MOSCOW — Tensions remained high over the Ukraine crisis a day after President Biden warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that the costs of an attack on Ukraine would be severe. Foreign embassies in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv continued to withdraw nonessential staff, nations urged their citizens to leave the country and the Russian military buildup in the region showed no signs of slowing.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine urged calm, and Russia continued to deny that it is planning to invade its neighbor, but weeks of frenzied diplomacy showed little sign of progress.
Still, efforts to defuse the crisis continued, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany planning to travel to Kyiv on Monday, and to Moscow on Tuesday. Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky were scheduled to speak Sunday morning.
“It is our job to ensure that we prevent a war in Europe, in that we send a clear message to Russia that any military aggression would have consequences that would be very high for Russia and its prospects, and that we are united with our allies,” Mr. Scholz told the upper house of the Bundestag, Germany’s Parliament, on Friday.
A German official said at a news briefing that Mr. Scholz would be “actively urging for dialogue,” in which concrete steps toward de-escalation would be discussed. The official said that the visit was aimed at gaining “a better understanding of Russia’s goals,” and that Mr. Scholz would be open to initiating a broader discussion about “Russian grievances.”
Many in Ukraine view Germany with skepticism for not providing military weapons to help in its defense as other NATO allies have. Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany complained on Sunday on Twitter about “German hypocrisy,” noting that Berlin sells materials to Russia that can increase weapons production.
Last week, Mr. Scholz traveled to Washington, where he met President Biden in an attempt to shore up the alliance between the United States and Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy. Mr. Biden vowed that Nord Stream 2 — a lucrative gas pipeline project that connects Russia and Germany — would be halted if Moscow invades Ukraine.
Mr. Scholz has not explicitly said the pipeline will be canceled in the event of an invasion, but Mr. Biden said the two countries were crafting their policies “in lock step.”
Mr. Scholz’s Social Democratic Party has historically favored strong ties between Germany and Russia and has struggled to develop a coherent stance in dealing with Mr. Putin. But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president — who rose to political prominence as a member of the party — was unequivocal in his criticism of the Russian troop buildup. Re-elected Sunday to a second five-year term, he warned Mr. Putin not to “underestimate the power of democracy” in his acceptance speech.
“We are in the midst of a military conflict, a war in Eastern Europe,” Mr. Steinmeier said. “Russia is responsible for that.”
He appealed directly to Mr. Putin, calling on him to “untie the noose around Ukraine’s neck and join us in finding a way to preserve peace in Europe.”
Ben Wallace, the United Kingdom’s defense secretary, criticized Western efforts at reaching a diplomatic solution with Russia as “appeasement” in an interview with the Sunday Times.
Western officials estimate that Russia has massed more than 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s northern, southern and eastern borders, which Mr. Wallace said was enough to “launch an offensive at any time,” something he said was “highly likely.”
While the menacing military buildup around Ukraine has been roundly criticized by most Western governments, Mr. Putin has found support in some other autocratic leaders.
Brazil’s populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, is expected to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday, the same day as Mr. Scholz, for a meeting with Mr. Putin. The visit is seen as part of Mr. Putin’s effort to shore up his alliances with Latin American countries that have traditionally been close to the United States.
Mr. Bolsonaro, whose approval rating is at a low before Brazil elections this year, said Saturday that he did not intend to raise the issue of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We ask God that peace reign in the world, for the good of all of us,” he said in a radio interview.
Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Berlin.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said on Sunday that U.S. officials still believed that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could invade Ukraine at any time, despite continuing diplomatic efforts.
“The way they have built up their forces, the way they have maneuvered things in place, makes it a distinct possibility that there will be major military action very soon,” Mr. Sullivan said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“We are prepared to continue to work on diplomacy,” he added, “but we are also prepared to respond in a united and decisive way with our allies and partners should Russia proceed.”
Mr. Sullivan’s comments came a day after Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Putin for more than an hour by phone. Mr. Biden, his advisers said, discussed a range of diplomatic options with the Russian president, but also warned of “swift and severe” consequences should Mr. Putin initiate a major attack on Ukraine. Officials believe Mr. Putin could first use aerial forces and bombs before ordering a ground invasion.
