Joe Biden said he was convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, issuing his harshest warning yet amid growing signs that Moscow was making excuses for military action.

Speaking at the White House after a conference call with transatlantic leaders on what the U.S. president called a “rapidly escalating crisis”, he accused Moscow of creating a excuse for attack Its neighbors could start “in the next week, in the next few days,” he said.

When asked by reporters if he believed Putin had decided to attack, Biden replied: “As of now, I’m sure he has. We have reason to believe that.” Determined.

“We believe they will target Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, a city of 2.8 million innocent people,” Biden added.

Even so, he said it was not too late for Putin “to de-escalate the situation and return to the negotiating table.”

Biden cited U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov scheduled to meet in Europe on Feb. 24 as a possible opportunity for further talks, but warned that if Moscow takes military action before then, “close the door” open the door to diplomacy.”

He added that if Putin chooses war, he will “pay a high price for it, not only from the sanctions we and our allies will impose on Russia, but also from the moral anger that the rest of the world will inflict on them”.

After Biden’s remarks, a White House official said his statement about Putin’s decision reflected “the intelligence community’s assessment.”

Biden’s remarks came a day after Western fears of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine rose sharply as tensions escalated in the eastern part of the country partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

The president pointed to an increase in ceasefire violations by Russian-backed fighters, the shelling of a kindergarten in the area, Moscow’s attempt to blame the Ukrainian army for its fault, and “increasing reports” about the conflict being “pushed” toward Russia. a lot of false information.” Public, including “false accusations” of genocide in Ukraine.

“All of this is consistent with the playbook the Russians have used to create false justifications for action against Ukraine,” Biden said. “It’s also consistent with the pretense scenario that the United States and its allies and partners have been warning about for weeks.”

He mocked Russia’s claim that Ukraine was preparing for a “massive offensive” in the Donbas region, adding: “It defies basic logic to believe that the Ukrainians will choose this moment – with over 150,000 soldiers on their borders – to escalate. . [the] conflict. ”

Minutes before Biden started speaking, Russian news agencies reported multiple explosions in the separatist-held second-largest city of Luhansk and released footage of what they said was a large pipeline on fire.

Earlier in the day, Moscow-backed separatists ordered the evacuation of civilians to Russia, claiming that Ukrainian forces were preparing to attack the area. Biden did not mention either, but praised Ukrainian troops for showing “restraint” and not allowing Russia to “coax” them into war.

The president’s speech came as several of his top officials, including Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris, were in Europe for the Munich Security Conference. Ukraine crisis It is the biggest threat to the security of the African continent since the end of the Cold War.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also expected to attend the meeting on Saturday and called on the West to unite against looming Russian aggression.

“Allies need to emphasize to President Putin with a voice that he will pay a high price for further Russian aggression in Ukraine,” Johnson said before the meeting.

Biden similarly sought to reinforce that message. “There are many issues that divide our country and our world. But resisting Russian aggression is not one of them. The American people are united, and Europe is united.”

At a White House briefing early Friday afternoon, Biden’s senior cybersecurity adviser, Anne Newberg, accused Russia of attacking some Ukrainian banks and government departments this week.

Biden’s deputy national security adviser Dalip Singh has warned Moscow that European countries and the United States have agreed to impose massive economic sanctions on Russia if the Russian aggression continues. However, removing the country’s banks from the Swift international payments system was not an “initial” measure, he added.

“Russia will face the prospect of massive capital outflows putting increasing pressure on its currency, soaring inflation, rising borrowing costs, economic contraction and erosion of productive capacity,” Singh said.

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