Mitch McConnell praises the Biden administration's latest moves in Ukraine as 'encouraging' - after the Pentagon says it could put more than 8,500 on alert to deploy to the region

  • Mitch McConnell has frequently criticized Biden for weakness on Ukraine
  • But the Republican leader Tuesday described his latest moves as 'encouraging'
  • A day earlier the Pentagon said it was putting 8,500 troops on alert to deploy 
  • McConnell has demanded that the US moves before Russia invades 
  • 'The administration is moving in the right direction,' he said
  • Biden also said Putin could face sanctions if he moves on Ukraine
  • He delivered the warning as he visited a gift shop in Washington

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Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell offered rare praise for President Joe Biden on Tuesday, saying he was 'encouraged' by signals that his administration was preparing for action before any Russian incursion into Ukraine.

It comes after the Pentagon announced it was putting 8,500 troops on high alert to deploy to the region - a number that it said could rise.  

McConnell has frequently accused Biden of weakness in his foreign policy and demanded a more aggressive response. 

On Tuesday he said he had been in contact with the White House about Ukraine.

'I read that the president was huddled at Camp David Sunday with his team and what I've been hearing since then is encouraging that they're prepared to take steps before an incursion not afterwards,' he said.

With 100,000 Russian troops camped close to Ukraine's northern, eastern and southern borders, McConnell has accused Biden of waiting to act after Moscow invaded. 

'My advice to the White House from very beginning was that whatever steps we are going to take, and I'll outline the steps that I think ought to be taken, need to be taken before an invasion, not afterwards,' he said during a visit to the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center at the Kentucky National Guard’s headquarters.

'Once the Russians have grabbed a piece of Ukraine or tried to overthrow the entire government. It's really too late.'

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has frequently demanded that Biden do more to protect Ukraine. 'I read that the president was huddled at Camp David Sunday with his team and what I've been hearing since then is encouraging that they're prepared to take steps before an incursion not afterwards,' he said on Tuesday

Instead he said he wanted the White House to send ground-to-air missiles to the government in Kiev, and the immediate deployment of NATO troops - 'including some of our own' - to Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states. 

'I've not been near the news this morning, so I'm not sure what additionally may have occurred,' he concluded, 'but it appears to me the administration is moving in the right direction.'

His comments came as Western leaders prepared for any Russian military action with talks on protecting energy supplies to Europe.

Meanwhile, Biden said he would consider imposing direct sanctions on President Vladimir Putin.  

With the drumbeat of war mounting, McConnell's tone struck a contrast with a week ago. Then he blasted Biden's press conference performance, when the president was widely criticized for appearing to suggest that a limited incursion might generate only a modest international response. 

'This was a moment to deliver a powerful warning to the Kremlin that Ukraine’s sovereignty is inviolable. That we would stand with her people. That the costs of escalation would be devastating,' he said.

'It was a moment to reassure our partners in Kiev and our allies along NATO’s Eastern Flank that America had their back.

'It was a moment to call for NATO’s unity, not to expose and appear hamstrung by NATO’s divisions.'

Moscow insists it not planning an assault. But Russia is holding military drills and has moved troops close to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks.  

Whale of problem: It would be 'the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world' if Putin moved in, President Biden said of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine. He spoke at a D.C. gift store

President Biden picked out a necklace and a sweatshirt, then spoke of developments in Europe

Biden told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin 'continues to build forces along Ukraine's border," and an attack 'would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.'

The president was asked about Ukraine during a visit to a Washington gift shop.  

'There would be enormous consequences if he were to go in and invade, as he could,' said Biden, as he stood in front of racks of T-shirts and a tote bag featuring a blue whale. 

'If we were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world.'  

He also threatened to impose personal sanctions on Putin. 

He also provided his most detailed explanation to make preparations for sending U.S. troops to bolster NATO forces if needed, with 8,500 troops already ordered on 'heightened alert.'

'I’d feel obliged to beef up our presence, NATO's presence, on the eastern front,' Biden said, with Russia having amassed more than 100,000 of its own troops on its western border and in Belarus.

'I may be moving some of those troops in the near term just because it takes time,' Biden said.

That remark came after Pentagon spokesman Adm. John Kirby told CNN he would 'not rule out the possibility that we could be putting additional forces on heightened alert in the coming days and weeks' beyond that 8,500 number, while perhaps 'moving troops around Europe that are already there.' 

'I’ve spoken with every one of our NATO allies. We’re all on the same page,' Biden said. 

He said the potential reinforcements were 'not provocative.'

'I don’t think even his people know for certain what he is going to do,' Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to a giftshop

The European Union depends on Russia for around a third of its gas supplies, some of it running through the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline seen here. Western leaders have begun talks to find alternative supplies in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine

He said there was not a lot of concern for the security of allies in western Europe. 'But in Eastern Europe there’s reason for concern. They’re along the Russian border, the Belarus border,' he said.

He also warned of the potential for 'spillover effects.' 

As he has in the past, Biden says he does not know Putin's intensions. 'I don’t think even his people know for certain what he is going to do,' the president said. 

