A phone call between the two leaders comes as U.S. officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent.
This image provided by The White House via Twitter shows President Joe Biden at Camp David, Md., on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022. Biden on Saturday again called on President Vladimir Putin to pull back more than 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s borders and warned that the U.S. and its allies would “respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if Russia invades, according to the White House.(The White House via AP)
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke over the phone Saturday, but it’s so far unclear if any progress was made amid increasingly dangerous tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border.
The call – which lasted a little over an hour, according to pool reports – was the first time the two leaders had spoken directly since December. Biden told the Russian leader that if his country invades Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies and partners “will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia,” according to a White House readout of the call. The move by the president is part of an increased urgency toward de-escalation by the administration, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with their Russian counterparts on Saturday.
“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing,” the White House readout notes. “President Biden was clear with President Putin that while the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners, we are equally prepared for other scenarios.”
The conversation, which produced “no fundamental change,” according to Defense One, comes a day after White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan announced that a military action by Russia against Ukraine could occur during the Beijing Winter Olympics, which runs for about another week. He noted that new Russian forces have also arrived on the border. The Associated Press has since reported that U.S. intelligence indicates Russia is targeting Wednesday as a possible date for an invasion of the former Soviet state.
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The national security adviser on Friday denied a report from PBS NewsHour that Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and communicated the decision to his military. He instead said the latest U.S. intelligence shared with allies and partners “does not include a statement that Vladimir Putin has definitively given an order to proceed with the invasion.”
U.S. officials had already begun urging Americans in Ukraine to leave the country but took additional steps late Friday. A senior State Department official told reporters that most of the remaining U.S. embassy staff still in Ukraine were directed to “depart the country immediately.” The department also updated its travel advisory urging people not to travel to Ukraine “due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19.”
Sullivan had said earlier on Friday that any American in Ukraine “should leave as soon as possible and, in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours” because “the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough.”