Tensions simmer in Ukraine-Russia border crisis

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0755 GMT (1555 HKT) January 28, 2022
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9:50 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Ukrainian official tells CNN Biden-Zelensky call "did not go well," White House disputes account

From CNN's Matthew Chance and Jeremy Herb

A call between US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday "did not go well," as the pair disagree on the "risk levels" of a Russian attack, a senior Ukrainian official told CNN.

The White House, however, disputed the official's account, warning that anonymous sources were "leaking falsehoods." They did state that Biden warned Zelensky an imminent invasion is a "distinct possibility."

On the call, which the Ukrainian official described as "long and frank," Biden warned his Ukrainian counterpart that a Russian attack may be imminent, saying that an invasion was now virtually certain once the ground freezes later in February, according to the official. 

Zelensky, however, restated his position that the threat from Russia remains "dangerous but ambiguous," saying it's not certain that an attack will take place, the official added.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne, however, disputed the senior Ukrainian official's description of the call.

"Anonymous sources are 'leaking' falsehoods," she told CNN. "President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false."

The frank discussion between the two leaders comes as the US and NATO continue to brace for the prospect of a Russian invasion. Though they have stressed the need for diplomacy, the White House has warned an invasion could be imminent as tens of thousands of Russian troops have been amassed on the Ukrainian border.

The Biden-Zelensky call lasted an hour and 20 minutes Thursday, according to a US national security official, and was highlighted by the extensive issues the two leaders had to discuss amid the Russian troop buildup. The official described the call as "long and serious," but "productive," as Biden and Zelensky discussed Russia's recent aggressions.

9:01 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

US calls for UN Security Council meeting on Russia-Ukraine border crisis

From CNN's Kylie Atwood 

The Biden administration has called for the first UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting on the situation along the Russia-Ukraine border, US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement on Thursday.

The meeting is set to take place on Monday. 

It will be the first venue at the UN where American and Russian officials both speak about what is happening, as Russia shows no signs of de-escalation.

“Today, after weeks of close consultation with Ukraine and partners on the Security Council, the United States called an open meeting of the Security Council to discuss a matter of crucial importance to international peace and security: Russia’s threatening behavior against Ukraine and the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders and in Belarus,” Thomas-Greenfield wrote.

The members of the Security Council “must squarely examine the facts and consider what is at stake for Ukraine, for Russia, for Europe, and for the core obligations and principles of the international order should Russia further invade Ukraine,” she said, adding “this is not a moment to wait and see.”

“More than 100,000 Russian troops are deployed on the Ukrainian border and Russia is engaging in other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine, posing a clear threat to international peace and security and the UN Charter,” Thomas-Greenfield wrote.

“As we continue our relentless pursuit of diplomacy to de-escalate tensions in the face of this serious threat to European and global peace and security, the UN Security Council is a crucial venue for diplomacy," she added.

8:24 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Biden's call with Ukrainian president was "long and serious" but "productive"

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

President Biden's phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky lasted for an hour and 20 minutes Thursday, highlighting the extensive issues the two leaders had to discuss amid a Russian troop buildup on Ukraine's border.

A national security official described the call as "long and serious" but "productive," as Biden and Zelensky discussed Russia's recent aggressions.

Biden told Zelensky that US officials feel an invasion could potentially happen in February but did not say that it definitely would, the official said. 

Earlier in the day, another source from the US side said there is a recognition in the White House that Zelensky has "multiple audiences" and is trying to balance them.

"On the one hand, he wants assistance, but he has to assure his people he has the situation under control. That's a tricky balance," the source said. 

Here is the White House readout of President Biden's call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.

7:56 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

A group of bipartisan senators are making significant progress on a Russian sanctions bill 

From CNN's Lauren Fox

As Republican and Democratic senators continue to make progress in their efforts to put together a comprehensive Russian sanctions bill, a pair of sources are telling CNN the bill could be ready by the time lawmakers return to work next week.

The bill would include robust economic and technological sanctions against Russia as well as provisions to provide Ukraine with additional weapons support and supplies.

Lawmakers are looking to bridge the long-held divide between Republicans and Democrats as to when sanctions ought to be deployed. According to a source close to the process, the legislation would include not only immediate sanctions but also more crushing and far-reaching sanctions to be deployed if Russia went through with an invasion or tried to topple Ukraine’s government.