His photo-ready trip out of the White House with a press pool in tow came after a new Harvard CAPS/Harris survey poll put his overall approval at just 39 per cent. 

He made his remarks at HoneyMade, a gift store in Washington, D.C. He picked out a sweatshirt and mentioned a grandson in California, a possible reference to Beau Biden, Jr., Hunter's son.

He also told reporters he picked out a necklace for first lady Jill Biden.

And in the latest indication that he will keep Vice President Kamala Harris on the ticket, Biden picked out a $20 coffee mug with her likeness on it. 'I'll get this one, too,' he said. 

The store is located in Southeast Washington, DC, near the Navy Yard and a Marine barracks. 

The store website says it 'began as a local maker and designer of fashion and accessories for women, babies, and children before finally taking the plunge and opening HoneyMade.' It features a 'rotating cast of items by our favorite artisans, artists, and designers, including the fun and fashionable gifts that we make ourselves in our studio behind the store.'

According to the White House, 'This afternoon, the President is visiting local small business Honey Made, owned by Viboonrattana 'Moo' Honey. Honey Made opened its doors in 2021, which highlights the tremendous growth in new small business applications since the start of the Biden-Harris administration.'

After his shopping trip, Biden visited Jeni's Ice Cream, a favorite store, and bought a cone, which he showed to reporters on the way out.  

His decision to get out of the White House came during a day of high tension in Washington with pressure coming from four sides.  

North Korea launched two cruise missiles tests on Tuesday, for the fifth time this month in a huge ramping up of their efforts that comes as the leaders have their eyes fixed on Europe.

Iran-backed rebels launched a rocket attack on an air base housing 2,000 US soldiers on Monday in the United Arab Emirates, forcing Patriot defense system to swing into action. Two inbound missiles were knocked out of the sky.

And China is testing US resolve over Taiwan and free passage through the South China Straits to the extent that the US has deployed two aircraft carriers to the area to ensure that Beijing does not try to exploit the potential Ukraine invasion.

The USS Carl Vinson and Abraham Lincoln as well as a huge strike group are now on patrol in the South China Sea.   

Meanwhile Ukraine's foreign minister on Tuesday warned world powers not to make any backdoor deals with Putin as Russia inches closer to invading Ukraine and the U.S. weighs troop deployment. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned against world leaders making deals 'behind Ukraine's back' as Russia continues to build-up forces at the border amid rising concerns of an invasion

Russia has already built up a force of more than 100,000 troops at the eastern border of Ukraine and has thousands stationed elsewhere as tensions escalate and concerns rise over a potential Russia invasion of Ukraine

U.S. politicians are pressuring Biden to impose preemptive sanctions on Russia ahead of any potential invasion. Russia's President Vladimir Putin holds a video meeting with students of leading Russian universities in Moscow on Tuesday, January 25, 2022

'If anyone makes a concession on Ukraine behind Ukraine's back, first, we will not accept that,' Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN. 'We will not be in a position of a country that speaks on the phone, hears the instruction of the big power and follows it. No.'

'We paid a lot, including 15,000 lives of our citizens, to secure the right to decide our own future, our own destiny, and we will not allow anyone to impose any concessions on us,' he added.  

Kuleba added that if anyone comes to Kiev demanding further concessions he will kick them out of the country and 'personally arrange' for an escort to the airport. 

Leaders in Ukraine have 'turned the page' on Biden's comment from his press briefing last week suggesting the U.S. would not act if Russia just commits a 'minor incursion' against Ukraine, Kuleba insisted. 

The faux pas, which the White House later walked back on, sparked Republican complaints claiming there is no such thing as a 'minor incursion' when it comes to a potential Russian invasion.

U.S. officials have privately reaffirmed to Ukrainian officials, said Kuleba, that they are committed to 'slashing Russia if any type of incursion, invasion, interference takes place.'

Ukrainian leadership is not happy with the way the Biden administration is responding to the threat of Russia invading – specifically as the State Department evacuated embassy staff and their families from Kiev.  

Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby announced Monday that 8,500 U.S. troops have been put on standby. He declined to give details on what units would make up the troops for possible deployment to Eastern Europe

Volodymyr Zelensky is confident that there is not an 'imminent threat' to Ukraine, according to a source close with the Ukraine president.

The source, speaking with BuzzFeed News on Monday, also took aim at the administration telling American citizens in Ukraine to leave the country and pulling embassy staff.

'The fact that the U.S. was the first one to announce this is extremely disappointing,' the source said.

'Quite frankly these Americans are safer in Kyiv than they are in Los Angeles … or any other crime-ridden city in the U.S.,' the Zelensky source added in taking aim at the spiking crime rates in U.S. cities.

On Sunday, the United States ordered the families of its diplomats in the Ukrainian capital Kiev to leave the country 'due to the continued threat' of a Russian invasion, the State Department said.

The administration also warned American citizens in the country to leave on their own, claiming the U.S. government will not be able to evacuate citizens should Russia invade. 

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