Widely criticized, Biden said Wednesday that the details would determine whether or not to retaliate against Russian aggression in Ukraine. He said, "It's one-time if it is a minor intrusion and then we end up fighting about what to do or not to do."
Biden and senior administration officials met Thursday to correct his remarks. Biden stated that any Russian-assembled units crossing the Ukrainian border would be considered an invasion and that it would be met by a coordinated and severe economic response.
Even if the "minor intrusion" comment was viewed as a snub, it raised a potential problem: Although the U.S., allies, agreed on a strong response against a Russian invasion but it is unclear how they would react to Russian aggression that falls short, such as a cyberattack or increased support for pro-Russian separatists fighting to seize eastern Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, was one of those who expressed concern at Biden's "minor intrusion" comment.
"We want the great powers to remember that small nations and minor incursions are not acceptable. He tweeted that there were no minor casualties or little grief after the loss of loved one.
There were many complaints that Biden had clearly explained to Putin how to create a wedge between the U.S. ally and its European allies. He used only a small portion of the large military force he assembled close to Ukraine's borders to take limited actions. Russian officials claim they do not intend to invade Ukraine. However, the presence of a large combat force near Ukraine's borders (estimated at 100,000 troops) has created fears of a devastating land war.
"Deeply troubling, and dangerous," Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a Republican and crucial ally for Democrats on certain issues, tweeted about Biden’s comment.
"A greenlight to Putin," said Republican Rep. Mike Garcia from California, one of many who used that phrase.
One possibility for limited Russian military intervention is that Putin could shift a large part of the Russian ground force away the border and further support the separatists in the Donbas region of east Ukraine. In eight years of fighting, more than 14,000 people have been killed in this conflict.
Biden pointed out Thursday that Russia has a long history using other tactics than military action to enact aggression. He also mentioned paramilitary tactics and so-called gray zones attacks. Also, actions by soldiers of Russia who are not wearing Russian uniforms.
The United States and its allies in Europe have largely unified their demands that Putin stop moving further into Ukraine. They also promised a harsh response if he did. However, the allies don't seem to have agreed on which political and financial sanctions to impose or what response would be.
Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, stated that "any type of incursion into Ukraine on whatever scale" would be disastrous for Russia and the world. However, he did not specify any Western response. Ben Wallace, his defense minister, stated that a set of international sanctions was in place to ensure that Russia is punished if it crosses that line. However, he did not define the line and warned against any "destabilizing actions" by Russia in Ukraine.
When asked Thursday about Biden’s comments on a "minor intrusion", a French diplomat said it didn’t lead to any rethinking the "European consensus” that any attack on Ukraine's sovereignty would have "massive, severe consequences." However, the diplomat was commenting on meeting with Secretary Antony Blinken, who discussed the Ukraine crisis with European counterparts. He wouldn’t go into detail on these consequences or what constitutes such an attack.
To discuss the government's position, the official spoke under anonymity.
Putin was only subject to limited international consequences for his 2014 seizure of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and support for the separatist insurgency within eastern Ukraine. Putin's central demand to Washington was that NATO guarantee that Ukraine will never join the alliance. This demand has been firmly rejected by Washington and its allies.
Wednesday's comments by Biden were made in light of the fact that sanctions aimed at crippling Russian banks would also have a negative impact on the economies of Europe and the United States.
He said, "And so I had to make sure everyone is on the same page as they move along."
New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a senior member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and one of the leaders a bipartisan congressional delegation who visited Ukraine last weekend, stated that she has not seen any signs of a rift between the Europeans about how far Russia would need to go in order to provoke a response.
Seth Jones, a political scientist and Philip Wasielewski (a former CIA paramilitary officers) analyzed the Ukraine crisis. They suggested several scenarios that could be used to avoid an all-out Russian invasion. They wrote that Putin could send conventional troops into the Donbas rebel regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to "peacekeepers" and refuse to withdraw them until peace talks are over.
They wrote that all other options would result in economic hardship and major international sanctions, which would be counterproductive to the goal to weaken NATO or decouple the United States from its commitments towards European security.
There are other options, such as seizing Ukrainian territory west of the Dnieper River. This river runs south through Kyiv to reach the Black Sea close to the Crimean Peninsula. Jones and Wasielewski speculate that Putin could use this as a bargaining tool or to incorporate the territory into Russia's Federation.