The latest on Ukraine and Russia tensions

By Joshua Berlinger, Nick Thompson, Peter Wilkinson, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 1202 GMT (2002 HKT) February 17, 2022
36 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
5:32 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US officials are watching new bridge construction in key area in Belarus

From CNN's Katie Bo Lills, Natasha Bertrand, Tim Lister and and Paul Murphy

(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)
(Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies)

Satellite images taken over the past two days show new road construction and a tactical bridge being built across a key river in Belarus less than four miles from the Ukrainian border, amid what sources say is an ongoing buildup of Russian military forces encircling three sides of Ukraine.

Western intelligence and military officials are closely tracking the construction as part of the support infrastructure Russia is putting in place in advance of a potential invasion, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN.  

Both the new road construction and the bridge, across the Pripyat River in southern Belarus, are less than four miles from the border and could be used by Russian forces currently in Belarus in a drive to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The satellite images, from Maxar and Planet Labs, show the appearance of the pontoon bridge virtually overnight on Tuesday.  

Russia is building “bridges, field hospitals, all kinds of support infrastructure,” said one source familiar with the matter. “Which is why we aren’t really taking seriously their claims of de-escalation."

It’s unclear whether Russian forces or Belarus are constructing the bridge. Belarus is Russia’s closest international ally in the standoff and is currently hosting Russian troops and equipment as part of what Russia insists are “exercises.” Western officials assess that those forces could be used to invade Ukraine from the north, in particular, if Russia chooses to march on Kyiv.

While no concentrations of armor have been seen near the bridge, Russian forces have deployed to forward positions some 80 miles to the east — and one convoy was seen on a road leading to the area.   

According to western intelligence assessments, Russian President Vladimir Putin is positioned to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at any time — although the US still does not believe he has made a decision yet.

Russia yesterday issued a number of conflicting signals, including announcing that some of its forces would be pulling back from the Ukrainian border. But officials have said publicly that there is no sign of de-escalation on the border and multiple sources familiar with up-to-date intelligence told CNN that Russia was still actively moving forces closer to the border on Wednesday. Some long-range artillery has been placed in firing positions, according to a senior western intelligence official and another source familiar with the matter.

3:30 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

UK PM Johnson and UN's Guterres agree a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have "catastrophic" consequences 

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres held a phone call on Wednesday evening to discuss the crisis on Ukraine's border, during which they agreed a Russian invasion would have "catastrophic" consequences, according to a readout from Downing Street. 

“The Prime Minister said there is currently little evidence of Russia disengaging, and they agreed any invasion of Ukraine would have catastrophic and far-reaching consequences," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The leaders reiterated states’ responsibility to abide by their obligations under the United Nations Charter and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of UN members," the spokesperson said.

Johnson and Guterres also "reaffirmed the importance of all parties working in good faith to implement the Minsk Agreements," according to the readout.  

“They agreed to continue working closely together to pursue an urgent diplomatic resolution and avert a disastrous military escalation and humanitarian crisis," the Downing Street spokesperson added.

2:28 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

UK will double the number of troops in Estonia as part of NATO deployment, defense ministry says 

From CNN's Cecelia Armstrong

Britain will double the number of its troops in Estonia as part of a NATO deployment amid ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Britain's Ministry of Defense announced in a statement Wednesday.  

“The UK is doubling the number of personnel in Estonia and sending additional equipment, including tanks and armored fighting vehicles. The troops and equipment will begin to move to Estonia today,” according to the statement.  

The announcement comes during Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace’s visit to Brussels to discuss the situation in Ukraine with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.  

“Alongside our NATO Allies, we are deploying troops and assets on land, sea and air to bolster European defenses in response to the build-up of Russian military forces on the border of Ukraine,” Wallace said in the statement.  

The Royal Welsh battalion, which includes armored vehicles and personnel, will begin to arrive in Estonia in the coming week, the statement said, adding that Apache helicopters will “soon” be conducting exercises with NATO allies and partners in Eastern Europe. 

Four additional UK Typhoon jets have landed in Cyprus and will begin to patrol the skies in the region alongside NATO allies, the statement added. The UK has put 1,000 additional British personnel "at readiness in the UK to support a humanitarian response, if needed."

The majority of the 350 Royal Marines of the 45 Commando unit committed to Poland have already arrived, the ministry said. 

Wallace stressed that “de-escalation and diplomacy remain the only path out of this situation” at the Ukraine-Russia border. 

