A phone call between US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “did not go well” on Thursday, a senior Ukrainian official told CNN, amid disagreements over the “risk levels” of a Russian attack.
However, the White House disputed the official account, warning that anonymous sources were “leaking falsehoods.” They claimed Biden had warned Zelensky that an impending invasion was a “distinct possibility.”
In the phone call, which the Ukrainian official called “long and frank,” Biden warned his Ukrainian counterpart that a Russian attack could be imminent, saying an invasion was now all but certain once the ground had been frozen.
Zelensky reiterated his position that the Russian threat remains “dangerous but ambiguous” and that an attack is uncertain, the official said. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne disputed the senior Ukrainian official’s description of the call. “Anonymous sources are ‘leaking’ falsehoods,” she told CNN.
“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months.
Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false.” The candid discussion between the two leaders comes as the United States and NATO continue to prepare for the prospect of a Russian invasion.
Although they stressed the need for diplomacy, the White House warned that an invasion could be approaching with tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border.
According to a U.S. national security official, the call lasted an hour and 20 minutes on Thursday, underscoring the broad issues the two leaders needed to discuss recent Russian aggression. Biden told Zelensky that U.S. officials believe an invasion could potentially occur in February but didn’t. I’m not saying that would be the case, said an official.
White House Says Biden Has Promised That the U.S. Would “Respond Decisively” if Russia Invaded.
A reading of the White House call said Biden “reaffirmed” to Zelensky that the United States would “respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.” Biden also said the United States would explore “additional macroeconomic support” to help Ukraine’s economy following Russia’s military buildup.
“President Biden noted the United States has provided Ukraine with over half a billion dollars in development and humanitarian assistance in the last year and is exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military build-up,” the White House said during the reading.
A spokesman for Zelensky also challenged the characterization of the Ukrainian official call. The official said that talks between the United States, Russia, and NATO still had some way to go before diplomatic efforts were exhausted.
Earlier today, another US source said there was recognition in the White House that Zelensky had “multiple audiences” and was trying to balance them. “On the one hand, he wants assistance, but he has to assure his people he has the situation under control. That’s a tricky balance,” the source said.
Pentagon Says Russian Buildup Continues
Russia’s military buildup along the Ukraine border has increased in the past 24 hours, Pentagon said Thursday as the US waits for the response of Russian President Vladimir Putin to his written proposals presented in Moscow on Wednesday.
“We continue to see, including in the last 24 hours, more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians in, again, the western part of their country and in Belarus,” the press secretary said of the Pentagon, John Kirby, during a press conference.
Kirby described the buildup as “not dramatic” but “not sclerotic either.” The United States continues to hope that diplomatic efforts with Russia can lead to a reduction in escalation.
Pentagon Details Troops on Alert
Earlier this week, up to 8,500 US troops were placed on heightened alert to prepare for deployment to Eastern Europe. Those troops include elements of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as well as elements of the 18th Airborne Corps, 101st Airborne Division, and 4th Infantry Division, Kirby said Thursday.
These units include “medical support, aviation support, logistical support” and “combat formation,” the Pentagon spokesman said. Within Europe, Kirby said top US European Command General Tod Wolters was “taking prudent steps” to ensure that US troops based in Europe could be moved within the continent.