Biden, Putin Commit to Diplomacy; Russia Claims to Start Withdrawal as Cyberattacks Hit Ukraine
President says invasion is still possible, warns Moscow ‘we are prepared to respond’ to cyber attacks on Americans or allies.
President Joe Biden committed to solving the crisis in Ukraine diplomatically, hours after Russian leader Vladimir Putin signaled that Moscow is ready to come to the negotiating table and withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border.
“We should give diplomacy every chance to succeed and I believe there are real ways to address our respective security concerns,” Biden said in an afternoon address to the nation from the White House. “As long as there is hope of a diplomatic resolution that prevents the use of force and avoids incredible human suffering that would follow, we will pursue it.”
Moscow’s public commitment to continue talks marks a rapid shift from the previous day, when American officials said Russia was continuing to send troops to the Ukrainian border and an invasion could launch “with little to no warning.” Biden, however, said Russia still has more than 150,000 troops surrounding Ukraine and that a Russian attack “is still very much a possibility.”
If Russia does move forward with an attack, the president reiterated his commitment to arm and assist Ukrainian forces, rally allies to condemn Moscow’s actions, and defend NATO members—but not send American troops to Ukraine. Shortly before Biden spoke, Ukrainian officials reported significant cyber attacks hitting their government networks.
"If Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully. If Russia attacks the United States or allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyber attacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we are prepared to respond," Biden warned.
“Let there be no doubt: if Russia commits this breach by invading Ukraine, responsible nations around the world will not hesitate to respond,” Biden said.
Putin said he is prepared to meet with NATO and the United States to discuss shared priorities, such as limiting where intermediate-range missiles can be deployed in Europe and increasing transparency about exercises in Europe, the Associated Press reported. The Russian leader’s remarks follow a statement from the Russian Ministry of Defense that troops are leaving the Ukrainian border following the completion of a military exercise.
“The units of the Southern and Western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and will begin moving to their military garrisons today,” Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian defense ministry, said in the statement. Biden said he could not confirm those reports.
Russian officials insist they never intended to attack Ukraine and that the conflict only arose after being stoked by the United States.
“February 15, 2022 will go down in history as the day of failure of Western propaganda war. Embarrassed and destroyed without firing a shot,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, wrote on Facebook.
Hours earlier at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance has not seen evidence yet that Russia is withdrawing forces, but that Russia’s willingness to continue diplomacy is a positive step forward.
“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for cautious optimism, but so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference Tuesday.
Ukrainian officials were more skeptical.
“We in Ukraine have a rule: we don’t believe what we hear, we believe what we see,” Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba tweeted. “If a real withdrawal follows these statements, we will believe in the beginning of a real de-escalation.”