Biden to Putin: Ukraine invasion means 'needless death and destruction'

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WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Joe Biden made an impassioned appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from war with Ukraine on Tuesday (Feb 15), speaking starkly of the "needless death and destruction" Moscow could cause and international outrage Putin would face.

In a nationally televised speech, Mr Biden said the United States estimates that 150,000 Russian troops now encircle Ukraine, adding that while reports that some forces had withdrawn were welcome, they were unverified and an invasion remained very much a possibility.

Mr Biden said diplomacy remains a welcome off-ramp.

If Russia invades Ukraine, the US and its allies are prepared to respond with penalties aimed at exacting economic pain and global isolation, he said.

Much of Biden's remarks were aimed squarely at Mr Putin, who has demanded that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) not accept Ukraine as a member and stop any further eastward expansion.

"The United States and Nato are not a threat to Russia. Ukraine is not threatening Russia. Neither the US nor Nato have missiles in Ukraine. We do not, do not have plans to put them there as well. We are not targeting the people of Russia.

"We do not seek to destabilise Russia," said Mr Biden.

The American president also appealed directly to Russian citizens.

"To the citizens of Russia: You are not our enemy, and I don't believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine," Mr Biden said.

The human and strategic costs would be "immense" for Russia if it attacks, he said.

"The world would not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction," Mr Biden said.

The president said the US is "not seeking direct confrontation with Russia" and that American soldiers were not going to fight in Ukraine.

But, he said if Russia were to attack Americans in Ukraine, "we will respond forcefully".

He warned that a Russian invasion would cause "consequences here at home," he said, including energy costs.

Mr Biden spoke to Mr Putin on Saturday and with Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelenskiy on Sunday, and has warned repeatedly of steep costs for Moscow, including sanctions against Russian businesses and oligarchs.

But he has laid out a road map for a peaceful resolution, including talks on missile deployments and military exercises to try to reduce tensions in the region.

The US "has put on the table concrete ideas to establish a security environment in Europe. We're proposing new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures", that apply to Nato and Russia alike, he said on Tuesday.

In his speech, Mr Biden said the US and its Nato allies are prepared for whatever happens and that Russia will pay a steep economic price if Moscow launches an invasion.

"We are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which remains very much a possibility," Mr Biden said, adding that Nato was as united and determined as it "had ever been".

Mr Biden issued a warning for Russia not to engage in cyberattacks.

"If Russia attacks the United States or our allies through asymmetric means like disruptive cyberattacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we're prepared to respond," he said.

Reports that Russia had withdrawn some military units "would be good but we have not yet verified that," he said.

"Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position," he said, citing "more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine's border".

"An invasion remains distinctly possible," Mr Biden said.

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