The alarming remarks came as Putin is scheduled to preside over war games, including nuclear drills, that is taking place amid firefighting in Ukraine’s border areas with Russia that US suspects is a smokescreen for the impending invasion.
“We’ve seen reports of a major uptick of violations of the ceasefire by Russian-backed fighters attempting to provoke Ukraine — and we continue to see more disinformation pushed out to the public. All of this is consistent with the playbook that the Russians have used before,” Biden said in remarks at the White House and later on Twitter, adding, “As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision (to invade Ukraine).”
Biden went so far as to claim Putin “will target Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.” US officials have said Russia has amassed the greatest firepower in the region since World War Two.
Biden’s comments went way ahead of previous US assessments in which the President and his aides had said they did not know whether Putin had made a final decision on the invasion. They are now expressing certainty.
Amid some skepticism over the alarming US appraisal, Biden explained that the US is “calling out Russia’s plans… not because we want a conflict, but because we are doing everything in our power to remove any reason Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine.”
Both sides are talking publicly about security negotiations but there is a yawning gap in their positions.
While Biden said “it is not too late (for Russia) to de escalate and return to the negotiating table,” Putin has offered to “go on the negotiating track under the condition that all questions will be considered together, without being separated from Russia’s main proposals.”
Those proposals include ironclad commitment that Ukraine would not be drafted as a member of NATO and pulling back NATO forces from Eastern Europe, including what Putin sees as missile-launch capability that threatens Russia’s security.
US and its NATO allies have rejected Moscow’s demands, while implicitly assuring Russia that Ukraine’s membership of NATO is not imminent, and offering transparency in missile deployments in Eastern Europe to convince Russia that it is not under threat.
Moscow has said that US and NATO have pushed too far east and have virtually encircled Russia, while the western alliance is arguing that nations formally in the Soviet/Russian sphere of influence, including Ukraine, should have the freedom of choice about their foreign policy.
US vice-president Kamala Harris, in Munich to attend a global security conference, warned that national borders should not be changed by force, while asserting the US would also further reinforce the eastern flank of NATO in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The western alliance also took aim at China, which is openly supporting Russia in the high-stakes global power struggle, with NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg saying the two were seeking to impose their own order on the world.
“For the first time we now see Beijing joining Moscow in calling on NATO to stop admitting new members. It is an attempt to control the fate of free nations, to rewrite the international rulebook and impose their own authoritarian models of governance,” he warned.
Washington and Moscow have tentatively agreed on talks between Secretary of State Antony Blinked and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for Wednesday, but Biden warned that talks will be off if Russia invades Ukraine before that, trying to forestall invasion plans the US claims has been locked and loaded.
“If Russia takes military action before that day, it will be clear that they have slammed the door shut on diplomacy,” Biden said.