Saturday, August 13, 2022

Biden tells Putin Ukraine invasion would bring swift, decisive response

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US President Joe Biden told Russia’s Vladimir Putin during an hour-long call on Saturday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would bring a decisive and swift response from the West, as well as produce widespread suffering and diminish Russia’s standing in the world.

In the latest effort to avert hostilities, the two men spoke by phone a day after Washington and its allies warned Russian forces massed near Ukraine could invade at any moment. A senior Biden administration official said the call was professional and substantive, but said there was no fundamental change.

Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine and a surge of military activity has fueled fears that Russia could invade. Russia denies having any such plans.

Mr Biden told Mr Putin that the United States is prepared for diplomacy and “other scenarios,” the White House said.

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin

The senior Biden administration official said the pair had a direct conversation touching on all the issues the United States has raised in public. The official said it remains unclear whether Mr Putin is willing to pursue a diplomatic path.

Earlier today, the US State Department ordered most of its embassy staff to leave, adding to its call yesterday for private citizens to get out of the country within 48 hours. The Pentagon said it was withdrawing about 150 military trainers.

More countries told their citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, with Ireland, Israel, Portugal and Bulgaria joining the list today.

The UK also urged their citizens to leave the country, saying “leave now while commercial means are still available”.

British Junior Defence Minister James Heappey also said that citizens should not expect any military evacuation as happened in Afghanistan last summer.

In a separate call today, French President Emmanuel Macron told Mr Putin that sincere negotiations were incompatible with an escalation in tensions over Ukraine.

Mr Biden and Mr Macron are due to speak tonight, according to a French presidency official. The official said there were no indications from what Mr Putin told Mr Macron that Russia is preparing an offensive against Ukraine.

Washington said yesterday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine, possibly beginning with an air assault, could occur at any time.

Moscow has repeatedly disputed Washington’s version of events, saying it has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border to maintain its own security against aggression by NATO allies.

Meanwhile Russia, which has accused Western nations of spreading lies to distract from their own acts, said today that it had decided to “optimise” its diplomatic staff numbers in Ukraine, fearing “provocations” by Kyiv or others.

It said its embassy and consulates in Ukraine continued to perform their key functions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would impose swift economic sanctions if Mr Putin decides to invade.

“I continue to hope that he will not choose the path of renewed aggression and he’ll chose the path of diplomacy and dialogue,” Mr Blinken told reporters after a meeting with Pacific leaders in Fiji. “But if he doesn’t, we’re prepared.”

In a phone call later with Mr Blinken, Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov accused the United States and its allies of waging a “propaganda campaign” about Russian aggression towards Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin also talked by phone today, Interfax news agency and the Pentagon said.

Also today, the Russian military said it had used “appropriate means” to make a US submarine depart from Russian waters in the far east after the vessel ignored a Russian request to leave, Interfax news agency reported.

The submarine was detected near the Pacific Kuril islands in Russia’s waters as Russia conducted naval exercises, the military was quoted as saying.

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