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
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12:10 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

NATO chief: "What we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack"

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels 

A Ukrainian frontier guard stands at the check point on the border with Russia, near the city of Kharkiv, on February 16.
A Ukrainian frontier guard stands at the check point on the border with Russia, near the city of Kharkiv, on February 16. (Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images)

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today that despite "signs from Moscow" that diplomacy should continue, there was no sign of de-escalation on the ground at Russia-Ukraine border. 

“Allies welcome all the diplomatic efforts and there are signs from Moscow that the diplomacy should continue. But so far, we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground. No withdrawals of troops or equipment. This may of course change,” he said at a press briefing following a summit of NATO defense ministers in Brussels.  

Calling the tensions between Russia and Ukraine “the most serious security crisis in Europe in decades,” Stoltenberg said that NATO remains prepared for dialogue and that it is not too late for Russia to “step back from the brink of conflict and choose the path of peace." 

“NATO is not a threat to Russia,” he added.   

“What we see today is that Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack with high end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus. This is the biggest concentration of forces in Europe since the Cold War,” the NATO chief said.  

Earlier today, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed similar comments, saying that the US is not seeing evidence that Russia is pulling back troops from the border of Ukraine, despite Russian claims. 

“Unfortunately, there's a difference between what Russia says and what it does. And what we're seeing is no meaningful pullback,” Blinken said on ABC’s "Good Morning America."

3:13 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Ukrainian cyberattack was "largest" such denial of service attack in country’s history, official says

From CNN's Sean Lyngaas, Anastasia Graham-Yooll, Tim Lister and Matthew Chance

A high-volume cyberattack that temporarily blocked access to the websites of Ukrainian defense agencies and banks on Tuesday was “the largest [such attack] in the history of Ukraine,” but it’s too early to tell who was responsible, Ukrainian Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov said at a news conference Wednesday.

The so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack — which throttled Ukrainian websites with phony traffic — was coordinated and well-planned, officials said. DDoS attacks often disrupt access to IT systems, but their impact can be more psychological than having any direct effect on a country’s critical infrastructure.

While down for parts of Tuesday, the websites of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces, and those of two prominent banks, were back up Wednesday, according to CNN journalists in Ukraine. The DDoS attack, however, is still ongoing, Ukrainian officials said.

The incident comes as Russia has massed an estimated 150,000 troops close to Ukraine's border, according to US President Biden, and as US officials warn that a fresh Russian invasion could come at any time. Russia has denied it is planning to invade Ukraine.

The US government is investigating the cyberattack on Ukrainian websites, a top State Department official said Wednesday, while suggesting that Russia has a history of carrying out such hacks.

“But who is best at this, who uses this weapon all around the world? Obviously, the Kremlin,” Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said on "CBS Mornings."

“While we're still investigating and doing forensics along with the Ukrainians, I think what's most important is that these cyberattacks were not very successful,” Nuland said.

She credited Ukrainian officials for responding quickly and helping the websites recover. 

Internet traffic hitting Ukrainian websites during the DDoS attack was “three orders of magnitude more than regularly observed traffic,” according to data collected by cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. 

Ninety-nine percent of the traffic involved a type of digital request to computer servers, “indicating the attackers were attempting to overwhelm Ukrainian servers,” said Adam Meyers, cybersecurity technology company CrowdStrike’s senior vice president of intelligence.

A Ukrainian intelligence report recently obtained by CNN pointed to Russia’s effort to destabilize “Ukraine's internal situation by using economic, energy, information, cyber, social, ethnic, and other tools.”

Ukraine has assessed that Russia and Belarus were responsible for a separate cyberattack that hit government websites last month. “As a result of a massive hacker attack on the night of January 14, 2022, the web pages of the Government of Ukraine” were shut down. The attacks were carried out by a group affiliated with the Russian and Belarusian special services,” the Ukrainian intelligence report said.

Similarities in the infrastructure used in Tuesday’s DDoS attack and the one last month suggest the incidents could be connected, Ukrainian officials said Wednesday.

CNN's Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood contributed reporting to this post.

11:08 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Top Senate Republican praises President Biden's speech on Russia 

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on February 15, in Washington.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a news conference on February 15, in Washington. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, praised President Biden for his speech on the situation Ukraine-Russia crisis on Tuesday, saying there “was much in the President's remarks that I appreciated."

“Yesterday President Biden addressed the country about the ongoing crisis that Russia has created on its border with Ukraine. There was much in the President's remarks that I appreciated,” he said in floor remarks on Wednesday. “He was right to candidly remind the Russian people that neither the United States nor NATO nor Ukraine want a war. He was right to emphasize that the world will not shrug or stand idly by if Vladimir Putin tries to invade his neighbor, or redraw the map of Europe through deadly force.”

He continued to say, “It's fine for President Biden to engage in good faith diplomacy provided we're skeptical about Putin's intentions.” 

McConnell added that the US must keep sending strong messages to Russia “verbally and with concrete actions.”

