Biden warns Putin US and allies will 'impose swift and severe costs' if Russia invades Ukraine
Despite countries such as the US and UK telling their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, there does not appear to be much of a rush, reports ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers in Kyiv
Joe Biden has warned Vladimir Putin that invading Ukraine would cause "widespread human suffering" and that Russia should expect "swift and severe costs" should he decide to do so.
The US president and his Russian counterpart held a high-stakes hour-long phone call on Saturday in a desperate effort to de-escalate mounting tensions - but it produced "no fundamental change" to the threat of an imminent war in Europe.
Mr Biden told Mr Putin the US and allies were committed to diplomacy to avoid the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War, but was “equally prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said on Saturday.
Their call came as the US ordered most staff to leave its embassy in Kyiv warning an invasion could be imminent. US ambassador to Ukraine Melinda Simmons confirmed she and a core team would stay.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken also earlier issued a stark warning to his Russian counterpart that “further Russian aggression would be met with a resolute, massive and united trans-Atlantic response.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied it is planning military action against its neighbour and on Friday described the US's recent actions as "hysteria", after it ordered American citizens in Ukraine to "leave now" as an invasion could happen "any day".
At least 100,000 Russian troops have amassed near the Ukrainian border and Moscow has sent soldiers to carry out major military exercises in neighbouring Belarus - encircling Ukraine on three sides.
ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy sets out what happened on the critical one-hour call between Presidents Biden and Putin
US officials say Russia has now built up sufficient firepower to invade the former Soviet state at short notice and would begin with aerial bombing, missile attacks and a ground invasion of “massive force” that could "kill civilians without regard to their nationality", National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.
“President 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,” a White House statement said following the presidents' call.
US officials said the call was “professional and substantive” but produced “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks,” according to a senior US administration official.
The official, who asked not to be named, added that it remains unclear whether Putin has made a final decision to move forward with military action.
Yuri Ushakov, Mr Putin’s top foreign policy aide, said that while tensions have been escalating for months, in recent days "the situation has simply been brought to the point of absurdity.”
He said Mr Biden mentioned the possible sanctions that could be imposed on Russia, but “this issue was not the focus" during their call.
Before talking to Mr Biden, Mr Putin had a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with him in Moscow earlier in the week to try to resolve the crisis.
But a Kremlin summary of the call suggested little progress was made and referred to “provocative speculations about an allegedly planned Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine.”
Mr Putin also complained in the call with Mr Macron that the US and NATO have not responded satisfactorily to Russian demands that Ukraine be prohibited from joining the military alliance and that NATO pull back forces from Eastern Europe.
In a sign that American officials were getting ready for a worst-case scenario, the US announced plans to evacuate its embassy in Kyiv on Saturday, while Britain and other European nations had also urged their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately on Friday.
US consular services will be suspended from Sunday, with virtually all of the 200 American staff at the embassy to be sent out or relocated to Ukraine's far west, near the Polish border.
The US "will maintain a small consular presence" in the western city of Lviv "to handle emergencies", the statement from the state department added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tried to project calm as he observed military exercises on Saturday near Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
"We are not afraid, we're without panic, all is under control,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mr Blinken said on Saturday: "We are in the window when a Russian invasion could start at any time if President Putin so decides. That includes in the coming days."
But Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told US Secretary of State Mr Blinken during their call on Saturday that “the propaganda campaign launched by the United States and its allies about ‘Russian aggression’ against Ukraine pursues provocative goals.”
On Saturday, armed forces minister James Heappey said British troops helping with training in Ukraine will be leaving the country this weekend.
Having sent UK personnel to train Ukrainians on the anti-tank missiles supplied by Britain, Mr Heappey said: “All of them will be withdrawn. There will be no British troops in Ukraine if there is to be a conflict there.”
Mr Heappey warned that a 'deadly and utterly catastrophic attack' could possibly happen
He also warned that a "deadly and utterly catastrophic attack could be launched with almost no notice" in a worst-case scenario, given the concentration of forces on the Ukrainian border and the sophistication of Russian weapon systems.
The armed forces minister also suggested sending British troops to Ukraine would play into the Kremlin’s hands and said that the UK will not be able to fly British nationals out of Ukraine if Russia invades.
Mr Heappey told BBC Breakfast: “Putin and his colleagues would very much like to be able to say what they may do is a consequence of Western aggression in Ukraine.
“So it’s very important to us, to everybody frankly involved, that we’re very clear we won’t play an active part in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, has called the Ukraine crisis “our Cuban missile crisis moment”, warning that "an invasion is imminent".
His comments come after Mr Biden deployed another 3,000 troops to Poland amid fears that the possible attack could start before the end of the Winter Olympics, which concludes on February 20.
Where Russian troops are massed across the Ukraine border
The statement prompted countries around the world to issue fresh evacuation warnings, with the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands among the countries to urge their citizens to leave Ukraine.
Berlin has shut its Donetsk consulate and asked German nationals to leave Ukraine unless they absolutely have to be in the country, according to reports.
Boris Johnson said he was concerned for the security of Europe as he joined a call of world leaders on Friday.
The Foreign Office updated its advice that evening and a spokesperson said: “The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority, which is why we have updated our travel advice. We urge British nationals in Ukraine to leave now via commercial means while they remain available.”
Mr Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, as well as EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel were also in the call.
On the same day, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace held talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
He said relations between the UK and Russia are now “above zero”, but said he is not as optimistic as he used to be about quelling the crisis on the Ukrainian border.