On February 27, Russia’s Sputnik Satellite News Agency ran a news item in its Chinese section with the following headline: “Biden: World War 3 could be an alternative to sanctions against Russia because of Ukraine.”
The report cites an interview between U.S. President Joe Biden and actor, political talkshow host Brian Taylor Cohen on February 26.
Sputnik quotes Biden as saying:
"You have two options: start World War 3 and go to war with Russia, or make sure that the country that grossly violates international law will pay for it all."
Chinese social media been picked up the report.
The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times shared the Sputnik report on the Chinese social website Weibo. Global Times also started a hashtag – "#Biden said sanctions against Russia or start World War III" – which has been viewed 4.7 million times as of March 1.
However, the Sputnik article provides no context to Biden’s quote, and the conclusion reached in the headline is false. Why? Biden was not speaking of a future possibility of war with Russia. Rather, he was defending the United States decision to impose sanctions as an alternative to military action.
During the interview, Cohen insinuated that sanctions had not deterred previous Russian aggression.
“In terms of these sanctions, you know, we’ve seen sanctions get imposed on Putin after Georgia in 2008, after Crimea in 2014 — election hacking in 2016…”
At that moment, Biden cut Cohen off by saying “nothing like this though.”
“Look. You have two options: start World War 3 and go to war with Russia, physically, or two, make sure that a country that acts so contrary to international law ends up paying a price for having done it. And there’s no sanction that’s immediate … I know these sanctions are the broadest in history.”
Biden later adds that “we’re providing defensive weaponry and economic assistance to Ukraine.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Biden said that a sanctions regime would target Russia and its leaders.
The United States has hit Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other top Russian officials with asset freezes for their invasion of Ukraine.
Other sanctions have targeted Russia’s Russian financial, energy and defense sectors.
They include cutting off select Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system, which will disconnect them “from the international financial system and harm their ability to operate globally,” the White House said.
Russia’s central bank is also being targeted with measures intended to prevent Russia from circumventing the sanctions.
China has critiqued the U.S. sanctions as unhelpful and illegal.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the sanctions against Russia’s leadership show the West's "absolute impotence.”
Biden further said that the United States would work to protect “the frontlines” of the 30-member strong NATO alliance.
But Biden wrote off military confrontation with Russia from the start.
"Our forces are not and will not be engaged in a conflict with Russia in Ukraine," he said. "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies and reassure those allies in East. As I made crystal clear, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with a full force of American power."
Meantime, Sputnik reiterates several Russian Ministry Defense talking points. They include the false claims that “Russia armed forces had not launched any missile, aviation or artillery strikes” on Ukrainian cities, and that “there is no threat to civilians.”
On March 1, the United Nations human rights office said 136 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 400 injured since Russia launched its invasion.
Russia has continued to pound Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, with BM-21 “Grad” 122-millimeter rockets.
Moscow has also reportedly used cluster munitions in residential areas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds more.