The two leaders spoke only hours after the United States ordered most of its diplomats and other staff members to leave the American Embassy in Ukraine. Mr. Biden and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine are scheduled to speak on Sunday morning.
Mr. Biden has threatened to impose severe economic sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, and has said that the United States would restrict a controversial Germany-to-Russia gas pipeline from going forward.
On Sunday, Mr. Sullivan said officials were working to divert gas cargos to Europe if Russia “turns down the taps.” And he said that officials were working to draw up lists of people close to Mr. Putin whom the United States would penalize in the event of an invasion.
Mr. Sullivan also explained why American officials were working to dispel what they believe are attempts by the Russians to justify invading. Asked about the so-called false-flag operation, he said that the world should be prepared for Russia “staging a pretext and then launching a potential military action,” and noted that the Russians had used this playbook during other conflicts.
“Our view is that we’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to conduct a surprise here — to spring something on Ukraine or the world,” Mr. Sullivan said.
In other interviews on Sunday morning television, a top Democrat echoed the Biden administration’s message that Mr. Putin should be prepared for sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine.
“If we were not threatening the sanctions and the rest, it would guarantee that Putin would invade,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Let’s hope that diplomacy works. It’s about diplomacy, deterrence.”
She vowed that Congress, whose senior lawmakers have struggled to reach bipartisan agreement on a sanctions package, would be united in opposition to a Russian invasion.
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who appeared on the ABC show after Ms. Pelosi, said he believed “we can do more in Congress and should.”
“The best thing that could happen is for us to pass this sanctions package preinvasion, with a waiver,” he added, saying that the measure would “destroy the ruble and cripple the Russian economy so Putin could see it in writing; that might help him decide not to invade.”
“He’s got 100,000 troops amassed on the Ukrainian border and he’s paying no price at all,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. Putin. “So I’d like to hit him now for the provocation and have sanctions spelled out very clearly.”
KYIV, Ukraine —President Biden warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that invading Ukraine would result in “swift and severe” costs to Russia, diminish his country’s standing and cause “widespread human suffering,” the White House said on Saturday, as Western officials made a forceful diplomatic push to dissuade Mr. Putin from pressing forward with an attack.
It remained uncertain whether Mr. Putin would invade, according to senior Biden administration officials. But after the call, one official said that the situation remained as urgent as it was on Friday when the administration said Russia could invade at any moment and Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, warned Americans to leave the country in the coming days.
White House officials said that Mr. Biden discussed a range of diplomatic options with Mr. Putin, but that it was unclear if Mr. Putin was persuaded to take that route.
A foreign policy aide to Mr. Putin, Yuri Ushakov, described the call with Mr. Biden as “businesslike” but overshadowed by American “hysteria” over a possibly imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine. He said that Mr. Putin would consider Mr. Biden’s proposals, but that they ignored Russia’s key demands for “security guarantees” in Eastern Europe, including a legally binding halt to NATO expansion and a pullback of the alliance’s military presence in the region.
And Mr. Ushakov continued to reject the idea that Russia was threatening a war. “We have repeatedly underlined that we don’t understand why the news media should be given clearly false information about Russian plans,” he said.
Border with Russian units
Russia invaded and
annexed the Crimean
Ukraine in 2014.
separating Ukrainian and
Russian-backed forces near
two breakaway provinces.
Ukraine in 2014.
But one American national security official, who briefed reporters shortly after the call, said that there was “no fundamental change in the dynamic that has unfolded now for several weeks,” an acknowledgment that Mr. Putin has continued to build up a military presence that has effectively surrounded Ukraine.
The two leaders spoke only hours after the United States ordered most of its diplomats and other staff members to leave the American Embassy in Ukraine, amid mounting fears that Russia’s huge buildup of forces on land and at sea around Ukraine signaled that an invasion was imminent.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine continued to play down American warnings of an imminent Russian invasion, urging calm and saying he had not seen intelligence showing that Moscow was poised to attack.