One area the lawmakers are looking at is that of a technological sanction, on items like semi-conductor chips, something for which Russia heavily depends upon the US.

Lawmakers are also eyeing a smaller bipartisan bill from Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen that would enhance the President’s lend-lease authority. This would more easily and swiftly allow arms to be sent to Ukraine in the event of an invasion.

Democrats have long said they support sanctions as a deterrent but largely prefer to hold off on immediately issuing them so as to leave room for diplomacy. Republicans, meanwhile, have been fighting to immediately issue sanctions as a preemptive threat against Russian President Vladimir Putin. This bill would bridge that political divide by enacting smaller sanctions immediately, while also allowing for further, more robust sanctions should invasions occur.

“Broadly speaking there has been good and constructive engagement. There is a recognition by [Sen. Bob] Menendez and hopefully by ranking member [Sen. Jim] Risch that the most important thing we can do in the senate is come back with a strong bipartisan bill that has 60 votes,” a Democratic senator working on the bill told CNN.

CNN's Manu Raju reported earlier this week that Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, convened a meeting Monday evening with a small group of bipartisan senators in hopes of making this final push. Since that time, members have been communicating in smaller groups with another potential meeting possible by the end of the week.

The same member told CNN there will probably be some mention of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the legislation, but the negotiators are being careful not to relitigate the bitter disagreements between the two parties on that issue.

It’s also not clear at this point whether the administration will back the bill the senators are working on.

6:14 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Pentagon says Russian buildup has increased "in the last 24 hours" near Ukraine

From CNN's Michael Conte

Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles participate in drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia on Thursday, January 27.
Russian BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles participate in drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia on Thursday, January 27. (Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters)

The Defense Department said that the buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border has increased “in the last 24 hours.”

“We continue to see, including in the last 24 hours, more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians in, again, the western part of their country and in Belarus,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.

Kirby said the buildup has been “not dramatic,” but “also not sclerotic.”


4:00 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

European commission president tells CNN "nothing is off the table" when it comes to Russian sanctions

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad, Ben Kirby and Emmet Lyons

View of pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline in Lubmin, Germany in early January.
View of pipe systems and shut-off devices at the gas receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline in Lubmin, Germany in early January. (Stefan Sauer/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to sanctions — including killing the mooted

Nord Stream 2 pipeline and removing Russia from SWIFT, a high security network that connect thousands of financial institutions around the world — should Moscow invade Ukraine.

“I want to be very clear — nothing is off of the table,” von der Leyen told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview when pressed on whether the EU would axe the prospective energy deal. 

“The commission is responsible for designing, shaping and developing the sanctions,” the EU commission president told CNN.

“We are very clear that if there is any further aggression or military aggression of Russia against Ukraine, there will be massive consequences, and severe costs for Russia," she added.

Von der Leyen pointed to Russia’s reliance on trade with the European Union and said that the EU held significant economic leverage.  

“You should not forget that the European Union is the biggest trading partner to Russia. Around about 40% of the trade and goods is done between Russia and the European Union. The European Union is also the biggest foreign investor in Russia — 75% of the foreign direct investment is coming from the European Union, and so these figures tell you that we have a strong leverage, and it would be very painful for Russia in the case that they increase this aggression against Ukraine.”
2:38 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

In call with Biden today, Zelensky is expected to air concerns about US public rhetoric on Russia

From CNN’s Matthew Chance, Katya Krebs and Natasha Bertrand

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will hold a call with President Biden today, his office told CNN.

The conversation is expected to be a “logical continuation of close cooperation, coordination of actions and evidence of support to Ukraine from its reliable partner,” Zelensky's spokesperson Serhiy Nikiforov said on Facebook.

“The leaders can be expected to address issues of peace, security, including energy, defence cooperation, macro-financial support, and anti-oligarchic reform. However, the list of topics is not exhaustive,” he said.

A source familiar with Zelensky’s thinking told CNN that Ukraine's leader is expected to air his concerns about the public rhetoric the US and its allies have engaged in surrounding a potential war between Ukraine and Russia.

