As American diplomats scurry to flee Ukraine, President Joe Biden said Russia is poised to spread misery throughout the country if it follows up its massive troop buildup with an invasion.
Biden spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an hour on Saturday. Earlier Saturday, the State Department announced that most U.S. diplomatic personnel are being pulled out of Ukraine, which is currently encircled by about 130,000 Russian troops.
The call focused on “Russia’s escalating military buildup on the borders of Ukraine,” according to a White House readout.
“President Biden was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.
“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.
“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 readout said.
A senior administration official termed the call “professional and substantive” but said there was “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks,” CNN reported.
“The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official said. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility.”
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The official said the U.S. remains “committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive.”
“But we’re also clear-eyed about the prospects of that, given the readily apparent steps Russia is taking on the ground in plain sight, right before our eyes. The stakes of this are too high not to give Russia every chance to avoid an action that we believe would be catastrophic. So as always, we continue along two paths.”
The official said Biden made offers to assure Russia of its security, but it “remains unclear whether Russia is interested in pursuing its goals diplomatically.”
As for whether an invasion will actually take place, the official said, “I think the honest answer to that question is we don’t have full visibility into President Putin’s decision making.”
“But you know, we are not basing our assessment of this on what the Russians say publicly,” the official added.
“We are basing his assessment on what we are seeing on the ground … which is a continued Russian buildup on the border with Ukraine, and no meaningful evidence of de-escalation, or really of any interest in de-escalation.”
The official said the U.S. will continue and even increase its support for Ukraine to help it defend itself should Russian aggression escalate.