WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington does not yet see evidence of a Russian troop withdrawal from areas near the border with Ukraine and warned an invasion by Moscow remains a possibility.

During a 10-minute address to the nation on February 15, Biden held out hope that diplomacy would work, but said the United States would be prepared to hit Russia hard with sanctions if it invaded Ukraine.

He also appeared to brace Americans for consequences domestically, saying they could face higher energy prices if Russia steps up, triggering sanctions, but said it was worth the price to defend. the democracy.

“To be clear, if Russia decides to invade, it will also have consequences here at home. The American people understand that defending democracy and freedom is never free,” he said.

Biden said he was working to mitigate any impact on oil prices, which are already near eight-year highs. Russia is among the three largest oil producers in the world and sanctions could disrupt exports.

The president’s speech comes a day before his administration is reported to have said Russia could potentially launch its attack on Ukraine, according to US media.

Earlier in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had started withdrawing some troops located near the Ukrainian border, raising hopes for a de-escalation of tensions.

“That would be nice, but we haven’t verified that yet,” Biden said, adding that Russian troops – which he estimated at over 150,000 – remained “very in a threatening position”.

He said despite the possibility of an attack, high-level diplomacy to resolve the crisis should have every chance of succeeding.

The US President also addressed the Russian people directly.

“To the citizens of Russia: you are not our enemy, and I do not believe you want a bloody and destructive war against Ukraine,” Biden said.

“We are ready to continue working together. We are ready to embark on the path of negotiations,” Putin said at a joint press conference with Scholz, confirming an earlier statement by the Russian Defense Ministry about a withdrawal. part of the troops.

Scholz said he saw signs of progress in his talks with Putin and called Russian claims of a troop withdrawal a “good sign” for the de-escalation of a crisis that has reverberated far beyond Israel. Europe.

“There were enough starting points indicating good development,” he said. “It shows that it’s worth sticking with it and trying to make progress despite broad points of disagreement.”

Putin said Russia “of course” does not want to see the outbreak of war, but added that he was disappointed there had been no constructive response to Russia’s security demands.

The West threatened to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine. However, the United States and its European allies have differences over what sanctions to impose and what military actions would trigger them, which some analysts say Putin is seeking to exploit.

Germany relies heavily on Russian energy to power its economy, the largest in Europe.

Biden said last week during a White House meeting with Scholz that he would impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2, Russia’s new gas pipeline to Germany, if the Kremlin carries out an attack on Ukraine.

Scholz declined to say whether Berlin was ready to put the $11 billion pipeline on the sanctions table.

Nord Stream 2 would redirect gas destined for Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing an existing land route through Ukraine and depriving Kyiv of around $2 billion in transit costs.

During the press conference with Scholz, Putin reiterated that Russian-German energy cooperation remains a priority for Moscow and called Berlin a key partner.

Putin claimed that Nord Stream 2 would guarantee European energy security, a claim that Washington rejects.

Scholz’s trip to the Russian capital follows similar trips for crisis talks last week by Macron and two British ministers.

Scholz, who met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 14 in Kiev, had urged Russia to take immediate action to reduce tensions sparked by the buildup of troops and military equipment near the border with Ukraine.

Russia insisted it had no invasion plan, but at the same time said it wanted guarantees on European security issues, including a commitment from NATO not to s expand to countries like Ukraine or another former Soviet republic, Georgia.

However, Russia’s envoy to the European Union warned on February 15 that Moscow could invade Ukraine if “provoked” by an attack on Russian citizens inside the country.

“We will not invade Ukraine unless we are provoked to do so,” said Vladimir Chizhov, quoted by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Chizhov’s comments follow repeated warnings from Washington that Russia is planning so-called “false flag” incidents as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.

The US warnings were echoed by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who said on February 15 that an imminent invasion of Ukraine remained highly likely and that Russian troops could reach Kiev “very, very quickly”.

“It’s still true that an invasion could be imminent, and it’s very likely,” she said.

Amid American warnings of a possible impending Russian invasion, Zelenskiy declared February 16 a day of unity.

US intelligence reportedly listed February 16 as a possible date for Russian military action.

“We are told February 16 will be invasion day, we will make it unity day,” Zelenskiy said in a video on the evening of February 14.

Ukrainians are expected to raise flags across the country and sing the anthem at 10 a.m. local time. “Let’s show the whole world our unity,” Zelenskiy said.

With reports from Reuters, AFP, TASS and AP