He told reporters there was “too much information in the information space” about a possible full-scale war with Russia, and ridiculed news media reports that Russia could be planning to invade on Wednesday.
“We understand all the risks — we understand that these risks exist,” Mr. Zelensky said. But, he said, “if you or any person has additional information regarding a 100-percent-certain invasion, beginning on the 16th, by the Russian Federation into Ukraine, please give us this information.”
The Ukrainian leader has for weeks voiced frustration with the American messaging in the crisis, criticizing the Biden administration for sowing panic in the country and spooking foreign investors.
American officials have responded that they are reacting to intelligence they are receiving, and that they hope that calling out President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia publicly on any possible invasion plans could help deter him from taking action.
The combination of recent Russian troop movements and the information about a possible invasion date helped set off a flurry of diplomatic activity and public warnings by NATO allies on Friday.
The United States has ordered its diplomats out of the country, and urged other Americans to leave as well, and on Saturday, a senior State Department official said he believed that Ukraine’s leadership understood why, but noted that some Ukrainian leaders “don’t necessarily agree” with assessments on “the extent to which potential conflict is imminent.”
After decades of getting schooled in information warfare by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the United States is trying to beat the master at his own game.
In recent weeks, the Biden administration has detailed the movement of Russian special operation forces to Ukraine’s borders, exposed a Russian plan to create a video of a faked atrocity as a pretext for an invasion, outlined Moscow’s war plans, warned that an invasion would result in possibly thousands of deaths and hinted that Russian officers had doubts about Mr. Putin.
Then, on Friday, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that the United States was seeing signs of Russian escalation and that there was a “credible prospect” of immediate military action. Other officials said the announcement was prompted by new intelligence that signaled an invasion could begin as soon as Wednesday.
All told, the extraordinary series of disclosures — unfolding almost as quickly as information is collected and assessed — has amounted to one of the most aggressive releases of intelligence by the United States since the Cuban missile crisis, current and former officials say.
It is an unusual gambit, in part because Mr. Biden has repeatedly made clear he has no intention of sending U.S. troops to defend Ukraine. In effect, the administration is warning the world of an urgent threat, not to make the case for a war but to try to prevent one.
The State Department on Saturday ordered all but a “core team” of its diplomats and employees to leave the American Embassy in Kyiv over fears that Moscow would soon mount a major assault.
A senior State Department official said that the drawdown at the embassy, one of America’s largest in Europe, reflected the urgent need for American citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, because Washington has a limited ability to help them if the country becomes a “war zone.”
Several thousand Americans are believed to be in Ukraine, and the official told reporters that while diplomatic efforts to prevent war from breaking out were continuing, it appeared increasingly likely that the situation was headed toward some kind of active conflict. Russia’s large-scale military buildup surrounding Ukraine has prompted increasingly dire warnings from the Biden administration that Europe faces its gravest security crisis since the end of the Cold War.
The State Department said that all nonemergency U.S. employees would depart the embassy in Kyiv, leaving only “a bare minimum” of American diplomats and Ukrainian staff members. Consular services at the embassy will be suspended starting on Sunday, the department said.
A small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine, will be able to handle emergencies for U.S. citizens but will not be able to provide passport, visa or routine consular services, the State Department said.
Until the crisis began, the embassy in Kyiv, a sprawl of office buildings ringed by a perimeter fence in a leafy residential district, was the third largest U.S. diplomatic mission in Europe, including 181 government employees from the State Department and more than a dozen agencies, and more than 560 Ukrainian employees.
U.S. officials including President Biden have said in recent days that the final elements were falling into place of a potential Russian invasion force mustered near Ukraine’s borders.
“Despite a prudent reduction in our diplomatic staff, our core embassy team will remain in Ukraine with our many dedicated Ukrainian colleagues,” the embassy said in a statement on Saturday.
A senior State Department official would not estimate how many American diplomats would remain in Ukraine. Most of the rest of the embassy’s diplomats would return to the United States and continue their work on Ukraine issues from there.
Asked whether the diplomats in Kyiv were shredding documents or other classified and sensitive materials to prevent them from being seized by Russians should the embassy be overrun in a worst-case scenario, the official said that “appropriate, prudent steps” were being taken to “reduce those holdings” and certain equipment.
