President Joe Biden has made an impassioned appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from war with Ukraine, speaking starkly of the “needless death and destruction” Moscow could cause and international outrage Putin would face.

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States estimates that 150,000 Russian troops now encircle Ukraine, adding that while reports that some forces had withdrawn were welcome, they were unverified and an invasion remained very much a possibility.

Biden said diplomacy remained a welcome off-ramp. If Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States and its allies were prepared to respond with penalties aimed at exacting economic pain and global isolation, he said.

Much of Biden’s remarks were aimed squarely at Putin, who has demanded 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,” Biden said.

The American president also appealed directly to Russian citizens: “You are not our enemy, and I don’t believe you want a bloody, destructive war against Ukraine,” Biden said.

The human and strategic costs would be “immense” for Russia if it attacked, he said. “The world would not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction,” Biden said.

The president said the United States was “not seeking direct confrontation with Russia” but if Russia were to attack Americans in Ukraine, “we will respond forcefully”.

Biden said the United States and its NATO allies were prepared for whatever happened and Russia would pay a steep economic price if Moscow launched an invasion.

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

Biden issued a warning for Russia not to engage in cyberattacks against the United States or its allies, saying “we’re prepared to respond”.

Reports that Russia had withdrawn some military units “would be good but we have not yet verified that”, he said.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


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