August 15, 2022

A Russian biological or chemical attack in Ukraine would not necessarily be considered  a “red line” crossed by Vladimir Putin, the White House said Thursday

Press secretary Jen Psaki once again insisted  that President Biden had no “intention” of directly intervening in the two-week-old war — even as bipartisan US lawmakers accused the administration of being too cautious in the face of the Russian president bloody offensive.

“I’m not going to get into hypotheticals,” press secretary Jen Psaki, who tweeted Wednesday that such an attack was possible, told reporters. “What we’re saying right now is they [Russian forces] have the capacity and the capabilities. I’m also not going to get into intelligence. But the President’s intention of sending US military to fight in Ukraine against Russia has not changed.”

The term “red line” generally refers to a threshold that would trigger direct US involvement in a conflict. The phrase was notoriously used — without follow-through — by President Barack Obama in 2013 to warn Moscow-backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad against using chemical weapons that country’s civil war.

Psaki again refused to be drawn on the question when NBC News reporter Peter Alexander asked: “Is there any ‘red line’ for Russia that the US would have some involvement with the military entering into Ukraine?”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki warned of possible plans by Russia to unleash chemical and biological weapons.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

“I’m not going to get into red lines from here, Peter,” Psaki answered before touting the effectiveness of American aid to the beleagued Eastern Euopean nation. 

“Given the potential that you’ve indicated that Russia could use a bio or chemical weapons strike there,” Alexander followed up, “why wouldn’t the US communicate to them something that is not an answer, but instead is pre-emptive, to communicate the consequence if they are to take what would be to take this war to a horrific new level?”

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Get the latest updates in the Russia-Ukraine conflict with The Post’s live coverage.


“The president’s first and most important objective is the national security and interests of the United States and being clear and direct with the American people,” Psaki replied. “He has been clear and direct with the American people: He is not intending to send US troops to fight in Ukraine against Russia to start another war. That would be an escalatory step that would not be in our national security interests.”

Turning to Biden’s decision to decline a Polish offer to hand over 28 MiG-29 fighter jets to help Ukraine fight off the Russian attack, Alexander asked Psaki point-blank why giving Ukraine the jets was “a higher risk than not providing them [when] we’re witnessing civilians die as we speak.”

A map of Russian attacks on Ukraine as of March 10, 2022.
Russia continued it’s attack on Ukraine on March 10, 2022.

The chief White House spokeswoman responded by invoking the specter of World War III. 

“I would say what our assessment is based on is how to prevent a world war here, Peter,” Psaki deadpanned, “which is a significant weight that the intelligence community, the Defense Department and the president of the United States weighs at every moment in time.”

Biden reportedly made the call to scrap the MiG transfer, overriding his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said Sunday Poland had a “green light” to move forward. The mixed messages put Vice President Kamala Harris in an awkward position as she met Thursday with the Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Psaki echoed other administration officials by referring to what she called “an escalation ladder.”

“There’s a difference between an anti-tank weapon, a shoulder-fired missile, and aircraft, and a fighter jet that could cross the border and actually conduct operations on Russian soil,” the press secretary claimed, adding that Biden opted to nix the Polish proposal because the US is “trying to prevent ourselves from taking steps that would be further escalatory.”

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The press secretary also rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s insistence that the jets would help his countrymen fend off Russian troops who are moving to encircle major cities.

“What our military experts… assessed was that adding aircraft to the inventory is not likely to significantly change the effectiveness of the Ukrainian Air Force relative to Russian capability,” Psaki said. “The Ukrainian Air Force has several squadrons of fully mission-capable aircraft and although Russian air capabilities are significant, their effectiveness has been limited due to Ukrainian strategic operational and tactical ground-based air defense systems — surface to air missiles and MANPADS.”

Mig-29
The Biden administration declined Poland’s offer to transfer 28 MiG-29 fighter jets to a US airbase in Germany in order to help Ukraine fight off the Russian attack.
Pacific Coast News / Andy Rouse

It’s unclear why Ukraine has not used its air force to bomb a miles-long Russian convoy north of capital city Kyiv, though some experts speculate that Ukrainian leaders are reserving equipment for a potential counterattack if enemy forces get closer to the capital.

Biden’s decision has caused an uproar from lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill, most notably members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I simply do not understand the logic for not getting the MiGs to the Ukrainians immediately,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said during a committee hearing Thursday. 

“I believe there’s a sentiment that we’re fearful about what Putin might do and what he might consider as an escalation,” Romney added. “It’s time for him to be fearful of what we might do.”

“There is bipartisan support to provide these planes,” noted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). “It is disappointing to see the reluctance on the part of the administration. It’s coming across as indecision and bickering among members of the administration, which is not helpful to the cause.”

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“Time is of the essence,” agreed committee chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who added: “I understand why NATO and the United States are not engaged in a no-fly zone [in Ukraine]. That has potential [for] direct conflict with Russia, but I don’t understand why we are not working to facilitate planes to Ukraine.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the decision marked “a dishonorable day for America.”

“Putin has got to be happy today, knowing he backed us down,” he added.

Biden has ordered a wide range of sanctions against Russia in response to Putin’s invasion, but only adopted the harshest measures after bipartisan criticism.

A Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces member holds an NLAW anti-tank weapon, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022.
A Ukrainian Territorial Defence Forces member holds an NLAW anti-tank weapon, in the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine on March 9, 2022.
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Biden initially announced limited sanctions against state-owned Russian banks and certain Russian businessmen when tanks rolled across Ukraine’s borders on Feb, 24. After criticism, Biden sanctioned Putin’s vast personal wealth and reached an agreement with US allies to partially unplug Russia from the SWIFT international banking system.

As a broad bipartisan alliance in Congress readied legislation to force his hand, Biden on Tuesday announced an import ban on Russia oil, natural gas and coal.

In addition to the bombardment of the maternity ward of a hospital in the eastern city of Mariupol, Russian forces have used thermobaric weapons that burn the lungs of victims, as well as cluster bombs in residential areas of the country’s second-largest city Kharkiv.

Last week, Russian forces seized Europe’s largest nuclear power facility in Zaporizhzhia, southern Ukraine, and officials revealed Wednesday that Russian troops had disconnected the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear site from the local electrical grid.