President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin for an hour on Saturday in an effort to defuse the Ukraine crisis, and the State Department ordered all but a “core team” of its diplomats and employees to leave the American Embassy in Kiev. for fear that Moscow would soon launch a major assault.
Details of the phone call have yet to be released as of early Saturday afternoon.
Reflecting urgent concern in Washington over Russia’s growing military buildup around its smaller neighbor, the Pentagon said it would temporarily withdraw 160 US military trainers from the country, where they worked with Ukrainian troops near the Polish border.
Even as Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin spoke by phone — and after calls earlier Saturday between top US and Russian diplomats and between the countries’ defense secretaries — the path to a diplomatic resolution of the impasse appeared to be clear. shrink, with increasing numbers of Russian and Russian-backed forces massing around Ukraine on three sides.
US intelligence officials believed Mr Putin was prepared to wait out the Winter Olympics in Beijing before possibly ordering an offensive, to avoid antagonizing Chinese President Xi Jinping, a key ally. But in recent days, they say, the timeline has started to move up, an acceleration that Biden administration officials began publicly acknowledging 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 could begin “during the Olympic Games”, which are scheduled for the end of February 20.
US officials do not know whether Mr Putin has decided to invade, Mr Sullivan insisted. “We are ready anyway,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is more united than it has been in years.”
The United States has gathered intelligence that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as a target date for the start of military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that mentioning a particular date could be part of a recovery effort. Russian disinformation.
Ukraine’s government has called for calm, with President Volodymyr Zelensky saying he had not seen intelligence indicating an imminent Russian attack and that “too much information” about a possible offensive was causing unnecessary fear.
The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but has increased deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe. The Pentagon announced on Friday that it had sent 3,000 additional troops to Poland.
The White House is eager to avoid a repeat of the chaotic evacuation of US embassy staff from Kabul last August as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. The United States and countries like Britain, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Latvia and the Netherlands have issued increasingly urgent calls for their citizens to leave Ukraine. On Saturday, KLM, the main Dutch airline, announced that it would stop flying to Ukraine, citing the security situation.
A State Department official stressed on Saturday that the US military will not evacuate US citizens from Ukraine like troops have done in Afghanistan.
Russia has accused Western countries of spreading false information about its intentions. On Saturday, its Foreign Office said it was withdrawing some of its diplomatic staff from Ukraine because it “comes to the conclusion that our American and British colleagues appear to be aware of certain military actions”.