Biden-Putin Call Yields ‘No Fundamental Change’ In Russia-Ukraine Situation

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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President Joe Biden’s 62-minute long phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Saturday morning appeared to yield no major breakthroughs. Officials remain concerned about an invasion into Ukraine.

The White House announced the weekend call Friday evening after a tense briefing with White House press secretary Jen Psaki and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The administration said Russia asked to speak Monday, but their counter-proposal for Saturday was “accepted” by Putin.

The call, which coincides with Sullivan warning of the “very distinct possibility” of a Russian invasion, was described by a senior administration official as “professional and substantive.” Still, the official noted that there’s been “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks.”

“We believe that we have put ideas on the table that would be in our and our allies interest to pursue that would enhance European security,” the official said while warning that it “remains unclear” whether Russia is interested in pursuing a diplomatic path.

“The stakes of this are too high not to give Russia every option to avoid steps that would be catastrophic,” the official added.

Biden was “very direct” to Putin about the safety of American citizens who have remained in Ukraine, the official said. Sullivan said Friday that American citizens should leave Ukraine “as soon as possible,” giving the specific suggestion of fleeing within “the next 24 to 48 hours.” (RELATED: ‘Things Could Go Crazy, Quickly’: Biden Says He ‘Didn’t Have To Tell’ Putin Not To Harm Americans In Ukraine)

“We can’t pinpoint the day and we can’t pinpoint the hour, but what we can say is that there’s a credible prospect that a Russian military action could take place before the end of the Olympics,” Sullivan said during Friday’s press briefing.

Biden reiterated some of Sullivan’s points during Saturday’s phone call, according to a readout of the call provided by the White House. The president at one point described the “widespread human suffering” that would occur if Russia invades Ukraine – a note Sullivan emphasized to reporters one day prior.

“If a Russian attack on Ukraine proceeds, it is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality,” Sullivan explained. “A subsequent ground invasion would involve the onslaught of a massive force, with virtually no notice. Communications to arrange a departure could be severed and commercial transit halted.”

“No one would be able to count on air or rail or road departures once military action got underway,” he added. “Now again, I’m not standing here and saying what is going to happen or not happen. I’m only standing here to say that the risk is now high enough and the threat is immediate enough.”

Biden also emphasized to Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would spark a decisive reaction from the U.S. and its allies and partners. The president warned Putin that though he is still “prepared to engage in diplomacy,” the U.S. is “equally prepared for other scenarios.”

“Should Russia continue down a path of escalation, the United States will continue to increase our support to Ukraine to enable it to defend itself. That approach is not changing,” the senior administration official added following the Biden-Putin call.