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Biden Warns Putin Again of ‘Severe Costs’ as They Discuss Ukraine Crisis

Military aid, delivered as part of the United States' security assistance to Ukraine, is unloaded from a plane at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine Feb. 13, 2022.

U.S. President Joe Biden again warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call Saturday of “swift and severe” consequences if Russia invades Ukraine, according to a statement from the White House.

Biden and Putin discussed the crisis as tensions continue to grow amid concerns that Russia is ready to mount an invasion of Ukraine. Russia continues to add to the more than 100,000 troops it has massed at the Ukrainian border in recent months.

After the call, Yury Ushakov, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser, said Biden had largely repeated ideas offered in January to address Russia’s security concerns.

"But unfortunately, and this was said, these considerations do not touch upon the central, key elements of Russian initiatives," the Kremlin official said. He added that Russia would respond to those counterproposals soon.

Ushakov said the call was “balanced and businesslike” and that the two leaders “agreed to continue contacts at all levels.”

But he also took issue with U.S. statements that an invasion could come soon, saying: "Hysteria has reached its peak."

Washington has received intelligence reports that the invasion could happen as early as Wednesday.

The White House said Biden conducted the call from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, from 11:04 a.m. EST to 12:06 p.m. EST.

“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,” the White House statement said.

“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 statement added.

A senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the call there was “no change in the fundamental dynamic” of the crisis. The official said Biden again proposed diplomatic solutions and that the call ended without an indication of what Putin’s next move would be.

The U.S. has closed its embassy in Kyiv and has evacuated most of its staff. Routine consular services, including passport and visa services, are no longer available.

The department has issued an advisory warning people not to travel to Ukraine “due to the increased threats of Russian military action” and advised “those in Ukraine should depart immediately.”

A few U.S. diplomats are expected to be relocated to Lviv, in western Ukraine, near Poland, a NATO ally, a move that would allow the U.S. to maintain a “diplomatic presence” in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services.

Australia and Canada have announced they also are relocating their embassies to Lviv, which is also home to a Ukrainian military base.

Poland is allowing American citizens in Ukraine to cross into Poland without advance approval, as long as they can present a passport and proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday that Moscow has decided to "optimize" its diplomatic staff numbers in Ukraine, citing fears of "possible provocations from the Kyiv regime."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, gestures towards French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint press conference, Feb. 8, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, gestures towards French President Emmanuel Macron during a joint press conference, Feb. 8, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Zakharova did not describe the move in detail but said the embassy and consulates in Ukraine continued to perform key functions.

Also Saturday, Britain told its nationals to leave Ukraine, and Germany and the Netherlands told their citizens to leave as soon as possible.

Earlier Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about what appears to be Russia’s imminent invasion of Ukraine.

"The Secretary 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,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Map: Russian troop locations near Ukraine
Map: Russian troop locations near Ukraine

Many analysts have said that Russia is unlikely to carry out any invasion before the Winter Olympics in China end Feb. 20.

Russian officials have denied they plan to invade Ukraine, but diplomatic talks with Western officials have led to a standoff. Russia has demanded that the United States and its allies reject Ukraine's bid for membership in NATO.

The West has rejected that as a nonstarter but has said it is willing to negotiate with Moscow over missile deployment and troop exercises in Eastern European countries closest to Russia.

Western governments have been calling on Russia to take steps to de-escalate the crisis and have vowed to impose swift and severe economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.

VOA State Department correspondent Cindy Saine, Carla Babb at the Pentagon and national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report. Some information in this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.