Feb. 18 (UPI) — President Joe Biden said Friday he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, citing information from intelligence reports.
Biden made the assertion during brief remarks from the White House on tension between Russia and Ukraine.
“As of this moment I’m convinced he’s made the decision. We have reason to believe that,” he told reporters.
Asked what he’s basing that assessment on, Biden said intelligence reports suggest impending violence.
Biden said, though, that diplomacy isn’t off the table in an attempt to head off war between the two nations.
He decried what he described as “disinformation being pushed out” by Russia, as well as reports of cease-fire violations in the Donbas region of Ukraine by Russia seeking to provoke war.
“For example, a shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten yesterday which Russia has falsely asserted was carried out by Ukraine,” Biden said. “We also continue to see more and more disinformation being pushed out to the Russian public, including Russian-backed separatists, claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbas.
“Look, there is no evidence [of] 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 yearlong conflict.”
Biden said he believes Russia is using disinformation as a pretext to provoke violence.
“All of these are consistent with the playbook the Russians have used before,” he said. “This is also in line with the pretext scenario that the United States and our allies and partners have been warning about for weeks.”
Biden’s update comes as pro-Russian separatists living in Ukraine said Friday they have started evacuating civilians as fighting intensifies.
Denis Pushilin, head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, announced the evacuation. He said — without evidence — that Ukrainian leaders were planning a military assault on the region, home to a sizable contingent of pro-Russia separatists.
Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, denied the allegation. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and NATO leaders have said intelligence indicates Russia has been working to plan a “false flag” operation as a pretext for invasion.
Biden will hold talks with other Western leaders Friday about the crisis, and U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to a security conference in Germany in one of her most challenging visits abroad.
At the Munich Security Conference, Ukraine was the main topic of discussion.
“Right now, we are obviously dealing with the concern about what is happening in Ukraine,” Harris said after a bilateral meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
“As a member of NATO, we feel very strongly and will always be committed to the principle of territorial integrity and sovereignty.
“We remain, of course, open to and desirous of diplomacy as it relates to the dialogue and the discussions we have had with Russia. But we are also committed, if Russia takes aggressive action, to ensuring there will be severe consequence in terms of the economic sanctions we have discussed. And we know the alliance is strong in that regard.”
Stoltenberg said he’s been impressed with the U.S. troops that have been sent to Europe as part of NATO’s support mission for Ukraine. Biden has sent a few thousand to Poland, Romania and other nations.
“To have … more U.S. troops in Europe now, in this critical time for our security, really demonstrates the North American and the U.S. commitment to our shared security,” he said in a joint news conference with Harris.
“North America and Europe are doing more together now than have done for many years,” he added.
“That’s important to deal with the aggressive actions of Russia, but also to address a more competitive world, the security consequences of the rise of China. We have to stand together in North America and Europe.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who took the United States’ side of the controversy to the United Nations on Thursday, was also at the conference.