WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone on Sunday, reaffirming that the U.S. and its allies would respond “swiftly and decisively” if Russia decides to invade the country.
“President Biden reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and he “made clear that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, together with its allies and partners, to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” according to a White house description of the conversation.
Biden and Zelenskyy, the White House said, “agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.” The last time the two leaders spoke was on Jan. 2.
Their call, which lasted about 50 minutes, came a day after Biden warned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that the consequences of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which U.S. officials have said could be imminent, would be “swift and severe,” according to the White House.
Pentagon press secretary Joh Kirby said Sunday that time is running out to negotiate a diplomatic resolution. “We recognize the time component here seems to be shrinking. And that gives us all cause for concern,” he said on “Fox News Sunday,” while noting that the Biden administration still believes in a “diplomatic path forward.”
Biden told Putin in a call on Saturday, which lasted just over an hour, that the U.S. and its allies and partners “will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs” should Moscow move on its neighbor, the White House said.
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 White House said.
On Saturday, the State Department ordered the evacuation of most of its embassy employees in Kyiv “due to the continued threat of Russian military action,” and the Pentagon also ordered the 160 members of the Florida National Guard that had been deployed to train Ukrainian forces to leave. Russia also indicated it was moving staff from its embassy in Kyiv.
Consular services will be suspended at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv as of Sunday, the department said, but a “small consular presence” will be maintained in Lviv. Situated in western Ukraine, around 50 miles from the Polish border, Lviv is farther away from probable Russian invasion routes.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday reiterated that the threat of an invasion is immediate and could take place this week before the end of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 20.
“We believe that Russia could choose the diplomatic path, but the way they have built up their forces, the way they have maneuvered things in place makes it a distinct possibility that there will be major military action very soon,” Sullivan said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the U.S. is “prepared to continue to work on diplomacy, but we are also prepared to respond in a united and decisive way with our allies and partners should Russia proceed.”
While Putin is seeking bold security demands from the U.S. and NATO, including assurances that Ukraine would be blocked from joining NATO, he has repeatedly denied he plans to invade.
Sullivan said Friday that the U.S. did not believe Putin had made a final decision.