The telephone call came as new intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date was unveiled by the US. Ahead of the high-stakes meeting, which according to White House officials lasted from 4.04pm to 5.06pm UK time, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the West and the media of spreading a “large-scale disinformation campaign” about an allegedly impending attack of the Kremlin on Kiev. Western nations’ intention, they claimed, was “to divert attention from their own aggressive actions”. The conversation between the two presidents happened hours after Washington withdrew some of its forces out of Ukraine and a day after several governments, including the UK, the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea, told their citizens to leave the country.
The Ministry said in a statement published on its website: “At the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the global information space faced a media campaign unprecedented in its scale and sophistication, the purpose of which is to convince the world community that the Russian Federation is preparing an invasion of the territory of Ukraine.”
Mr Putin and Mr Biden’s first face-to-face meeting as heads of state was in Geneva in June 2021. After that, they held two virtual meetings towards the end of the year.
Saturday’s call is the result of heightened tensions throughout the week.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned that a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine could come before the end of the Winter Olympics.
Speaking from the White House, he said on Friday: “We continue to see signs of Russian escalation including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border.
“As we’ve said before, we are in the window of when an invasion begins at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it.
“I will not comment on the details of our intelligence information but I do want to be clear it could begin during the Olympics despite a lot of speculation that it will only happen after the Olympics.
“Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event in the next 24 to 48 hours. We obviously cannot predict the future, we don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is prudent.”
Earlier on Saturday, before talking to Mr Biden, Mr Putin had a call with French President Emmanuel Macron, who met with him in Moscow on Monday in the hope to find “a historic solution” to the Ukraine crisis. His bid, however, was unsuccessful. Their negotiations, like most between Western leaders and the Russian president, ended in a deadlock: NATO members are unwilling to give in to the Kremlin’s pressures for the Alliance to promise it will never admit Ukraine.
For an hour and 40 minutes on Saturday morning, Mr Macron gave it another shot. He told Mr Putin “sincere dialogue” is incompatible with escalation. According to the Élysée Palace, “both expressed a desire to continue dialogue”.
A statement released by the White House following Mr Biden’s and Mr Putin’s call read: “President Biden was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.
“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing.
“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.
MORE TO FOLLOW