President Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin the US and its allies will ‘respond decisively’ if Russia invades Ukraine.
The White House said Mr Biden told his counterpart the US remains committed to diplomacy, but was ‘equally prepared for other scenarios’.
He told Mr Putin that an invasion would ‘produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing’, in addition to being met with ‘swift and severe costs’.
The two leaders spoke for more than an hour a day after Mr Biden’s national security adviser warned intelligence indicated that a Russian invasion could begin within days.
US officials had previously said the Kremlin would likely wait until after the Winter Olympics have ended so as not to upstage Mr Putin’s close ally President Xi Jinping.
But Jake Sullivan said on Friday that an attack before February 20 was now a ‘credible prospect’, assigning it a ‘very, very distinct possibility’.
He said new Russian forces were arriving at the border and are in a position to ‘mount a major military operation in Ukraine any day now’, which could include a ‘rapid assault on the city of Kyiv’ or on other parts of the country.
Kremlin officials said the phone call between presidents Putin and Biden took place against a backdrop of ‘hysteria’ amid reports of an inevitable Russian invasion.
Mr Putin is also said to have told Mr Biden the West has not put enough pressure on Ukraine to ensure it abides by the Minsk Agreement – implemented to end the fighting between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Meanwhile, UK nationals in Ukraine are being urged by the Foreign Office to ‘leave now while commercial means are still available’.
Armed Forces minister James Heappey warned Russia is in a position to be able to attack ‘very, very quickly’, with an estimated 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s border.
But unlike when the Taliban seized Kabul, Mr Heappey stressed that the RAF would not be carrying out evacuations in the event of war in Ukraine.
It was understood that Boris Johnson, who spoke to President Putin earlier this month, does not have any calls with Moscow scheduled.
Western leaders have threatened Moscow with a damaging package of sanctions in the event of a further incursion into Ukrainian soil.
Ukraine is not a Nato member and allies in the defence alliance have said they would not join fighting in Ukraine, but have bolstered forces in neighbouring nations and are threatening widespread sanctions.
Though the Kremlin insists it is not planning an invasion, US intelligence suggests Russia could fabricate a ‘false flag’ pretext to attack.
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