Biden reaffirms U.S. support for Ukraine in call with Zelenskyy amid Russia fears

Christina Zhao

President Joe Biden spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by phone on Sunday, reaffirming U.S. support for Ukraine as it faces growing Russian aggression, the White House said.

The U.S. and Western allies have watched Russia build up 100,000 or so troops along the border with Ukraine, prompting fears of an invasion as early as this month. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has any plans to attack its neighbor, but Biden administration officials have said they're prepared for the possibility.

Sunday's call with Zelenskyy — the second the two leaders have held in recent weeks — came days after Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to de-escalate tensions on Ukraine's border.

Biden told Zelenskyy that the U.S. and its allies and partners will "respond decisively" if Russia further invades Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement after the call concluded.

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"Biden underscored the commitment of the United States and its allies and partners to the principle of 'nothing about you without you,'" Psaki said. "He also expressed support for confidence-building measures to de-escalate tensions in Donbas and active diplomacy to advance the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, in support of the Normandy Format."

In a tweet, Zelenskyy praised the "unwavering support" that he said Ukraine has received from the U.S.

Russia and the U.S. have engaged in high-stakes diplomatic discussions in recent weeks over Ukraine.

Sunday's call with Zelenskyy came days after Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to de-escalate tensions on Ukraine's border. During a 50-minute phone call on Thursday, Biden warned Putin that the U.S. could impose new sanctions against the country if it takes military action against Ukraine. Their call, which was the second between Biden and Putin last month, was requested by the Russians.

"We made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves and goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies and it will be a heavy price to pay for it," Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on New Year's Eve.

Biden's remarks were similar to those in a separate call with Putin in early December, in which Biden said Moscow would face "severe consequences" if it moved on Ukraine.

Putin, during the call, warned that relations between the two nations could be completely severed if Biden moved to impose a round of sanctions, Kremlin Aide Yury Ushakov told reporters on Friday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

In a phone call with Zelenskyy on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's military build-up on the border, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

"The two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia," Price said.

U.S. and Russian officials are scheduled to hold security talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on Jan. 10, which Biden and Putin are not expected to participate in. A meeting between Russia and NATO is scheduled for Jan. 12.