It is a puzzle at the heart of the crisis over Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine: Why has President Biden, more than one year into his presidency, failed to name an ambassador to Kyiv?
Neither the Biden administration nor Ukraine’s government is providing a clear explanation for a delay that career diplomats say would be baffling and inexcusable even in ordinary times, never mind at a moment when the U.S. relationship with Ukraine is as consequential as it has ever been.
Experts say that the presence of a full-time ambassador could help to smooth awkward relations that have emerged between the Biden administration and the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky despite Ukraine’s heavy reliance on Washington for its defense against Russia. But it is also unclear how eager the Ukrainians are to receive an envoy from Mr. Biden, who submitted a candidate to Kyiv for approval weeks ago.
The position comes with an extra dose of intrigue, given that it has remained empty since 2019, when President Donald J. Trump removed its last full-time occupant, Marie L. Yovanovitch. That action, which is the subject of a federal investigation, contributed to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment by Congress on charges that he abused his foreign policy leverage over Ukraine for political purposes.
Even as President Vladimir V. Putin flexes his military and diplomatic muscle in the tense standoff over Ukraine, the recent abduction of a 52-year-old diabetic woman in central Russia has made clear that he still has vexing challenges in his own backyard.
The woman, Zarema Musayeva, was dragged from her apartment building in her slippers and pushed into a black sport utility vehicle after men who identified themselves as police officers forced their way into her apartment and punched her husband, Sayda Yangulbayev, a 63-year-old retired federal judge from Chechnya, and their lawyer.
The men had said they were supposed to take the couple to Chechnya, more than 1,100 miles away, to be questioned as witnesses in a fraud case, but it soon became clear that Ms. Musayeva’s abduction was part of a hunt for two of their sons, prominent government critics who had infuriated the Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov.
The episode has laid bare — not for the first time — the pitfalls of the devil’s bargain Mr. Putin has made with Mr. Kadyrov, a ruthless leader who exerts almost total control in Chechnya, a turbulent, predominantly Muslim region in the North Caucasus with a population of 1.4 million.
The Chechen leader’s brutal excesses are part of an array of domestic difficulties facing Mr. Putin, even as he takes an increasingly aggressive stance on the world stage, amassing troops on Ukraine’s border and seeking to rewrite the European security architecture.
On Friday, Russia reported a daily record of 200,000 new coronavirus cases as the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeps across remote parts of the vast country.
Russia’s total number of pandemic deaths has exceeded 338,000, according to an official government tally, although some statisticians point to the number of excess deaths as the more reliable measure. By that metric, the number of deaths in Russia has exceeded one million since the start of the pandemic.
In 2020, life expectancy in the country decreased by two years, the first decline since 2003.
HELSINKI — As the threat of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine grew, the European head of state with the longest and deepest experience dealing with Vladimir V. Putin fielded calls and doled out advice to President Emmanuel Macron of France and other world leaders desperate for insight into his difficult neighbor to the east.
“‘What do you think about this about this, what about this, or this?’ That’s where I try to be helpful,” said Sauli Niinisto, the president of Finland, as the harsh light gleaming off the snow and frozen bay poured into the presidential residence. “They know that I know Putin,” he added. “And because it goes the other way around Putin sometimes says, ‘Well, why don’t you tell your Western friends that and that and that?’”
Mr. Niinisto, 73, said his role was not merely that of a Nordic runner, shuttling messages between East and West, but of borderland interpreter, explaining to both sides the thinking of the other. The departure from politics of Angela Merkel, who for years as Germany’s chancellor led Europe’s negotiations with Mr. Putin, has made Mr. Niinisto’s role, while smaller, vital, especially as the drumbeat of war grows louder.
But Mr. Niinisto is not optimistic. Before and after his last long conversation with Mr. Putin last month, he said, he had noticed a change in the Russian. “His state of mind, the deciding, decisiveness — that is clearly different,” Mr. Niinisto said. He believed Mr. Putin felt he had to seize on “the momentum he has now.”