The latest on Ukraine and Russia tensions

By Aditi Sangal, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT) February 1, 2022
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1:03 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

US Ambassador to UN: Russia intends to amass 30,000 troops near Belarus-Ukraine border by early February

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Russia intends to amass tens of thousands of troops near the Belarus-Ukraine border by early February, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Monday.

Speaking at a UN Security Council meeting, Thomas-Greenfield said the US has “seen evidence that Russia intends to expand that presence to more than 30,000 troops near the Belarus-Ukraine border, less than two hours north of Kyiv, by early February.”

“Russia has also moved nearly 5,000 troops into Belarus, with short-range ballistic missiles, special forces, and anti-aircraft batteries,” she said. 

A US official said that these figures come from declassified US intelligence. US officials have repeatedly warned that Moscow could use Belarus to mount an invasion into neighboring Ukraine. 

“Just as we’ve been clear with the Russian Federation about the severe costs that would befall them were this to move forward, in recent days we’ve also made clear to Belarus that if it allows its territory to be used for an attack on Ukraine, it would face a swift and decisive response from the United States and our allies and partners,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week. “We would – if an invasion were to proceed from Belarus, if Russian troops were to permanently station on their territory, NATO could well have to reassess our own force posture in the countries that border Belarus.” 

The Belarusian Ambassador to the UN claimed it was in support of dialogue, but reiterated that the country would act in defense of its ally Russia if it were attacked. He also said that Russia and Belarus would be holding joint military activities, which he said “are always purely defensive in nature, and they pose no threat either for our European partners, or our neighboring countries.”

1:49 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

Biden is waiting on Ukraine's approval to name ambassador to country, source says  

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Natasha Bertrand 

President Biden is close to publicly naming his ambassador to Ukraine, but his administration is still waiting on formal approval from the Ukrainian government, CNN has learned.

Biden has selected Bridget Brink, the current US ambassador to Slovakia, but hasn't officially nominated her yet because the Ukrainian government hasn’t signed off, according to a source familiar.

Getting approval from the foreign government is part of the standard process in selecting ambassadors and can usually take anywhere from days to weeks. A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN on Monday that the Ukrainian government is still vetting Brink.

Secretary Antony Blinken said recently the US ambassador to Ukraine would be announced “very shortly,” adding, "I can tell you that when an ambassador is nominated, that person will have the full confidence of the President of the United States, that person will be someone that is well known to me and with whom I have a close relationship, and that person will have very demonstrable expertise and knowledge in this region.”

More background: Currently the chargé d’affaires, Kristina Kvien, remains at the embassy in Ukraine. The US has not had a permanent ambassador in the country since Marie Yovanovitch, who was pushed out of the position after she said she was effectively “kneecapped” by Trump administration.

The State Department last week ordered that families of diplomats at the US Embassy in Kyiv leave the country amid heightened tensions with Russia, and allowed non-essential staff to depart voluntarily. The vast majority of staffers have chosen to stay, however, sources told CNN last week.

12:51 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

Russian UN ambassador says Western colleagues are "whipping up tensions and rhetoric"

From CNN's Laura Ly

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said during Monday’s UNSC meeting that there is no proof of military action against Ukraine, and instead asserted that his western UN colleagues are whipping up tensions and rhetoric.”

“We just don’t understand what we are discussing here today and why we are indeed here today,” Nebenzia said of Monday’s meeting. “This deployment of Russian troops in our own territory is getting our Western and U.S. colleagues to say that there’s going to be a planned military action and even an act of aggression… the military action of Russia against Ukraine that they’re all assuring us is going to take place in just a few weeks’ time if not a few days’ time. There, however, is no proof confirming such a serious accusation whatsoever being put forward.”

Nebenzia accused the United States and other western colleagues of provoking escalation by fueling “hysteria” and creating a “sham tension” in the region.

“You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen. You’re waiting for it to happen, as if you want to make your words become a reality. This is despite the fact that we are constantly rejecting these allegations and this is despite the fact that no threat of a planned invasion into Ukraine from the lips of any Russian politician or public figure over all of this period has been made,” Nebenzia said.

The Russian ambassador went on to say that such talk of invasion was an “attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and Ukraine” and that “Ukrainians are actively being brainwashed.”

