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Biden tells Putin the U.S. will swiftly and severely respond to a Ukraine invasion


President Biden spoke with Vladimir Putin today. He once more warned the Russian leader against invading Ukraine. President and other NATO members have been trying to keep talks going while also preparing for a possible military conflict. After the hourlong phone call, the White House said President Biden made it clear the U.S. and its allies would respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia if it goes ahead with an invasion. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez joins us. Franco, thanks so much for being with us.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: The first call between these leaders, we're told, since December 30 - what more do we know about what they talked about?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, it was just over an hour-long call that a senior administration official told reporters was professional and substantive. Biden told Putin that a Russian invasion would, quote, "produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia's standing." That's according to a readout of the call. He also told Putin that the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, but it's also prepared for, quote, "other scenarios." You know, I was on a call with a senior administration official after, and he told reporters that there was no fundamental change in the dynamics of the situation but that they believe the president has put some ideas on the table that would address Russia's concerns. And he said the two presidents agreed to have their teams to continue to talk and engage in the days ahead but that Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway.

SIMON: How certain are administration officials about the imminence of war?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, the White House and State Department are laying out in really the starkest terms yet, you know, their fears that the Russian military could take action in a matter of days. National security adviser Jake Sullivan yesterday said the Russian military is ready to move on Ukraine now, and then Americans who are there really need to get out. He described what an invasion could actually look like.


JAKE SULLIVAN: It could be more limited. It could be more expansive. But there are very real possibilities that it will involve the seizure of a significant amount of territory in Ukraine and the seizure of major cities, including the capital city.

ORDOÑEZ: At the same time, the United States is reducing the size of its embassy footprint in Kyiv, and the Pentagon announced that 160 National Guard troops from Florida will be pulled out of Ukraine. You know, to be clear, the administration is not saying it will definitely happen. But, you know, a senior State Department official said today that, quote, "it appears increasingly likely that that is where the situation is headed."

SIMON: U.S. is sending troops to Poland and Romania. What is their role?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, these forces in Poland would help Americans who come across the border fleeing an invasion, but they're not playing in any kind of combat role in Ukraine. And one of the reasons, Sullivan said, is that people should get out now because American troops won't be going in to rescue them. You know, he said very matter-of-factly that the president will not be putting the lives of American troops at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could leave now. You know, the Pentagon is also sending another 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland in the coming days, and this in addition to some 3,000 troops being dispatched to Poland and Romania and some 8,500 already on high alert to be deployed to Europe if needed.

SIMON: And let's just note finally, the U.S. seems to be taking a harder line than some European allies.

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. That's absolutely true. I mean, the U.S. has been monitoring Russian troop developments for a while, so they have some, you know, information that others may not have. But the reality is the Europeans have much closer ties to Russia, and any economic sanctions that will hurt Russia could also hurt them, especially in the energy sector.

SIMON: NPR's Franco Ordoñez, thanks so much.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Franco Ordoñez
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.