Biden warns Putin of 'swift and severe costs' if Russia invades Ukraine

President Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin on a phone call Saturday that Russia would face “swift and severe costs” if it chose to invade Ukraine, the White House said.

The call between the two leaders lasted about an hour Saturday morning as warning signs of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine continue to grow.   

The U.S. has ordered most of its embassy staff to leave Kyiv, the State Department said Saturday morning, and officials are urging American citizens in Ukraine to leave immediately.  

Biden pledged that the U.S. and its allies "will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia" in the event of an invasion, according to a White House readout of the call. 

“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing,” the readout continued. “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.” 

Speaking on a call with reporters, a senior Biden administration official characterized the conversation between the two leaders as “professional” and “substantive” but gave no indication of a breakthrough.  

“There was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks,” the senior administration official said. 

“We remain committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive, but we are 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 official said. 

The Biden administration has offered Russia a diplomatic off-ramp, proposing talks on potential agreements dealing with missile placement and military drills as a way to address Moscow’s stated security concerns.  

But those efforts have not succeeded in convincing Russia to de-escalate. Instead, Russia has continued to amass more than 100,000 troops at the border with Ukraine and engaged in military drills with Belarus.  

The U.S. and its allies have refused Moscow's demands that NATO shrink its footprint and bar Ukraine from joining the alliance.

The Biden administration has threatened punishing sanctions and export controls should Russia move troops into Ukraine and has been engaging with European allies to come to an agreement on a sanctions package. The senior administration official said Saturday that those discussions are “reaching a culmination point.”   

The Pentagon has also deployed 6,000 troops to Eastern Europe to help secure NATO allies, including a deployment of 3,000 troops to Poland that was just announced on Friday.  

The call between Biden and Putin was scheduled as U.S. officials stepped up warnings of a possible invasion.  

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday afternoon that Russia could stage a “major military action against Ukraine” at any time, including before the end of the Beijing Olympics. There had previously been speculation that Russia could wait until after the end of the Olympics on Feb. 20.  

The senior administration official described an invasion as a “distinct possibility” but indicated the U.S. still has not assessed that Putin has made up his mind on invading Ukraine.  

“If it does, the damage to Ukraine, European security and, yes, to Russia will be profound,” the official said. 

Biden and Putin agreed that their teams would remain in touch in the coming days, the official said, without laying out specific plans for future engagements.  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, earlier Saturday and underscored a diplomatic route to resolve the crisis was still an option.  

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