Nebenzia also called into question the estimate of 100,000 troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border, as stated earlier in the meeting by United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. 

“Where did you get the figure of 100,000 troops that are deployed, as you state, on the Russian-Ukrainian border, although that is not the case? We have never cited that figure, we have never confirmed that figure,” Nebenzia said.

CNN’s Liam Reilly contributed to this report. 

12:46 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

Biden: Russia will face "swift and severe consequences" if it chooses to attack Ukraine

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Biden said the US and its partners and allies are prepared for “every scenario” after a UN Security Council meeting on Russia’s “threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In a statement released by the White House Monday, Biden said the US “made clear to the international community the full implications of that threat — not just for Ukraine, but for core tenets of the UN Charter and the modern international order.”

“If Russia is sincere about addressing our respective security concerns through dialogue, the United States and our Allies and partners will continue to engage in good faith,” the statement continues. “If instead Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility, and it will face swift and severe consequences.”

He continued: Biden said the world, “must be clear-eyed about the actions Russia is threatening and ready to respond to the risks those actions present to all of us,” and called the Monday meeting “a critical step in rallying the world to speak out in one voice: rejecting the use of force, calling for military de-escalation, supporting diplomacy as the best path forward, and demanding accountability from every member state to refrain from military aggression against its neighbors.”

12:30 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

Ukraine calls on Russia to "make concessions and show genuine interest in peace"

From Kostan Nechyporenko and CNN’s Mick Krever in Kyiv, Ukraine

Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday that “now is the time” for Russia to “make concessions.”

“Our goal, and we tell this openly to our partners, is for Russia to make concessions,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a news conference in Kyiv. “Now is the time for her [Russia] to make concessions and show genuine interest in peace. Ukraine is ready for constructive negotiations. But no one will put pressure on us. Nobody will force us to do anything. Because Ukraine has already done enough for peace. Now Russia should take a step.”

He said that the “best way” for Russia to prove that it does not want a war with Ukraine is to withdraw troops and military equipment from the border, and “give up any ideas about destabilizing the situation inside the country through contrived protests, cyberattacks, attempts to destabilize the normal way of life and functioning of the Ukrainian economy.”

“These are the first steps towards de-escalation that Russia can take today. At the same time, it is important to remember that Russia's aggression against Ukraine will be over only when Russia withdraws its troops from Donbas and Crimea and Ukraine will return all its temporarily occupied territories through diplomacy.” 

“And we will not follow the path of further concessions to the Russian Federation if Russia does not stop its military escalation first," he added.


12:27 p.m. ET, January 31, 2022

UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine held despite Russia and China objections

From CNN's Laura Ly

The United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine took place in New York City Monday, despite objections by Russia and China.

The meeting was called by the United States. Ten country representatives voted in favor of holding the meeting, two votes against came from Russia and China, and three country representatives abstained. 

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia asked to cancel Monday’s meeting, calling the accusations against Russia “a myth,” and alleged that the meeting is “a classic example of megaphone diplomacy” based on “unfounded accusations that we have refuted frequently.”

United States Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield countered by saying Monday’s public meeting is necessary after “over one hundred” private meetings over the course of the last few weeks with Russian, Ukrainian, and other European counterparts.

“You’ve heard from our Russian colleagues that we’re calling for this meeting to make you all feel uncomfortable. Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops sitting on your border in the way that these troops are sitting on the border with Ukraine,” Greenfield-Thomas said. “For us, this is about peace and security, it’s about honoring the UN charter that calls upon us as members of the Security Council to protect peace and security. So this is not about antics. It’s not about rhetoric. It’s not about US and Russia. What this is about is the peace and security of one of our member states.”

Prior to the start of Monday’s meeting, Chinese Ambassador the UN Zhang Jun told reports the country was against a public meeting in Ukraine.

“This is really the right time calling for quiet diplomacy, with more diplomatic efforts, instead of microphone diplomacy or public confrontation. And that’s also the concern of many members of the council. We all hope that with our efforts we can avoid adding fuel to the tension. And what’s really needed, badly needed, is more diplomatic efforts,” Zhang said.

CNN’s Michael Conte contributed reporting to this post.