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Biden 'convinced' Russia will invade Ukraine, but still hopes diplomacy will prevail

President Biden delivers an update Friday on the situation at the Russia-Ukraine border.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden delivers an update Friday on the situation at the Russia-Ukraine border.

Updated February 18, 2022 at 5:41 PM ET

In his clearest language yet, President Biden says he's convinced Russia has decided to invade Ukraine.

But he called on the Kremlin to return to the negotiating table to find a peaceful resolution to the "rapidly escalating crisis" on the Russia-Ukraine border.

At the White House on Friday, Biden gave an update on the situation. After his remarks, he was asked if he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a decision to invade. Biden said: "As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision [to invade]."

Earlier he had said: "We believe that they will target Ukraine's capital, Kyiv."

"We are doing everything in our power to remove the reason Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine," Biden said. "Make no mistake, if Russia pursues this plan, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice."

"Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table," Biden said. "If Russia takes military action, we'll be clear that they have slammed the door on diplomacy. They will have chosen a war. And they will pay a steep price for doing so."

He said Russia was working from a familiar playbook that includes disinformation directed toward its citizens, likely to set up a false justification to attack Ukraine.

Denial-of-service attacks

Biden's remarks came shortly after a call with trans-Atlantic allies and after the White House announced that it believed the Russian government to be responsible for recent denial-of-service attacks on the Ukrainian defense ministry and state-owned banks.

Anne Neuberger, the head of cyber-issues at the White House National Security Council, said the Biden administration has been concerned that Russia is "pre-positioning" for a cyberattack on Ukraine, alongside its military preparations on the Russia-Ukraine border, and has seen "troubling signs," including the denial-of-service attacks.

She told reporters that the attacks had limited impact but were consistent with laying the groundwork for further cyberattacks. She said it was unusual to attribute responsibility for the attacks so quickly but said the administration felt it was important to "call out" the activity.

Donetsk claim

The revelation about the denial-of-service attacks comes as the U.S. has accused Russia of engaging in a campaign of lies, leading up to what it says is an increasingly likely invasion of Russia's neighbor to the west.

A Russian-backed separatist leader in eastern Ukraine announced an evacuation of the city of Donetsk to Russia, alleging the Ukrainian military was preparing to invade the area. That, the U.S. government says, was a lie and part of a coordinated disinformation campaign by Putin.

Russia had also said it was paring back the number of troops it had on its border with Ukraine. That was another falsehood, the U.S. said. Russia had, in fact, increased the number of troops by as many as 7,000.

No initial SWIFT sanctions

If a Russian invasion of Ukraine does happen, the White House is threatening Russia with what it says will be the most severe economic sanctions on record, but that package is unlikely to include measures to remove Russia from the international banking transactions system known as SWIFT.

"It's probably not going to be the case that you'll see SWIFT in the initial rollout package," said Daleep Singh, who works on national security and economic issues at the National Security Council and National Economic Council.

Singh said initial sanctions would include "severe measures" that would not have the "spillover effects" of the SWIFT proposal and would be done "in lockstep" with allies and partners.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.
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