President Biden’s hourlong call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday morning was “professional and substantive,” a senior administration official said, but “there was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks.”
“The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official told reporters after the call. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility.”
The call came one day after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that Russia could be preparing to attack Ukraine before the end of the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 20 and told Americans in Ukraine that they should leave the country within 48 hours. The US has continued to reduce its diplomatic presence in Kyiv, the official said, echoing a State Department announcement this morning that more US diplomats will be moving out of the capital city.
“We remain committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive,” the official said. “But we’re 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 stakes of this are too high not to give Russia every chance to avoid an action that we believe would be catastrophic. So as always, we continue along two paths.”
The official said that Biden reiterated the US’s ideas for steps to both enhance European security and address some of Russia’s security concerns but noted that it “remains unclear whether Russia is interested in pursuing its goals diplomatically.”
Asked whether Russia has made a decision to invade, the official said, “I think the honest answer to that question is we don’t have full visibility into President Putin’s decision making.”
“But you know, we are not basing our assessment of this on what the Russians say publicly,” the official continued. “We are basing his assessment on what we are seeing on the ground…which is a continued Russian buildup on the border with Ukraine, and no meaningful evidence of de-escalation, or really of any interest in de-escalation.”
The official said that US will continue and even increase its support for Ukraine to help it defend itself should Russia continue to escalate its aggression.
“As to our plans going forward, I think President Biden and other officials have been clear, that should Russia continue down the path to escalation, the United States will continue to increase our support to Ukraine, to enable it to defend itself, and you know, that approach has not changed,” the official said.
CNN’s DJ Judd and Sam Fossum contributed reporting to this post.
Live updates: Ukraine-Russia border tensions