CNN soon after the Q&A session focused on Biden's distinguishing between an "incursion" vs. major invasion:
But he suggested a "minor incursion" would elicit a lesser response than a full-scale invasion of the country.
"I'm not so sure he is certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something," Biden said, describing a leader searching for relevance in a post-Soviet world. "He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the west."
We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. 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 🇺🇦— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 20, 2022
Ukraine's President Zelensky responded Thursday by emphasizing "there are no minor incursions" - after Biden layed out that America's response would be determined based on the scope of any Russian offensive, with the US president strongly suggesting he would likely stop at imposing sanctions. Hawks took this as tantamount to Biden giving Putin a 'green light' to act as Russia pleases in restive Donbass. Many want Biden to instead threaten a full American military response.
All this has prompted Biden to do some walking back of the original statements. On Thursday he sought to clarify at the start of a press event that was supposed to focus on infrastructure. "I've been absolutely clear with President Putin. He has no misunderstanding. If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion," Biden said.
"Let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price," Biden continued. He noted this could also come in the form of a Russian cyber-attack or other form of irregular warfare. The day prior Biden stated provocatively that Putin "has never seen sanctions like the ones I have promised will be imposed if Russia further advances into Ukraine."
Re: Biden in press conference suggesting a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine would be met with a lesser response, CNN's Matthew Chance (who's in Kyiv) just reported that Ukrainian officials "watched those remarks with horror"— Steve Lookner (@lookner) January 19, 2022
He concluded the Ukraine portion of his Thursday remarks by saying, "The Ukrainian foreign minister said this morning that he's confident of our support and resolve and he has a right to be."
Importantly, on Friday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to meet with his Russian counterpart FM Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, where they will attempt to reach some level of understanding on a path forward on dialogue focusing on deescalating the situation.