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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2:06 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Serbia orders large quantities of food as Ukraine-Russia tensions mount, according to CNN affiliate

From CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Alla Eshchenko and Marcelo Medeiros

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić gives a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, on January 18.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić gives a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, on January 18. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Serbia's authorities have ordered large quantities of food in light of the Ukraine-Russia crisis, President Aleksandar Vučić said on Friday, CNN's affiliate N1 reported.

Speaking during a live debate on the pro-government TV Prva on Friday, Vučić said that authorities ordered 30 million kilograms of salt and a million kilograms each of peas and beans as well as 30 million kilograms of flour and powdered milk, N1 reported.

"At a time when the whole world is hysterically expecting something to happen between Russia and Ukraine, you cannot pretend that nothing is happening," the Serbian president said.

Vučić also added that fuel supplies have not been secured yet.

1:54 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Denmark and Sweden join growing list of countries urging its nationals to depart Ukraine

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite, Li-Lian Ahlskog Hou, Amy Cassidy and Niamh Kennedy

Sweden on Saturday urged its citizens to leave Ukraine and advised against "all travel" to the country, joining a host of other countries updating their travel advice.

"Due to the serious and unpredictable security situation in Ukraine and its immediate area, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has today decided to advise against all travel to Ukraine and urges all Swedes who are in Ukraine to leave the country," Foreign Minister Ann Linde said in a tweet.

On Friday, Denmark advised Danish nationals to leave Ukraine, in light of the "serious security situation" in and around the country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The ministry "is now raising the level of security in the travel guidance for Ukraine to red. Therefore, all travel to Ukraine is advised against, and all Danes in Ukraine are advised to leave the country," it said.

The Danish embassy in Kyiv remains open and operational for now.

"It is still possible to leave Ukraine by regular air routes and by road and rail. It is not possible to say whether or when those opportunities may be curtailed, and Danes in Ukraine are therefore encouraged to leave the country," the ministry said, adding that Danish authorities cannot guarantee assistance to Danes who choose to stay in Ukraine at a later date.

1:49 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

US officials remind firms to be on heightened alert for Russian hacking threats

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas

Biden administration officials on Saturday reiterated their calls for US companies to remain vigilant in the face of potential Russian hacking threats amid concern over Russia's troop buildup near Ukraine's border.

“While there are no specific credible threats to the US homeland at this time, we are mindful of the potential for Russia to consider escalating its destabilizing actions in ways that may affect our critical infrastructure,” US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly tweeted Saturday. 

“ALL organizations must adopt a heightened posture of vigilance,” Easterly wrote. “The time to act is NOW.”

Agencies across the US government have for months warned of the possibility that Russian cyber threats to Ukraine could have ripple effects around the world. US officials have also been wary of retaliatory Russian hacking operations in the event that Washington and its allies slap punishing sanctions on Moscow. 

The US preparations have included classified briefings for the financial sector and an overview of Russian cyber capabilities for energy companies, CNN has previously reported.

A hacking group with ties to a Russian government institute probed the networks of US electric utilities in December, but no known compromises have occurred, private sector analysts previously told CNN.

1:32 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

While Biden-Putin call was "substantive," threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine remains, official says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

President Biden’s hourlong call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday morning was “professional and substantive,” a senior administration official said, but “there was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks.” 

"The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official told reporters after the call. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility."

The call came one day after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that Russia could be preparing to attack Ukraine before the end of the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 20 and told Americans in Ukraine that they should leave the country within 48 hours. The US has continued to reduce its diplomatic presence in Kyiv, the official said, echoing a State Department announcement this morning that more US diplomats will be moving out of the capital city. 

“We remain committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive,” the official said. “But we're also clear-eyed about the prospects of that, given the readily apparent steps Russia is taking on the ground in plain sight, right before our eyes. The stakes of this are too high not to give Russia every chance to avoid an action that we believe would be catastrophic. So as always, we continue along two paths."

The official said that Biden reiterated the US’s ideas for steps to both enhance European security and address some of Russia’s security concerns but noted that it “remains unclear whether Russia is interested in pursuing its goals diplomatically.”

Asked whether Russia has made a decision to invade, the official said, “I think the honest answer to that question is we don't have full visibility into President Putin’s decision making.”

“But you know, we are not basing our assessment of this on what the Russians say publicly,” the official continued. “We are basing his assessment on what we are seeing on the ground…which is a continued Russian buildup on the border with Ukraine, and no meaningful evidence of de-escalation, or really of any interest in de-escalation.”

The official said that US will continue and even increase its support for Ukraine to help it defend itself should Russia continue to escalate its aggression. 

“As to our plans going forward, I think President Biden and other officials have been clear, that should Russia continue down the path to escalation, the United States will continue to increase our support to Ukraine, to enable it to defend itself, and you know, that approach has not changed,” the official said. 

CNN's DJ Judd and Sam Fossum contributed reporting to this post.

1:11 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

White House: Biden told Putin the US will "impose swift and severe costs on Russia" if Ukraine invasion occurs

From CNN's DJ Judd

During US President Biden's phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the White House says Biden “was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia.”

