With a Russian invasion of Ukraine considered imminent, President Joe Biden told President Vladimir Putin on Saturday that the U.S. and its allies will “impose swift and severe costs on Russia” if Moscow moves forward with war.
According to the White House, Biden told his Russian counterpart 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 two leaders spoke by phone for around an hour. The direct conversation, which is their first since December, comes as the U.S. and its allies become increasingly convinced the Kremlin is readying to invade Ukraine, the independent former Soviet Bloc nation.
Earlier on Saturday, the Pentagon moved to pull 160 U.S. military trainers out of Ukraine. The contingent of U.S. soldiers had been in Ukraine since November to advise and support Ukrainian military forces as tensions continued to mount with Russia.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Saturday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the “temporary repositioning” of those training personnel “out of an abundance of caution.” They are to remain in Europe, Kirby said.
That news came just after the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, announced that most of its staff would depart the country, leaving behind a “core embassy team.” Washington has continued to urge Americans in Ukraine to leave, warning that it could be highly difficult to get them out should Russia invade.
“It appears increasingly likely this situation is heading toward active conflict,” a senior State Department official told reporters on a Saturday call, according to Military.com. “There are limits of what we can do in a war zone.”
U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, are spending the weekend engaged in direct talks with Moscow in hopes of diffusing tensions. Biden is slated to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin later today; it would be their first one-on-one conversation since December.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, already spoke by phone on Saturday. In a readout released after the call, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken “made clear that a diplomatic path to resolving the crisis remained open, but it would require Moscow to de-escalate and engage in good-faith discussions.”
If Moscow moves forward with an invasion, Blinken told Lavrov that “it would result in a resolute, massive, and united Transatlantic response.”
In their own readout, the Kremlin accused the U.S. of fomenting anti-Russia “propaganda.”
The imminent prospect of a Russian invasion has loomed for months, but it has only been in the last day that U.S. intelligence has reportedly concluded that Putin has decided to make his move in the coming days. The Kremlin has continued to send troops to Ukraine’s borders—at least 100,000 are there now—and is conducting naval exercises off the Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has publicly pushed back on reports of U.S. confidence in an invasion and urged calm. On Saturday, as Ukrainians marched in Kyiv to protest the Kremlin, Zelenskyy said that the nation’s “biggest enemy is panic.”