President Biden warned Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in an hour-long phone call Saturday that invading Ukraine would result in “quick and high” costs.
The call came amid heightened tensions and just hours after the State Department ordered all but a “core team” of its diplomats and staff to evacuate the American embassy in Kiev amid fears Moscow would soon launch a major attack.
According to a White House statement, during the call, Mr. Biden made it clear that while the United States remained prepared to engage diplomatically in coordination with allies, it was also prepared for other scenarios.
The Russian government was expected to present its stance on the call soon.
Amid urgent concerns in Washington over Russia’s growing military buildup around its smaller neighbor, the Pentagon said it would temporarily withdraw 160 American military trainers from the country where they had been working with Ukrainian troops near the Polish border.
Even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin spoke by phone — and after calls Saturday between top U.S. and Russian diplomats and between the countries’ defense ministers — the path to a diplomatic solution to the standoff seemed to narrow as numbers grew from Russian and from Russia-backed forces gathering around Ukraine on three sides.
US intelligence officials had believed Mr Putin was willing to wait until the end of the Beijing Winter Olympics before possibly ordering an offensive to avoid angering President Xi Jinping of China, a critical ally. But in recent days, they say, the timeline has started moving upwards, an acceleration Biden administration officials publicly acknowledged on Friday.
“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Friday, adding that an invasion would begin “during the scheduled Olympics.” could end on February 20th.
US officials do not know if Mr. Putin decided to invade, Mr. Sullivan stressed. “We’re ready either way,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is as united as it has been in years.”
The United States has received information that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as a target date to begin military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that the mention of a specific date could be part of a Russian disinformation effort.
The Ukrainian government urged calm, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying he had not seen any intelligence pointing to an imminent Russian attack and that “too much information” about a possible offensive was sowing unnecessary fear.
The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but has increased its deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon announced on Friday that it had ordered 3,000 more soldiers to Poland.
The White House is keen to avoid a repeat of the chaotic evacuation of US Embassy staff from Kabul last August when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The United States and countries like Britain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Latvia and the Netherlands have increasingly urged their citizens to leave Ukraine. On Saturday, KLM, the main Dutch airline, announced that it was suspending flights to Ukraine, citing the security situation.
A State Department official stressed Saturday that the US military will not evacuate American citizens from Ukraine the way troops in Afghanistan have done.
Russia has accused Western countries of spreading misinformation about its intentions. On Saturday, his foreign ministry said it was withdrawing some of its diplomatic staff from Ukraine because it “concludes that our American and British counterparts appear to be aware of certain military actions.”