President Biden said his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, “didn’t want to hear it” when U.S. intelligence officials raised warnings of a looming Russian attack before the Feb. 24 invasion.
“I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating,” Biden said Friday at a fundraising event, according to the Associated Press and other media outlets.
“But I knew we had data” to show that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “going to go in,” Biden said. “There was no doubt, and Zelensky didn’t want to hear it, nor did a lot of people. I understand why they didn’t want to hear it, but he went in.”
Ukrainian officials, however, rejected Biden’s account.
Zelensky’s spokesman Sergei Nikiforov told Ukrainian news website LIGA.net that Zelensky had three or four telephone conversations with the U.S. president in the period ahead of the invasion, in which the two leaders discussed the situation. He added that Ukraine had called for preventative sanctions to de-escalate the situation.
“Therefore, the phrase ‘did not want to hear’ probably needs clarification,” Nikiforov said.
Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolia said separately that Ukraine knew Russia was planning an invasion, but questions had remained over the scale of any attack. He added that blaming Ukraine was “absurd.”
As top U.S. and European officials raised the alarm in January that Putin could send troops and tanks across the border, the Ukrainian leader had appealed for calm and implored his citizens not to give in to panic.