Biden’s call with Putin started at 11:04 a.m. ET and lasted just over an hour, concluding at 12:06 p.m. ET. 

“President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing,” the White House says, adding Biden “was clear with President Putin that while the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners, we are equally prepared for other scenarios,” according to the White House. 

2:15 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

NATO is not a threat to Russia, British diplomat says, adding "we are not sending troops to fight"

From CNN's Alex Marquardt, Jennifer Hansler, Amy Cassidy and Niamh Kennedy

UK Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said that all British military trainers will leave Ukraine "over the course of the weekend," in an interview with BBC Radio 4 earlier.

A British diplomat told CNN Saturday, "This proves NATO isn't a threat to Russia — we are only defensive. As we have always said, we are not sending our troops to fight."

According to a statement from a source at the UK Defense Department, "Heappey has said around 100 troops deployed on Operational Orbital in Ukraine will withdraw. Our work in Ukraine has always been in a training capacity, not combat. An assessment on the future of the training mission in country will be undertaken once it is deemed appropriate to allow British personnel back to Ukraine."

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss "about acute and shared concerns that Russia may be considering launching further military aggression against Ukraine in the coming days," according to a US State Department statement.

Truss tweeted she and Blinken agreed that "Russia will face massive consequences for any invasion, including severe sanctions."

12:20 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

The call between Biden and Putin has ended

From CNN's Arlette Saenz

President Biden’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin was completed at 12:06 p.m. ET, according to a White House official.

The call clocked in at one hour and two minutes.

The discussion between the two leaders came hours after the US moved some of its forces out of Ukraine and ordered the evacuation of most of its embassy staff on Saturday as fears mount that a Russian invasion of the country could take place in the next few days.

12:22 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Ukraine's defense minister says forces are "ready to fight back," won't allow capture of any Ukrainian cities

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov holds a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 3.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov holds a briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 3. (Volodymyr Tarasov/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Saturday that Russia — which he described as “the aggressor” — would not capture any Ukrainian cities if it attempts to invade the country.

In a statement, Reznikov said the “armed forces of Ukraine are absolutely ready to fight back and will not give up Ukrainian lands,” as fears of a Russian invasion grow among the country’s international allies.

Back in 2014, Reznikov said Ukrainians “were not psychologically ready to resist someone with whom they sat at the same table yesterday,” but “the situation is completely different” now. That was the year in which Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and conflict broke out between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.

“Everyone who has looked into the eyes of our soldiers at least once is sure that there will be no repeat of 2014, the aggressor will not capture either Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv or any other city,” Reznikov said.

The defense minister added that Ukraine has its most powerful army in 15 years.

Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander in chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said in the statement that an active phase of command and staff exercises was underway at training grounds throughout the country. Ukraine is “constantly increasing our defense capabilities, coherence of units and military skills,” he said.

Having strengthened its defenses for the capital of Kyiv, and “gone through war and proper training,” Ukraine is now “ready to meet enemies… not with flowers, but with stingers, Javelins and NLAW,” Zaluzhny said, referring to weaponry systems.

Reznikov added that the country was also bolstered by the “unprecedented support” it has received from international partners, describing that support as “the largest ever since independence.”

He strongly criticized claims from Moscow that “Ukraine plans to attack Russia,” calling them “absurd.”
“We are not going to attack anyone, but we are doing everything to strengthen our defense and eliminate the possibility of escalation,” Reznikov said. Ukraine plans "to follow a political and diplomatic path" to regain the temporarily occupied territories, he added.

He urged Ukrainians to "remain calm" in the face of mounting warnings, calling calmness "the main weapon that can provide us with a solid foundation for defense."

12:25 p.m. ET, February 12, 2022

Blinken stressed "growing concern" about Russia's ability to launch invasion in call with counterpart

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on February 11.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a press conference in Melbourne, Australia, on February 11. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool/AP)

During his call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the "growing concern" of the United States about Russia's ability to launch an invasion of Ukraine in coming days, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Blinken. The secretary of state also pressed for details about when Russia will submit its formal response to the US.

During the approximately 35-minute call, which the official described as "direct" and "professional," Lavrov "indicated that Russia is still finalizing its response to the paper we provided over two weeks ago, that it would have to go to President Putin for his approval, but that it will be coming to us soon without providing any specific timeframe and the two agreed that once we received that response, then it would be appropriate for them to speak."

The official said Lavrov did not give details of what would be in the Russian response.

Asked by CNN whether Blinken told Lavrov that diplomacy would end if Russia invades Ukraine, the official said they "would not say that the Secretary said if Russia invades the path diplomacy is dead," but with any Russian invasion, "we would, at that point, you know, immediately switch to the path of imposing the cost that we've developed for the past two months with our allies and partners, and that would be our main focus."

During the call, Blinken "emphasized the priority that we place on safety of American citizens, diplomatic personnel and our embassy facility," the official said.

The State Department on Saturday ordered the departure of most US direct hire employees from the US Embassy in Kyiv.

The official told reporters that Lavrov again "denied that Russia has any intention to invade Ukraine."

Blinken also "certainly noted that... in response to the foreign minister citing that the current military posturing and exercises are being done on Russian soil, that Belarus is not Russian soil, and so there was a discussion of that," the official said.