The latest on Ukraine and Russia tensions

By Laura Smith-Spark, Ed Upright and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 4:04 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022
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10:07 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Turkey recommends against travel to eastern Ukraine, while Iran urges citizens to be prepared

 From CNN's Isil Sariyuce and Adam Pourahmadi

Turkey has advised its citizens against traveling to eastern Ukraine as fears mount over a potential Russian invasion. 

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Saturday on Twitter that it is "monitoring the security situation in Ukraine very closely." 

"In this regard, we recommend our citizens avoid traveling to the eastern border regions of Ukraine unless they have to," the ministry said.

Citizens undertaking necessary travel should "take all possible precautions for their personal safety" and contact the Turkish embassy in Kyiv before departing, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Meanwhile, Iran's Embassy in Ukraine has urged Iranians there to "remain calm and prepare for a possible state of emergency.”

It also asked Iranian nationals to "stay in contact" with the embassy, according to Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency Saturday.

10:02 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Spanish foreign ministry tells its citizens in Ukraine to "seriously consider" leaving the country

From CNN's Claudia Rebaza

Spain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs updated its travel guidance on Saturday to advise against travel to Ukraine and urged citizens in the country to "seriously consider" leaving. 

“Due to the volatility of the security situation, we advise not to travel to Ukraine," the ministry said in an update on its website. 

“We advise all Spanish citizens who are in the country to seriously consider the option of leaving temporarily via available commercial options (flights) while the current situation persists," the guidance said.

10:06 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

US State Department is preparing "for a worst-case scenario," senior official says

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The State Department is drawing down most of its staff at the US embassy in Kyiv because Russia has a “very capable” military and the US has to prepare for the worst scenario: a Russian attack on the Ukrainian capital, according to a senior official.

The US mission is only keeping a “core” number of diplomats in Ukraine as it orders most of the staff to leave the country. Some of those diplomats who are staying will relocate to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, according to the official.

“Prudence requires us to assume, to plan for and prepare for a worst-case scenario. And the worst-case scenario would obviously involve substantial Russian attacks on the Ukrainian capital,” the official told reporters during a phone call on Saturday morning. 

“Russia has a very capable military with substantial combat power, and should it choose to utilize a significant piece of that combat power against the Ukrainian capital, there's plenty of opportunities -- even with restraint and respect for diplomatic facilities -- for things to go wrong,” the official said. 

“We're shifting some people [to Lviv] in part because of its closer proximity to US diplomatic and consular facilities in neighboring countries, so we can maintain close coordination with colleagues in those neighboring countries and ensure that, should military action on the part of Russia begin, we can move those people safely, should we decide to do so,” the official said. 

The US diplomats will carry out core diplomatic functions and provide “emergency consular services” in Lviv, the official said. But routine services will only be available for Americans in neighboring countries, the official said. 

The diplomats are not working from a US facility in Lviv, they are just temporarily in the city, the official said. 

10:17 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Pentagon moves some US forces out of Ukraine, says it's still supporting Ukraine's military

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon on January 28, in Arlington, Virginia.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the Pentagon on January 28, in Arlington, Virginia. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered members of the Florida National Guard out of Ukraine, repositioning them “elsewhere in Europe,” according to a Pentagon statement.

The 160 soldiers have been in Ukraine since November on a training mission.

“They are departing Ukraine and will reposition elsewhere in Europe. The Secretary made this decision out of an abundance of caution — with the safety and security of our personnel foremost in mind — and informed by the State Department’s guidance on U.S. personnel in Ukraine,” the statement said.

The move, combined with the evacuation of nonessential embassy personnel from the US embassy in Kyiv, is a sign of growing concern among US officials about the safety of Americans in Ukraine.

The Pentagon says it is still supporting Ukraine’s military, despite this order. 

“This repositioning does not signify a change in our determination to support Ukraine's Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility in assuring allies and deterring aggression,” the statement said.

Today, Austin also discussed Russia’s military “build-up in Crimea and around Ukraine” in a call with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu, according to a brief Pentagon readout.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed reporting to this post.

9:30 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

It's "past time" for Americans to leave Ukraine as potential conflict looms, State Department official says

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and DJ Judd

A security officer patrols in front of the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.
A security officer patrols in front of the US Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Anna Marchenko/TASS/Alamy Live News)

A senior State Department official said it is past time for US citizens to leave Ukraine because there are limits to what the country can do to assist them in a conflict zone. 

“These developments mean for private American citizens, that it isn't just time to leave Ukraine. It is past time for private citizens to leave Ukraine,” the official said during a call with reporters on Saturday, adding that “there are real limits to what we are able to do in a war zone.”

While the Biden administration is working “intensively” to ensure that a war does not break out, the official said the possibility of armed conflict appears “increasingly likely.”

“We fervently hope and continue to work intensively to try to ensure that Ukraine does not become a war zone, and as you saw [Secretary of State Antony Blinken] working actively this morning to try to prevent that outcome with [Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov]. However, it appears increasingly likely that this is where this situation is headed, towards some kind of active conflict,” the official said, adding that is why the steps are being taken now to get out US diplomats in a “safe and predictable” fashion.  

The official warned that war zones are “inherently volatile” and “extremely dangerous.”

“Once a country or region becomes an active conflict zone, we have very little ability to help our fellow citizens,” the official said. 

