Biden, White House seek to define Ukraine 'invasion' amid confusion

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WASHINGTON, Jan 20 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden sought on Thursday to clarify U.S. policy on a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine after his remarks about how America might respond to a "minor incursion" raised questions about U.S. intervention.

"If any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion," Biden told reporters at the White House. It will be met by a "severe and coordinated" economic response that has been discussed in detail with allies and laid out to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Biden indicated Russia could bear a lower cost for an incursion rather than an invasion and suggested there was some discord among NATO allies, while warning that an invasion would carry harsh penalties for Putin.

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White House officials scrambled to clarify the U.S. position in emailed statements on Wednesday and remarks on Thursday.

"If there is a movement of any military troops across the border, that is an invasion," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Fox News.

At a meeting with his counterpart in Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Moscow would be met with a "swift... severe" united response should its forces cross into Ukraine.

What constitutes an invasion of Ukraine was previously a matter of debate between U.S. and German diplomats as they discussed when the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe might be disabled.

Ukraine officials said they saw no deviation in policy from Biden's remarks, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted "there are no minor incursions and small nations."

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and others said Russian actions would spark a reaction, no matter the size.

"We will interpret any violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia and Vladimir Putin as an aggressive action and it will be met with costs, severe and certain," Harris said on NBC.

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Reporting by Steve Holland, Tim Ahmann and Heather Timmons; Editing by Howard Goller

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