The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis

By Jeevan Ravindran, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:03 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022
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9:08 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

US must first verify claims of a potential move toward de-escalation by Russia, US ambassador to NATO says

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels 

United States Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on February 15.
United States Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on February 15. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

The US ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Julianne Smith, said the US is “monitoring the situation” after the Kremlin announced the return of some Russian troops to their bases following the completion of military exercises, adding that the US “will have to verify” claims of a potential move towards de-escalation by Russia. 

“We have noticed today that Russia is claiming that they are moving towards some sort of de-escalation. We are monitoring the situation,” Smith said Tuesday.
“We will have to verify whether or not that is in fact the case,” she added. 

Speaking during a press briefing in Brussels, Smith further noted that Russia “made a similar claim” regarding a potential de-escalation of tensions in December, but this later proved false. 

“When we went in to verify, we actually found no signs of that. And since then, we've only seen Russian forces moving in the opposite direction,” Smith continued. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the return of some Russian troops to their bases, noting during a press briefing that this is a “normal process” after the completion of military exercises.

“Russia has conducted and will continue to conduct military exercises throughout the territory of the Russian Federation — this is an ongoing process, as in all countries of the world,” he added.

8:45 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

US accuses Moscow spies of working with Russian-language media outlets to spread Ukraine disinformation

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas and Zachary Cohen

The US believes Russian intelligence agencies have worked closely with the editorial staff of five Russian-language media outlets to boost public support for a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, US officials familiar with the intelligence assessment told CNN in a media briefing.

Officers with Russia's domestic and foreign intelligence agencies, the FSB and SVR, have covertly planted articles in publications that blame the West for tensions with Russia over Ukraine, question the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government and challenge the US commitment to its European allies, US officials alleged.

A pillar of the alleged propaganda scheme is the Strategic Culture Foundation, a Russian journal that the US Treasury Department sanctioned last April for spreading disinformation in the 2020 US election, officials said.

The US officials did not present the underlying intelligence the allegations were based on, and they declined to describe how the information was obtained. Some of the information is corroborated by open-source reporting.

The disclosure is part of a furious effort by the Biden administration to declassify intelligence in the hope of preempting Russian military action in Ukraine, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other US officials have said could happen at any time. Russia has massed an estimated 130,000 troops on Ukraine's border, according to two sources familiar with recent assessments.

The disinformation campaign "is a primary vector for how the Russian government will bolster support domestically for an invasion into Ukraine, as well as spread any disinformation on a false flag operation," a US official authorized to speak on background with the media told CNN.

Neither the Strategic Culture Foundation nor the Russian Embassy in Washington responded to a request for comment. Russia has previously denied US allegations that the Kremlin was spreading misinformation.

Read the full story here.

8:30 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

White House conducted tabletop exercises to prepare for potential Russian invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

After the National Security Council recognized last November that Russia could potentially invade Ukraine, a broad range of government officials formed a so-called “Tiger Team” to create a playbook to game out how the US would respond to such an attack.

The effort — led by Alex Bick, the NSC's director for strategic planning — has been months in the making and involved several aspects what a response could require, "from humanitarian assistance, to force posture moves, to embassy security, to diplomatic efforts, to sanctions and other forms of pressure, to cyber," an administration official told CNN. 

The team — which included officials from the State Department, Pentagon, Joint Staff, USAID, Energy Department, Homeland Security, Treasury and the intel community — conducted two lengthy tabletop exercises to practice, including one that involved Cabinet members. 

"The reality is that what the Russians may end up doing is not likely to be a 100 percent match for any of these scenarios," principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said in a statement. "But the goal is for them to be a close enough facsimile of what they end up doing that the plans are useful in terms of reducing the amount of time we need in order to respond effectively. That’s really the whole goal.”

The Washington Post was first to report the details of the preparation. 

8:35 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

UK foreign secretary said she's concerned a Russian attack "would not stop at Ukraine"

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss is seen during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden, Moscow, on February 10.
UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss is seen during a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden, Moscow, on February 10. (Sergei Savostyanov/TASS/Getty Images)

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she fears a Russian attack “would not stop at Ukraine.”  

“This is an attack on the neighboring states of Russia and other Eastern European countries, in trying to undermine the legitimacy of them being part of NATO,” Truss told Sky News on Monday. 

She said an invasion into Ukraine could bring about the “undermining of security more broadly in Europe.” 

“We could also see other aggressors around the world see it as an opportunity to expand their ambitions, so this is a very dangerous moment for the world,” Truss said. 

The foreign secretary sounded a warning that a Russian invasion still "could be imminent” after comments from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky created further uncertainty about the prospect of an attack this coming Wednesday. 

Truss laid out a range of possibilities, saying there could be an attack on Kyiv, an attack from the East or potentially a “false-flag” operation – the fabrication of a Ukrainian attack on Russia, which US officials have previously alleged Russia is doing by creating “a very graphic propaganda video.”  

Russian troops could move down to Kyiv from border areas “very, very quickly,” Truss added. Last week, the UK government advised British citizens in Ukraine to leave the country now.

