US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their ground on Wednesday, a day after a call to discuss the situation in Ukraine. Biden said there would be "severe consequences" to any Russian aggression in the eastern European country.
Kyiv and its NATO allies have accused Russia of gathering tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine's borders, as satellite images show troop concentrations not far from the border, prompting fears of war in Europe. Moscow has denied planning any attack or aggression.
Biden warns of 'economic consequences like you've never seen'
On Tuesday, Putin and Biden held a virtual call, of which the Kremlin released a short video clip showing the two leaders exchanging friendly greetings.
"There were no minced words," Biden told reporters on Wednesday at the White House.
"It was polite, but I made it very clear. If in fact he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences. Economic consequences like you've never seen. I am absolutely confident he got the message,'' the US president added.
For his part, Putin hailed the talks with Biden as "constructive", saying the pair agreed to continue dialogue. He said his country "has a peaceful foreign policy, but has the right to defend its security."
"Every country certainly has the right to choose the most acceptable way of ensuring its security, but it must be done in a way that doesn't infringe on the interests and undermine security of other countries, in this case Russia," Putin said.
Scholz highlights Nord Stream 2 on opening day
New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took the oath of office on Wednesday, said there would be "consequences" for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a major Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany, as a result of aggression on Ukraine.
Scholz said his government wants "the inviolability of the borders to be respected" and "everybody understands that there would be consequences if this were not the case."
France on Wednesday also warned Moscow it would face "strategic and massive consequences" if Russia attacked Ukraine, amid repeated warnings of a new troop build-up near the border.
"Strong messages were sent to Russia that a new attack on the territorial integrity of Ukraine would have strategic and massive consequences," the foreign ministry said in a statement following telephone talks this week between the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the UK and United States
France said that the five Western allies had jointly "expressed their determination that the sovereignty of Ukraine be respected."
Zelenskyy welcomes Biden involvement
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted on Wednesday to the call between Putin and Biden, saying he welcomed the US President's "personal role" in pushing for peace in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskyy said he also hoped that Ukraine and Russia could agree to a new ceasefire and prisoner exchanges in upcoming talks.
"The most important thing that we see now is that there is a personal real reaction and personal role of President Biden in resolving this conflict, the war in the east of our state," Zelenskyy said.
jcg/msh (AP, Reuters, dpa)