US president says Russian attack could be ‘in coming days’, but says path of diplomacy still open to reduce tensions.
Joe Biden has said the United States believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, warning that such an attack could happen in the coming days.
Speaking from the White House on Friday afternoon, Biden said Russian troops “currently have Ukraine surrounded” and that Washington believed Moscow would target Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
“We have reason to believe that Russian forces are planning and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days,” he told reporters.
“Make no mistake, if Russia pursues its plans it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice. The US and our allies are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory from any threat to our collective security, as well.”
Biden’s comments come amid increasing tensions over Russia’s troop deployment near its border with Ukraine, which for months has spurred warnings from Washington and its European allies against a possible Russian invasion.
The Kremlin insists it has no plans to invade, but Moscow has demanded security guarantees from the West to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of the NATO military alliance, not deploy weapons in Ukraine and pull back NATO forces from Eastern Europe.
The Biden administration has bluntly rejected Russia’s demands, and Moscow threatened to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West continued to stonewall.
Despite his warning, Biden on Friday once again urged Moscow to choose a path of diplomacy to reduce tensions. “Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, said Biden’s comments were “a significant departure” from the past 72 hours, when White House officials had said they did not believe Putin had made a final decision on a possible invasion.
“So that is quite a leap for Joe Biden to say that. Quite what he’s basing that [assessment] on, we couldn’t be sure,” said Fisher, who added though that “clearly, Joe Biden sees the possibility of still being able to negotiate the way out of this crisis”.
Earlier on Friday, Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov accused Russia of staging provocations in conflict-hit eastern Ukraine to provoke the Ukrainian military to respond. Danilov said Ukraine had no plans to recapture separatist-held territories by force, however, adding that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine was unlikely.
Moscow-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine said they will evacuate civilians to Russia as fears of a significant escalation in fighting grow.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES