“As of this moment, I am convinced that he made the decision,” Biden said during remarks at the White House.
The US president also said that Russian forces believe that Russian forces intend to attack Ukraine “in the next week” or sooner, and that an attack would target the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that Russia was “moving in the right locations to launch an attack,” echoing Biden’s assertion that Putin made his decision on the invasion.
They are disintegrating and are now ready to strike,” Austin said, speaking from Vilnius, Lithuania. Austin said the United States would continue to seek a diplomatic solution “until the last minute, until that is no longer possible.”
Several officials said Biden plans to spend the weekend observing the ongoing Ukraine crisis from the White House where he meets with his national security team and stays in close contact with world leaders. Biden had considered traveling to Delaware, as he usually does, but decided to stay in Washington.
In recent days, the Biden administration has publicly revealed many intelligence details about Russian moves — a notable shift in how US national security officials operate. Biden said Friday inside the Roosevelt Room that the administration’s decision to discuss their moves “loudly and repeatedly,” was “to remove any reason Russia might give to justify an invasion of Ukraine and prevent them from moving.”
“Make no mistake. If Russia follows through with its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic, needless war of choice,” he added.
The president’s assertion on Friday that he was “convinced” that Putin “made the decision” to invade Ukraine is an important change in position. Biden has previously stated that he does not believe the Russian leader has made up his mind, but acknowledged that his view of Putin’s thinking was limited. He indicated that he hoped diplomacy would calm the situation, saying on Friday that “diplomacy is a permanent possibility.”
Asked why he thought Putin was considering diplomacy at all, Biden only said, “We have a great intelligence capability.”
Biden said Friday that Russian misinformation was piling up as a false justification for Putin to invade Ukraine, accusing Russia of violating a ceasefire in the “rapidly escalating crisis.”
“Over the past few days, we have seen reports of a significant escalation in ceasefire violations by Russian-backed fighters trying to provoke Ukraine in the Donbass,” Biden said, referring to multiple examples of misinformation he said was spread by Russian state media, Including a “false” claim of genocide in the Donbass region.
Biden initially did not plan to announce during his Friday speech that he believed Putin had made up his mind, and that revelation was not included in his prepared remarks. His opinion was not known until then when a reporter questioned him, at first he answered only in the affirmative and refused to expand.
He also made clear that there is a diplomatic path to resolving the crisis, even as US officials believe it is narrowing as signs of an imminent invasion grow.
Administration officials and people familiar with the matter said the determination that Putin decided to invade Ukraine was based in part on the latest intelligence assessments showing that nearly half of the Russian forces massed on the border had moved to the site of the attack.
Defense officials said Friday that the number of tactical battalion groups has swelled to approximately 120-125, and that Russian forces continue to move toward the border.
An administration official said Biden’s view of Putin’s decision-making reflects those developments and the intelligence community’s broader assessments. The president cited a “great intelligence capability” in his view of Putin’s thinking, which he previously said is a bit of a mystery.
Responding to Biden’s comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram: “The most terrible thing is that there is not a word about the true situation of the civilian population in Donbass. No people, no problems?”
But the Russians’ claims simply don’t make sense, Biden argued earlier Friday, saying, “It defies basic logic to believe that the Ukrainians would choose this moment – with more than 150,000 soldiers arranged on its border – to escalate the year-long conflict.”
Zakharova’s statements were quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, that “the US president repeated the baseless thesis about Russia’s alleged attempts” to attack “Ukraine, threatening Moscow with imposing sanctions in the event of an escalation. And the escalation plans attributed to it.”
White House officials have warned that Russia could face widespread sanctions if it invades Ukraine, calling it “the most severe action we have ever considered against Russia.”
Despite the US assessment of an imminent invasion of Ukraine, Biden said it was up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to decide whether to attend this weekend’s security conference in Germany. Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to meet with Zelensky during the conference on Saturday.
Earlier on Friday, the White House blamed Russia for a massive cyber attack on Ukraine earlier in the week.
“We believe the Russian government is responsible for large-scale cyberattacks on Ukrainian banks this week. We have technical information linking the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, to which known GRU infrastructure has been seen transmitting large amounts of communications to IP addresses located in Ukraine,” said Anne. Neuberger, Deputy National Security Adviser for Internet and Emerging Technology.
Attribution of the attack was unusually quick for the US government, and Neuberger noted that Russia had previously benefited from US delays in attributing Russian hacking operations.
“Russia loves to move in the shadows and is counting on a long process of attribution so it can continue its harmful behavior against Ukraine in cyberspace, including preparing in advance for its possible invasion,” Neuberger told reporters in the White House briefing room.
Biden’s speech on Friday comes amid rising tensions in the region.
Nearly half of the Russian forces surrounding Ukraine are in an offensive position, according to a defense official familiar with the latest assessment. Tactical battalions swelled to approximately 120 to 125.
The official said that the Russian military has continued to move its forces towards the border, and in the past 48 hours, the number of troops at the attack site has reached 40% to 50%.
The US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Michael Carpenter, warned earlier on Friday that the US had assessed a major Russian military build-up near Ukraine in just the past two weeks.
“It is possible that Russia has mobilized between 169 thousand and 190 thousand personnel in and near Ukraine compared to about 100,000 personnel on January 30,” he said in a statement at the meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This includes Russian forces located on Ukraine’s borders as well as Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine, which were not included in previous US assessments of Russia’s strength in the region.
Shortly before his remarks, Biden spoke with allies in North America and Europe. He will telephone the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO to discuss the ongoing crisis.
During the call, the leaders expressed “deep concern” about the situation, renewed their support for Ukraine and discussed further economic assistance to the country, according to the White House statement.
“They pledged to continue diplomacy to de-escalate tensions while ensuring a readiness to impose rapid and coordinated economic costs on Russia should it opt for further conflict. The leaders also discussed efforts to ensure the defense and security of NATO’s eastern flank,” the statement said. .
On Friday, the president also called a meeting the vice president was having with members of Congress, who are all attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany, and, according to a person in the room, reiterated the work the United States and its allies are doing. To try to prevent the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He also briefed the members on the situation on the borders of Ukraine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized a Russian response to Biden’s comments.
CNN’s Oren Lieberman, Caitlan Collins, Kate Sullivan, Daria Tarasova and Johnny Hallam contributed to this report.
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