WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has told Russia’s Vladimir Putin that invading Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the crisis but “equally prepared to do so.” ‘other scenarios,’ the White House said on Saturday. He offered no suggestion that the one-hour call lessened the threat of impending war in Europe.
Biden also said the United States and its allies would respond “decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if the Kremlin attacked its neighbor, according to the White House.
The two presidents spoke a day after Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that US intelligence shows a Russian invasion could begin within days and before the Olympics are over. Beijing winter on February 20.
Russia denies plans to invade, but has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and sent troops to drills in neighboring Belarus, encircling Ukraine on three sides. US officials say Russia’s firepower buildup has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.
The conversation came at a critical time in what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. US officials believe they have only days to prevent an invasion and massive bloodshed in Ukraine. And while the United States and its NATO allies have no intention of sending troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, an invasion and the resulting punitive sanctions could reverberate far beyond the former Soviet republic, affecting energy supplies, world markets and the balance of power in Europe.
“President Biden has been clear with President Putin that while the United States remains ready to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our allies and partners, we are also prepared for other scenarios,” says the White House statement.
The call was ‘professional and substantive’ but produced ‘no fundamental change in the dynamic that has now been unfolding for several weeks,’ according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters following the call. on condition of anonymity.
The official added that it is still unclear if Putin has made the final decision to go ahead with military action.
Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s top foreign policy aide, said that while tensions had been escalating for months, in recent days “the situation has simply been taken to absurdity”.
He said Biden had mentioned possible sanctions that could be imposed on Russia, but “that issue was not the focus of a long enough conversation with the Russian leader.”
Before speaking to Biden, Putin had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the crisis. A summary of the Kremlin appeal suggested little progress had been made in calming tensions.
Putin complained in the call that the US and NATO failed to respond satisfactorily to Russian demands to ban Ukraine from joining the military alliance and for NATO to withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe.
In a sign that US officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States has announced its intention to evacuate most of its embassy staff in the Ukrainian capital. Britain has joined other European nations in urging its citizens to leave Ukraine.
Canada has closed its embassy in Kiev and moved its diplomatic staff to a temporary office in Lviv, located in the west of the country, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Saturday. Lviv is home to a Ukrainian military base that served as the hub for Canada’s 200-soldier training mission in the former Soviet country.
The timing of possible Russian military action remained a key question.
The United States has collected intelligence that Russia is considering on Wednesday as a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and only did so on condition of anonymity, did not say how definitive the information was.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart on Saturday that “further Russian aggression would be met with a resolute, massive and united transatlantic response.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to project calm as he observed military drills on Saturday near Crimea, the peninsula Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
“We are not afraid, we are without panic, everything is under control,” he said.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Lt. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhny and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov issued a more provocative joint statement.
“We are ready to meet the enemy, and not with flowers, but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAWs” – anti-tank and air weapons, they said. “Welcome to Hell!”
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, also held telephone talks on Saturday.
New US-Russian tensions surfaced on Saturday when the Defense Ministry summoned the US Embassy’s military attache after he said the Navy had detected a US submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. . The submarine refused the order to leave, but left after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means”, the ministry said.
Adding to the sense of crisis, the Pentagon ordered the dispatch of 3,000 additional American troops to Poland to reassure the allies.
The United States has urged all American citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, and Sullivan said those who remain should not expect the United States military to rescue them in case air and rail transportation fails. interrupted after a Russian invasion.
The Biden administration has been warning for weeks that Russia could soon invade Ukraine, but US officials have previously said the Kremlin will likely wait until after the Winter Games so as not to antagonize China.
Sullivan told reporters on Friday that US intelligence showed Russia could be invaded during the Olympics. He said military action could begin with missile and air attacks, followed by a ground offensive.
“Russia has all the forces it needs to take major military action,” Sullivan said, adding that “Russia may choose, at very short notice, to begin major military action against Ukraine.” He said the scale of such an invasion could range from a limited incursion to a strike on Kyiv, the capital.
Russia has mocked the American discourse on urgency.
“The White House hysteria is more telling than ever,” said Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. “The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At all costs. Provocations, misinformation and threats are a preferred method of solving their own problems.
Zakharova said her country had “optimized” its own embassy staff in Kyiv in response to concerns about possible military actions by the Ukrainian side.
In addition to the more than 100,000 ground troops that US officials say Russia has mustered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support a war. This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land marines on the coast.
Biden has bolstered the US military presence in Europe to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered in Poland come on top of the 1,700 who are on the way. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, shares a border with Ukraine.
Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
Heintz reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Colleen Long in Washington; Mark Lewis in Stavanger, Norway; and Robert Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.