President Joe Biden accused a reporter of “playing a game” with him Thursday when she questioned the efficacy of sanctions in deterring Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Biden was preparing to end his news briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels when he agreed to take one more question.
Christina Ruffini from CBS News asked, “Sir, deterrence didn’t work. What makes you think Vladimir Putin will alter course based on the action you’ve taken today?”
In remarks at the beginning of the news conference, Biden had mentioned sanctions — along with military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and NATO allies sending more troops and equipment to the “eastern flank” of the alliance — as steps taken thus far.
He responded to Ruffini’s question, “Let’s get something straight: You remember, if you’ve covered me from the beginning, I did not say that in fact the sanctions would deter him. Sanctions never deter.”
Addressing the entire room of reporters, the president said, “You keep talking about that.”
“Sanctions never deter,” Biden continued. “The maintenance of sanctions — the maintenance of sanctions, the increasing the pain, and the demonstration — why I asked for this NATO meeting today — is to be sure that after a month, we will sustain what we’re doing, not just next month, the following month, but for the remainder of this entire year. That’s what will stop him.”
Ruffini followed up: “Do you believe the actions today will have an impact on making Russia change course in Ukraine?”
“That’s not what I said,” the president answered, more agitated. “You’re playing a game with me. I know — the answer is no.”
Biden argued that unity with Europe over time is what’s needed to force Russia to change course.
“But, look, if you’re Putin and you think that Europe is going to crack in a month or six weeks or two months, why not — they can take anything for another month,” he said.
“But we have to demonstrate — the reason I asked for the meeting — we have to stay fully, totally, thoroughly united.”
“The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence,” she said.
Biden today: “I did not say that, in fact, the sanctions would deter [Putin]. Sanctions never deter. You keep talking about that. Sanctions never deter.”
Kamala Harris in February: “The purpose of the sanctions has always been and continues to be deterrence.” pic.twitter.com/F0fccsFYnJ
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) March 24, 2022
A reporter asked her, “But if Putin has made up his mind, do you feel that this threat that has been looming is really going to deter him?”
“Absolut- — we strongly believe — and remember also that the sanctions are a product not only of our perspective as the United States but a shared perspective among our allies,” Harris replied.
Biden’s exchange with Ruffini was somewhat reminiscent of one he had with CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins last summer in Geneva after he met with Putin.
“Why are you so confident [Putin] will change his behavior, Mr. President?” Collins asked Biden as he was leaving a news conference on June 16.
Biden, clearly angry, turned toward Collins and said, “I’m not confident he’ll change his behavior — what the hell? What do you do all the time? When did I say I was confident? I said, I said, what I said was — let’s get it straight — I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I’m not confident of anything. I’m just stating the facts.”
Collins continued, “But given his past behavior has not changed, and in that press conference after sitting down with you for several hours, he denied any involvement in cyberattacks, he downplayed human rights abuses, he even refused to say [opposition leader] Alexei Navalny’s name. So how does that account to a constructive meeting, as President Putin put it?”
Biden did not respond directly, but said, “If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.”
He apologized later in the day before boarding Air Force One to fly back to the United States, saying he shouldn’t have given the “wise guy” response he did.