. "This concerns the areas of Kupiansk, Zaporizhia and Avdiivka." — AFP

October 12, 2023 - 12:48pm

The regional governor says debris from a drone destroyed over the Russian region of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, fell on homes and killed three people, including a young child.

The air defense system "shot down an aircraft-type UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) approaching the city", says Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, adding that the falling debris destroyed several homes.

"Most importantly, three people were killed, one of them a small child," he writes on the Telegram messaging app, accompanied by pictures of a house reduced to a pile of rubble behind red and white police tape. — AFP

October 10, 2023 - 2:18pm

Ukraine's air force says on Tuesday that it had destroyed 27 of 36 Russian attack drones overnight in the south of the country.

Ukrainian forces downed 27 "Shahed-136/131" drones in the southern Kherson, Mykolaiv and Odesa regions, the air force said on the messaging platform Telegram.

In all, Moscow had launched 36 of the Iranian-made drones from the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, it says. — AFP

October 6, 2023 - 7:28pm

The Kremlin claims on Friday Russian forces never targeted civilian infrastructure after Ukraine blamed Moscow for a missile attack that killed over 50 people in the eastern village of Groza.

"We repeat that the Russian military does not strike civilian targets. Strikes are carried out on military targets, on places where military personnel are concentrated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says in his daily briefing. — AFP

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