8:26 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

Dow futures jump 400 points, oil drops after Russia says it's withdrawing some troops

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Wall Street's Russia-Ukraine fears eased Tuesday morning after Russia announced it is withdrawing some troops following the completion of recent drills near Ukraine.

Dow futures jumped more than 400 points and US oil futures tumbled about 3.5%, despite the fact that Russia stressed Tuesday that major military exercises would continue. 

The market reaction to signs of potential de-escalation is the latest example of investors hanging on nearly every headline emerging from the crisis. 

The Dow and S&P 500 have declined three days in a row, including a drop on Monday that came after the US State Department announced the closure of the US embassy in Kyiv and that it was "temporarily relocating" the small number of remaining diplomatic personnel in the country to Lviv.

US oil prices jumped above $95 a barrel Monday for the first time since 2014 on concerns about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, crude reversed course Tuesday morning, falling to $92 a barrel. 

8:20 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

NATO's Stoltenberg says Russia "still has time to step back from the brink"

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he gives a news conference ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on February 15.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg gestures as he gives a news conference ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels, Belgium, on February 15. (Johanna Geron/Reuters)

North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the signs from Moscow for continued diplomatic work "gives grounds for cautious optimism."

Speaking during a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Stoltenberg said Russia still “has time to step back from the brink.”

“Russia has amassed a fighting force in and around Ukraine, unprecedented since the Cold War," he said. “Everything is now in place for a new attack, but Russia still has time to step back from the brink, stop preparing for war and start working for a peaceful solution."

“We are ready to discuss NATO-Russia relations, European security including the situation in and around Ukraine, and risk reduction, transparency and arms control," he continued, before adding that "we will not compromise on our core principles."

“Every nation has the right to choose his own path. And they will never be first class and second-class members of NATO. We are all NATO allies."

Some background: Ukraine is not currently a member of NATO, but has long hoped to join the alliance. This is a sore point for Russia, which sees NATO as a threat and vehemently opposes the move.

Amid recent tensions with the West, Russia has asked for iron-clad guarantees that the alliance won't expand further east — particularly into Ukraine.

7:24 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

UN Secretary-General says costs of Ukraine-Russia conflict "too high to contemplate"

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press encounter at the UN headquarters in New York, on February 14.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a press encounter at the UN headquarters in New York, on February 14. (Xie E/Xinhua/Getty Images)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday he is "deeply worried by the heightened tensions and increased speculation about a potential military conflict in Europe" and that the price of a potential conflict "is too high to contemplate."

Guterres made the remarks at a stakeout after speaking with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Russia and Ukraine, according to a statement by his office.  

"The price in human suffering, destruction and damage to European and global security is too high to contemplate," Guterres said. "We simply cannot accept even the possibility of such a disastrous confrontation." 

"My message is clear: There is no alternative to diplomacy," he said, adding "I will remain fully engaged in the hours and days to come."

Guterres went on to say that "All issues -- including the most intractable -- can and must be addressed and resolved through diplomatic frameworks. It is my firm belief that this principle will prevail."

He said the United Nations Country Team remains fully operational in Ukraine and that "the time is now" to defuse tensions. "There is no place for incendiary rhetoric. Public statements should aim to reduce tensions, not inflame them," Guterres said. 

6:54 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

India urges its citizens to "consider leaving" Ukraine 

From CNN’s Swati Gupta

The Indian embassy in Kyiv issued an advisory Tuesday urging its citizens, particularly students, to "consider leaving temporarily" amid heightened tensions in Ukraine with Russia.

"In view of the uncertainties of the current situation in Ukraine, particularly students whose stay is not essential, may consider leaving temporarily," the advisory said. 

“Indian nationals are also advised to avoid all non-essential travel to and within Ukraine,” it added. 

It comes as a number of countries have told their nationals to leave Ukraine after a week of failed diplomatic measures to avert a Russian invasion of the country.

The embassy also asked Indian nationals in Ukraine to keep them informed about their status and said the embassy in Kyiv would continue to function normally in the meantime.

Aside from a small Indian business community in Kyiv, there are approximately 18,000 Indian students studying medicine and engineering in Ukrainian universities, according to the Indian embassy.

Earlier this month, the official spokesperson for India's Ministry of External affairs Arindam Bagchi called for a "peaceful resolution of the situation."

“We have called for a peaceful resolution of the situation by sincere and sustained diplomatic efforts to ensure that concerns of all sides are resolved through constructive dialogue for long-term peace and stability in the region and beyond,” Bagchi said in a press briefing.

7:08 a.m. ET, February 15, 2022

Putin and Scholz talks begin

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz in London and Darya Tarasova in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on February 15.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on February 15. Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German chancellor Olaf Scholz have started their meeting in the Kremlin. 

In brief opening remarks, the two leaders -- seated at the famously enormous table -- Scholz welcomed the opportunity to continue seeking a diplomatic resolution to the current crisis with Ukraine.

“Of course it is clear that in this time we must also talk about the difficult situation --concerning peace and security in Europe -- as you have already done with my French colleague. But I am glad that it's possible now, and that we can talk now, because the most important thing is to solve the relationships between countries through good talks, and that is how to do it," Scholz said.

Putin told Scholz that the two leaders would "devote a significant part of our time to the security situation in Europe."