President Joe Biden communicated with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone on Feb. 13 and the two “reaffirmed the commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a White House statement.
The White House, in a readout posted online that offered few details, said that Biden told Zelensky that the United States “would respond swiftly and decisively, together with its Allies and partners, to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
“The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” the readout concluded. The two leaders previously spoke on Jan. 2.
The conversation came a day after Biden spoke via phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and said that a U.S. response to an invasion of Ukraine, which Russia is denying via official channels, would be “swift and severe,” according to a readout provided by the White House that also offered few details.
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 Feb, 12. In the call, which reportedly lasted an hour, Biden also told Putin that the United States and NATO “will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs” if an invasion is carried out.
Over the weekend before his call with Biden, Zelensky told reporters that he wants proof after White House officials, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan, warned that Russia would invade Ukraine in the near future. Meanwhile, the United States and other Western countries have withdrawn their embassy staff and warned their citizens to leave Ukraine.
“There has been too much information about a full-scale war with Russia–even specific dates have been announced. We understand there are risks. If you have any additional information regarding the 100 percent guaranteed invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 16 February, please give it to us,” Zelensky told reporters on Feb. 12, adding that warnings about an imminent invasion are stoking “panic” in his country.
Despite Zelensky’s comment, Sullivan on Feb. 13 told CNN that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day now,” while offering few details. He made similar remarks during a news conference in Washington.
“We cannot perfectly predict the day, but we have now been saying for some time that we are in the window, and an invasion could begin—a major military action could begin—by Russia in Ukraine any day now,” he said.
In comments to Russian media outlet Tass, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said allegations about an imminent invasion are “empty and unfounded” and are designed to escalate tensions. However, Peskov said Russia isn’t ruling out what he described as provocations aimed at justifying such allegations.
Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops situated near Ukraine’s borders. In 2014, Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula and began funding separatist rebels in the Donbas region.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also accused U.S. government officials of colluding with mainstream news outlets to create hysteria. Zakharova said the United States could be attempting to provoke Russia.