During his meetings in Brussels on Wednesday, Wallace said Russia “needed to match its actions to its words and truly deescalate.” 

2:31 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

White House says the window for a Russian invasion remains open and warns of fabricated pretext

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during the daily briefing in Washington on February 16.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki during the daily briefing in Washington on February 16. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House says the window for a potential Russian attack on Ukraine remains open and warned a fabricated pretext for an incursion could include reports like one Wednesday about mass graves in Donbas.

"We’re in the window where we believe an attack could begin at any time," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing.

She said the US was not taking Russian claims of de-escalation at face value.

"There’s what Russia says and what Russia does," Psaki said. Russian troops "remain amassed in a threatening way on the border."

Asked by CNN's Kaitlan Collins what a "meaningful de-escalation" would look like, Psaki did not provide specifics.

"We will know it when we see it," she said, noting the US was seeking a "verifiable reduction of troops on the border with Ukraine" but not laying out metrics.

She repeated White House warnings of "false flag" events meant to create the pretext for an invasion and said "everyone should keep eyes open" for fake videos or reports emerging on Russian media.

Asked about a cyberattack in Ukraine that took down some government websites, Psaki said she didn't have details on attribution for who was responsible. She said making such a determination was difficult because adversaries work to "hide their tracks" in cyberspace.

And she said the "door continues to be open for diplomacy," though said Russian responses to US security concerns hadn't yet been received in Washington.

"I think we are still waiting for that," she said.

1:45 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

White House sent officials to Saudi Arabia to pump for more oil amid Russia-Ukraine crisis, official says

From CNN's Natasha Bertrand

The White House dispatched two officials to Saudi Arabia this week to press the kingdom to pump more oil as fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine cause energy prices to rise, a potentiality President Biden warned about in a speech on Tuesday could get worse if Russia attacks.

National Security Council Middle East coordinator Brett McGurk and the State Department's energy envoy, Amos Hochstein, were in Riyadh on Wednesday, a senior US official confirmed to CNN, attempting to shore up the relationship more broadly but also to lobby Saudi officials to pump more crude oil and stabilize markets.

The Saudis have been resistant to any changes in production because of their commitments to OPEC+, a consortium of oil-producing countries that includes Russia, the official said. The officials' trip to Saudi Arabia follows a phone call between Biden and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud last week, in which they discussed "ensuring the stability of global energy supplies," according to a White House readout of the call.

Biden, in a speech on Tuesday, said that a Russian invasion of Ukraine was unlikely to be "painless" for Americans.

"There could be impact on our energy prices," he said. "So, we are taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets to offset raising prices."

US officials have continued to claim that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen at any moment, though Biden said on Tuesday that he still sees a window for diplomacy. Given the high risk of a Russian attack, the Biden administration has been making contingency plans for months to shore up Europe's energy supplies should a Russian invasion of Ukraine create gas shortages and roil the global economy, CNN has previously reported.

Read more here.

4:59 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

With bipartisan sanctions bill stalled, senators look for other symbolic rebukes of Russia

From CNN's Manu Raju

As bipartisan Russia sanction talks remain stalled, some senators are looking for symbolic rebukes of Russia and to show US solidarity behind Ukraine.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. Rob Portman plan to introduce a non-binding resolution today that would condemn Russia's behavior, Shaheen told CNN. It’s unclear when that measure would get a vote.

Some more context: Republican senators introduced their own sanctions package Tuesday after weeks of failed negotiations between bipartisan senators. Senators could not agree on whether to include sanctions that deal with the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

The proposed Republican sanctions package, introduced as the Never Yielding Europe's Territory (NYET) Act, would "mandate sanctions" on the Nord Stream 2 project "without a waiver should Russia invade," a release about the act said.

After lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a sanctions package or a resolution, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and GOP leader Mitch McConnell released a bipartisan statement Tuesday from Senate leaders on Russia, writing: 

“Should Vladimir Putin further escalate his ongoing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia must be made to pay a severe price. We are prepared to fully support the immediate imposition of strong, robust, and effective sanctions on Russia, as well as tough restrictions and controls on exports to Russia, and we will urge our allies and partners in Europe and around the world to join us."

CNN's Ali Zaslav, Ted Barrett, Lauren Fox and Ellie Kaufman contributed reporting to this post.

