Biden’s Remarks About Ukraine Shows That All Words Matter In A Crisis
Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Author of the Award- Winning Book Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey)
Criticism of President Joe Biden’s recent comments about Russia’s anticipated invasion of the Ukraine underscored an important reality for business leaders about responding to any crisis: all words matter.
The BBC reported that President Biden said at his last press conference that Vladimir Putin would pay a “serious and dear price for invading Ukraine, but also indicated that it might depend on how Russia went about it.”
“What you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does,” he said. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc.”
According to the BBC, “His comments prompted questions over how the U.S. might respond to Russian aggression and officials have been rushing to clarify Washington’s position.
Ukraine’s President Responds
Ukraine’s president pushed back on President Joe Biden’s suggestion “that a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia into Ukraine might not merit a strong international response,” USA Today reported.
“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a tweet Thursday morning. “Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones. I say this as the President of a great power.”
Biden had to backtrack, saying that any Russian forces that crossed into Ukraine would constitute an invasion.
“If any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. Let there be no doubt if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” Biden told reporters before a meeting with his infrastructure task force.
“The Ukrainian foreign minister said this morning he’s confident of our support and resolve, and he has a right to be,” the president added.
Reuters reported that, “Biden’s remarks on Wednesday sent his administration and allies quickly into damage control mode, with a stress on unity.
“No matter which path Russia chooses, it will find the United States, Germany, and our allies, united,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at a press conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock during a visit to Berlin to meet ministers from Britain, France and Germany.
“We urgently demand that Russia takes steps towards de-escalation. Any further aggressive behavior or aggression would result in serious consequences,” Baerbock told the news conference.
Advice For Business Leaders
Philadelphia’s Violence Crisis
Immediately apologize for anything you said that causes a crisis to get worse or is criticized by those who are impacted by the crisis.
Last month, Philadelphia’s District Attorney Larry Krasner apologized for comments he made that the city does not have a violence crisis, surrounded by community supporters who accepted his admission of wrongdoing.
According to WHYY-TV, ” Krasner made a new statement during his weekly violence update, this time from the Love Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia — not far from the scene of several carjackings in recent weeks, including one that resulted in the murder of the car owner.”
“My words unintentionally hurt people,” Krasner said. “It was never what I wanted to do … I know that those words were the wrong ones. I chose them. They came out of my mouth … I failed in not acknowledging the pain and suffering that disproportionately affects people of color and poor people, so for that, I am truly sorry.”
The TV station reported that, “…in an exchange with reporters, Krasner acknowledged that the city does have a gun violence crisis, while insisting on pointing out that police statistics show overall violent crime is down in Philadelphia.
“We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness. We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence,” he said.
“The comments drew criticism from some community leaders, as well as former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, as [being] insensitive to the dangers and heartbreak faced especially by many Black and Latino residents as more than 500 people were murdered so far this year. The vast majority of homicide victims have been young Black men.”
Gulf Oil Spill
In 2010, Tony Hayward, who was then the CEO of BP, had to apologize after making remarks about the company’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “I’m sorry. We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused their lives. There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I’d like my life back.”
In a post on Facebook, Hayward said that, “I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that ‘I wanted my life back.’ When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident.
“Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP—many of whom live and work in the Gulf—who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families—to restore their lives, not mine.”
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Order the book at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0827JK83Q/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0
Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Read his recent articles at https://www.forbes.com/sites/edwardsegal/?sh=3c1da3e568c5.