Zelensky has been particularly concerned about the US’ rhetoric that war could be “imminent” — a word White House press secretary Jen Psaki used earlier this week to describe the US’ assessment of Russia’s plans — and the recent disclosures of intelligence to US media, the source said, which “is causing panic and economic disaster for Ukraine.” 

Zelensky is expected to convey to Biden that he believes the US and its allies have to be more careful with their messaging surrounding the conflict, the source added. 

Ukrainian officials have been similarly unhappy about the US’ decision to order the evacuation of families from the US Embassy in Kyiv, CNN previously reported, which Zelensky warned beforehand would be an “overreaction.” 

Additionally, Zelensky hopes to brief Biden on progress made during talks between Ukrainian and Russian officials in Paris this week, which was “very positive” and is being met with “cautious optimism” by the Ukrainian government, the source said.

It will be the second conversation the presidents have had this month and the third in two months, Zelensky's spokesperson said.

The White House confirmed the call would be occurring this afternoon and a readout of the conversation is expected.

CNN's Maegan Vazquez contributed reporting to this post.

10:42 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Turkish president to meet with Putin, offers to mediate talks between Ukraine and Russia

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce, Uliana Pavlova and Amy Cassidy

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint live broadcast of NTV and Star TV channels in Ankara, Turkey, on January 26.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint live broadcast of NTV and Star TV channels in Ankara, Turkey, on January 26. (Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Turkey for annual talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“President Putin gratefully accepted this invitation,” Peskov said. “They agreed that as soon as there is a resolution on a) the epidemiological situation and b) schedules, he will definitely take advantage of this invitation."

No date has been arranged yet, but Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters Thursday he had been informed by the Kremlin it will be after Putin returns from the Beijing Olympic Games, which begin Feb. 4.

Speaking in a TV interview broadcast live on Turkish news channel NTV Wednesday, Erdoğan invited Putin for a summit as part of Turkey’s High Level Strategic Cooperation Council Mechanisms, which it shares with both Russia and Ukraine. 

Erdoğan also offered to mediate talks between Russia and Ukraine as global efforts continue to de-escalate tensions.

“We want the current tension between Russia and Ukraine to be resolved before it turns into a new crisis,” he told NTV.
“I repeat that we are ready to give support as much as we can. I told this to Putin and [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and I will keep telling them that. We want peace and stability in our region," he said. 
“If they wish, we can bring the two leaders together in our country and pave the way for the re-establishment of the peace environment,” he added.

Erdoğan warned that “war between two countries” will cause harm to the region and reaffirmed Turkey – a NATO member – will continue to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“It is our greatest wish that the efforts of NATO on this issue will be successful. Our country has supported Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty from the very beginning," he said. 

“We had a clear stance against Russia when it targets Ukraine's territorial integrity such as Crimea annexation. Our attitude is not going to change. I hope that Russia will not conduct an armed attack or occupation of Ukraine. This is not rational for Russia and [the] region,” Erdoğan continued.

10:03 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

NATO has been an active participant in supporting Ukraine through its tensions with Russia. Here's how

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová and Bryony Jones

NATO — short for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — is a non-aggressive European and North American defense alliance set up to promote peace and stability and to safeguard the security of its members.

It was created as the Cold War escalated. Its aim was to protect Western European countries from the threat posed by the Soviet Union and to counter the spread of Communism after World War II. Over the decades, the alliance has grown, with 30 members today.

What might it do in Ukraine?

NATO already had troops in eastern Europe before the most recent increase in tensions with Russia, but it has boosted its presence there in recent weeks.

According to NATO, there are currently four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland on a rotational basis.

These battlegroups are led by the UK, Canada, Germany and the US. NATO said on Jan. 7 they are "robust and combat-ready forces."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is prepared to rapidly reinforce that presence further by sending additional forces and capabilities into the area.

Several NATO countries have started sending weapons and ammunition to Ukraine.

Why is Germany being criticized?

Berlin has come under criticism recently for its policy of not exporting weapons to crisis areas.

Germany has so far refused to send arms to Ukraine, promising instead to give Kyiv a field hospital, medical training and 5,000 military helmets.

Germany's complicated history means its governments have always been cautious about military spending, and the idea of getting directly involved in a conflict is a difficult one to sell there. It has also been criticized for failing to reach the 2% GDP spending target, along with other countries.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen and Nadine Schmidt in Berlin contributed reporting.