The official reiterated that Americans should not expect the US military to evacuate or rescue them from the country.

“American citizens should not expect the US military is going to come rescue them in Ukraine at the last minute. That's not going to be happening in this scenario, and that's why it is past time for them to leave Ukraine,” the official said.

A “couple thousand” Americans have told the State Department in recent days that they are still in Ukraine, and a “substantial number” of them do not want to leave the country despite potential dangers, the official said.

“We’re in active contact with them to understand whether or not they are planning to leave,” the official told reporters, as the department continues to urge those Americans to leave the country.

The official said the US respects the decision of the Americans who want to stay but encourages them to reconsider that choice. 

“We fully respect their right to make their own choices, and ... there are many reasons why people might resist leaving, including if they're long-term residents of Ukraine,” the official said.

Some of the Americans are trying to leave the country now or have left already. The State Department is helping them leave if they want to do so. 

9:16 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Ukrainian president says the enemy's "best friend" is panic

From CNN's Olga Voitovych and Tim Lister

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a meeting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 11.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a meeting in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on February 11. (Ukrinform/Shutterstock)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the "best friend" for Ukraine's enemies is instilling panic in the country.

Speaking briefly after watching military exercises near Kherson, in southern Ukraine, Zelensky said he had to "analyze all the information" regarding threats at the country's borders.

"And the truth is that we have different information. And now the best friend for enemies is panic in our country. And all this information helps only to create panic, doesn’t help us," Zelensky said.

Zelensky has repeatedly called over recent weeks for Ukrainians to remain calm in the face of rising tensions with Russia.

The president was also asked about possible riots being staged in Ukraine.

"We understand that surprises can happen at any time," he said. "We must rely on our own strength. We understand that such things can happen without warning. Therefore, the most important thing is that we are ready for everything ... ready for any steps from any side, from any borders. I think that our experts, our teams, ministries, our military are at a very serious level."

Asked about the possibility of a Russian invasion, the president said, "As a state, we must rely on ourselves first of all. We must rely on our military first of all. We must rely on our citizens. And we must be ready any day."
But Zelensky cast some doubt on suggestions that Russia might take military action as soon as next week, noting that intelligence on an invasion was not "100%." 

"I believe that today there is too much information in the information space about deep full-scale war from Russia Federation’s side. They even say the appropriate dates," he said. "We understand all the risks, we understand that there are these risks. If you have any additional information about the 100% invasion, starting on the 16th, the Russian invasion in Ukraine, please give us this information."

8:46 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Several Mideast countries tell citizens to depart Ukraine

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser, Ruba Alhenawi and Jomana Karadsheh

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Israel joined the growing list of countries urging their citizens on Saturday to leave Ukraine.

Kuwait's Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Kuwaiti nationals currently present in Ukraine to leave instantly for the "sake of their safety," according to state news agency KUNA. The country also urged Kuwaitis to delay any travel plans to Ukraine.

The Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Ukraine urged its nationals to contact the embassy immediately to facilitate their evacuation, according to a tweet from its official account. 

Jordan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also issued a statement on Saturday urging Jordanians against travel to Ukraine. The statement said that Jordanian nationals in Ukraine should prepare to evacuate.  

In a tweet on Saturday, the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Ukraine said: "The Embassy of the State in Kiev calls on the citizens of the country to postpone travel to Ukraine at the present time." It also called on nationals currently in Ukraine to contact the embassy.  

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted Saturday, also calling on its citizens to leave. A statement from the ministry read: "As a result of the deterioration of the situation regarding Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry recommends Israeli citizens in Ukraine reconsider their stay in the country, and in any event, avoid approaching focal points of tensions. The Foreign Ministry recommends Israeli citizens planning on traveling to Ukraine to consider avoiding doing so at this time ... The Foreign Ministry has decided to evacuate from the country the family members of diplomats and Israeli workers at the Embassy."

8:37 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

US State Department reissues advisory telling travelers to "not travel to Ukraine"

From CNN's Adrienne Winston

The US State Department is reissuing its Level 4 travel advisory for Ukraine.

The department advises travelers: “Do not travel to Ukraine due to the increased threats of Russian military action and COVID-19; those in Ukraine should depart immediately via commercial or private means.”

The statement warned those remaining in Ukraine to "exercise increase caution" due to civil unrest and potential combat operations in case Russia takes military action.

"The Embassy will maintain a small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine to handle emergencies, but will not be able to provide passport, visa or routine consular services," according to the statement.

8:55 a.m. ET, February 12, 2022

US secretary of state urged de-escalation and diplomacy in call with Russian counterpart

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes part in a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on February 11.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes part in a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on February 11. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed “acute and shared concerns that Russia may be considering launching further military aggression against Ukraine in the coming days,” and urged a diplomatic solution during his phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. 

The call comes just hours before US President Joe Biden and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are expected to speak over the phone, and as the State Department has ordered the evacuation of most of its embassy staff in Ukraine.

“The secretary made clear that a diplomatic path to resolving the crisis remained open, but it would require Moscow to deescalate and engage in good-faith discussions,” Price said.

Russia has continued to build its presence along Ukraine’s borders in recent days, and Blinken “reiterated that should Moscow pursue the path of aggression and further invade Ukraine, it would result in a resolute, massive, and united transatlantic response,” Price said.