3:12 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US Navy aircraft had an "extremely close" encounter with multiple Russian military jets over the Mediterranean

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann

The Pentagon confirmed that three US Navy P-8A aircraft “experienced unprofessional intercepts by Russian aircraft” last weekend in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea, according to spokesperson Capt. Mike Kafka. 

“We have made our concerns known to Russian officials through diplomatic channels,” Kafka said. “While no one was hurt, interactions such as these could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes. The US will continue to operate safely, professionally and consistent with international law in international waters and airspace. We expect Russia to do the same."

CNN reported earlier that a aircraft had an "extremely close" encounter with the Russian military jets, according to multiple US officials directly familiar with the US military reports of the incident. The officials would not detail precisely how close the Russian aircraft came to the aircraft.

The initial reporting indicates there was a subsequent additional encounter after that between US and Russian jets.

Several of the sources indicated there is video of the incident, but the Biden administration has yet to publicly acknowledge any of the details amid rising tensions with the Russians. 

More background: It is not unusual for Russian aircraft to approach US military aircraft but the majority of the interactions are considered safe and professional by the US.

CNN also has reported that US military aircraft escorted a Russian cargo plane and fighters across an air exclusion zone in eastern Syria on Tuesday when the Russians failed to give appropriate advance notification of their flights, according to other US officials.

US officials continue to say these close and unexpected encounters risk a miscalculation that could lead to a military incident.

12:33 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Oil prices hit $95 a barrel as Russia-Ukraine tensions linger

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Oil prices bounced back to $95 a barrel on Wednesday as US and NATO officials say they see no sign of de-escalation on the ground in the Russia-Ukraine standoff.

US crude jumped as much as 3.2% to an intraday peak of $95.01 a barrel. This comes after oil prices fell sharply Tuesday after Russian announced it is withdrawing some troops following the completion of recent drills near Ukraine.

The rebound reflects lingering concerns about an invasion of Ukraine that threatens to disrupt Russia’s vast energy supplies at a time when global supply is already failing to keep up with demand.  

“People came to their senses. They hoped for the best but there is no proof on the ground that pulling back is a reality,” said Robert Yawger, vice president of energy futures at Mizuho Securities.

Some more context: US oil hit a seven-year high of $95.82 a barrel on Monday on Russia-Ukraine fears. In recent trading, oil was up 2.7% to $94.57 a barrel. Brent crude, the world benchmark, gained 2.6% to $95.75 a barrel.

The US stock market also gave up some of its sizable gains from Tuesday, with the Dow falling 225 points, or 0.6%, and the Nasdaq losing 1%.

President Joe Biden expressed skepticism on Tuesday about Russia’s claims of removing troops. Similarly, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that despite “signs from Moscow” that diplomacy should continue, “we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground.”  

Yawger said those comments from Biden and NATO are renewing concern in the market about a conflict. 

“Investors justifiably believe the president of the largest democracy on the planet and the largest military alliance in the world," instead of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yawger said.

Natural gas is also rising sharply, with futures jumping nearly 7% to $4.60 per million BTU.

2:28 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Germany plans to "stock up" OSCE staff in Ukraine to pursue diplomatic dialogue, foreign minister says

From CNN's Lauren Kent

The office of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Lugansk, Ukraine on February 15.
The office of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Lugansk, Ukraine on February 15. (Alexander Reka/TASS/Getty Images)

Germany plans to leave Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers in Ukraine and even "stock up" staff for the OSCE mission in Ukraine in order to pursue its mission of diplomatic dialogue, said Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Wednesday.

Baerbock added that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is also playing an important role in preventing diplomatic misunderstandings amid tensions between Russia and Ukraine. 

"The observing mission of OSCE is playing an important role, they are eyes and ears of the international community," Baerbock said in a joint press statement with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in Berlin.

"Especially in such critical moments, we need OSCE to establish transparency and prevent dangerous misunderstandings," she continued.

"Austria and Germany are sharing the same goal: Ensuring Ukraine's sovereignty and with this the European security architecture," Baerbock said. "This contains the right of all people in all our countries to live free from fear of war."

Baerbock said she welcomes Russian announcements of further negotiations and a partial withdrawal of Russian troops as a positive signal, if true.

"We will monitor closely whether these announcements will be followed by real action. It remains clear, that the plan is to de-escalate," Baerbock added. "Peace is the superior asset in Europe. The way out of this highly dangerous situation is only possible via dialogue and confidence-building."