During his first official press conference of the year on Wednesday, President Biden muddled his reply to a question regarding the U.S. response to a Russian-led invasion of Ukraine: "Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does," the president said, per Politico.
"It's one thing if it's a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera," he added. "But if they actually do what they're capable of doing with the force amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia."
Not only did the response frustrate Republican lawmakers, concerned Biden had essentially given Russian President Vladimir Putin the "green light to cross the border," writes Politico (the White House later issued a clarification), Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also taken issue with its implications.
"We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations," Zelensky wrote on Twitter around 9:30 a.m. ET on Thursday. "Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power."
CNN reported Wednesday that Ukrainian officials were "stunned" immediately following Biden's comments. And on Thursday, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told The Wall Street Journal that the president's remarks underestimated Russia.
"Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You're either aggressive or you're not aggressive," Kuleba said. "We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact."
Kuleba added that Ukraine nonetheless has "no doubt" Biden wants to help the country.