President Joe Biden delivered his sternest warning yet to Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, saying that the U.S. was not seeking confrontation with Russia but would respond ‘forcefully’ if American citizens were targeted in Ukraine.
At the same time he appealed to the people of Russia, saying they were not America’s enemy.
‘We are not seeking direct confrontation with Russia though I’ve been clear if Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully,’ he said.
Biden delivered an update on developments from the White House after a busy morning of phone diplomacy, saying an invasion was still possible and that Russia had 150,000 troops in a threatening posture.
The White House upended the president’s schedule to add the speech in response to the pace of developments.
Biden spoke with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron while Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a call with the Russian foreign minister.
Earlier, Putin claimed he was ready for new security talks and was pulling back some Russian troops.
‘We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases,’ Biden said in the East Room.
‘Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.
‘And the fact remains right now Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine’s border, and invasion remains distinctly possible.
‘That’s why I’ve asked several times that all Americans in Ukraine leave now before it’s too late to leave safely.’
And he delivered a messaged directly to the people of Russia, saying the world had no quarrel with them.
‘The citizens of Russia, you are not our enemy. I do not believe you want a bloody destructive war against Ukraine, a country of people with whom you share such deep ties of family history and culture.
‘Seventy-seven years ago, our people fought and sacrificed side by side in the worst war in history,’ he said.
‘World War Two was a war of necessity. But if Russia attacks Ukraine it would be a war of choice or a war without cause or reason.’
The speech came after Biden spoke to his French counterpart for 49 minutes on Tuesday morning, and his secretary of state called the Russian foreign minister.
Russia announced some of its troops were returning to base after exercises near Ukraine and mocked Western warnings about an imminent invasion of Ukraine.
It could suggest Moscow is looking for a way out of a crisis that has taken Europe to the brink of war, but NATO said it had yet to see evidence of the sort of de-escalation that could avert conflict.