“I'm hopeful that President Biden will rise to the occasion,” he said. “As a bipartisan group of colleagues and I made clear in a joint statement yesterday, the President would have overwhelming bipartisan support to use his existing executive authorities for tough sanctions against Russia in the event of conflict.”

10:42 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Concern over continued buildup of Russian forces "has not abated a single bit," State Department says

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that "our concern has not abated a single bit" as Russia continues its buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border.

There's been "no meaningful sign of de-escalation, no meaningful Russian troop withdrawals from the borders," Price told CNN's Jim Sciutto on Wednesday.  

"We have continued to see Russian forces flow to the border, we've continued to see Russians along the border actually move into fighting positions. ... We know the Russian playbook. We know the Russians engage in misinformation and disinformation. We have good reason to believe the Russians are saying one thing and doing another in an effort to obfiscate, in an effort to hide the truth," he said. "The threat is very real."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this morning there has been "no meaningful pullback" of Russian forces, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement Tuesday that that Russia was sending some troops back to base after completing drills.

"The fact that Putin can take any number of courses were he to choose to do so, that is what gives us profound concern," Price said.

"We know that the playbook could include everything from cyberattacks to electronic warfare to aerial bombardment to a large-scale incursion. We are prepared for every eventuality," he added.

While it remains the "strong, strong, strong preference" to find a diplomatic solution, Price said, the Russians will need to de-escalate and "take meaningful steps that they have yet to take." 

11:00 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US commerce secretary: Biden administration wants "immediate economic retaliation" if Russia invades Ukraine

From CNN's Liz Stark

President Joe Biden arrives to deliver remarks on the situation with Russia and Ukraine in the East Room of the White House on February 15.
President Joe Biden arrives to deliver remarks on the situation with Russia and Ukraine in the East Room of the White House on February 15. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said President Biden has told her the administration would seek “severe, swift, immediate economic retaliation” if Russia were to invade Ukraine, amid rising tensions along the Ukrainian border.

“In terms of using any of our economic tools, I mean the President's been very clear with me, Secretary Yellen, if this happens, we want a severe, swift, immediate economic retaliation. And the way to make that effective and also not hurt our economy is to work with our allies,” Raimondo said in an interview with Punchbowl News Wednesday. 

This follows Biden’s remarks Tuesday in which he made an appeal for diplomacy to continue as the world watches to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, but also warned that a Russian attack on Ukraine will "be met with overwhelming international condemnation."

Raimondo also noted Wednesday that if Russia invades, “there would be disruption to the global economy, not just the US economy,” and that the Biden administration is “doing everything we can to avoid that eventuality.” 

Raimondo added that “it’s hard to know exactly how disruptive it would be to our economy,” pointing to concerns about potential increases in fuel prices. 

“We're already starting to think about what can we do to surge capacity, working with our allies, working with companies to make sure that we are ready to increase supply if necessary,” Raimondo said in the interview.

Asked about the risks of cyberattacks and possible impact on US businesses, Raimondo stressed the Biden administration is “monitoring this every minute of every day” and “there aren't as I sit here, you know, credible threats — though that could change, right, in five minutes.” 

Raimondo said US agencies are “hardening our own systems,” in addition to the Biden administration being in “constant communication” with private sector companies.

“It's just this constant communication with the biggest private sector companies, with the private sector companies that run America's infrastructure, to make sure that we have this seamless information flow, so that we're protected but also we can react immediately if something happens,” said Raimondo. 

10:04 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US stocks open lower as investors continue to monitor Russia-Ukraine situation 

From CNN’s Matt Egan

US stocks opened lower on Wednesday as investors continued to eye the situation in Ukraine as well as the Fed.

 At 2 p.m. ET, the Fed is set to release minutes from its January meeting that should offer new insights into the central bank’s plan to fight inflation by raising interest rates and shrinking its balance sheet.

Here's what the markets looked like this morning:

  • The Dow fell 0.2%
  • The S&P 00 fell 0.4%
  • The Nasdaq fell 1.1%

  

9:49 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

European leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss the latest Russia-Ukraine developments

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels

Ukrainian police officers march in Independence Square in central Kyiv on February 16.
Ukrainian police officers march in Independence Square in central Kyiv on February 16. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AFP/Getty Images)

European leaders will convene tomorrow for a newly arranged face-to-face meeting in Brussels to discuss the latest Russia-Ukraine developments.

“Ahead of tomorrow’s European Union – African Union Summit, there will be a one hour informal meeting of the members of the European Council at 12:30 pm (local) on a state of play of latest developments related to Russia/Ukraine,” European Council spokesperson Barend Leyts said in a statement.

 

 

9:36 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz will speak today

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz are scheduled to speak this afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET, a White House official says. 

Both leaders met at the White House earlier this month and Scholz met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday as diplomatic and de-escalation efforts continue.

9:37 a.m. ET, February 16, 2022

CIA moves out of Kyiv embassy and relocates in Lviv, sources say

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis & Natasha Bertrand

US Embassy in Kyiv on February 15, 2022.
US Embassy in Kyiv on February 15, 2022. (Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The CIA station in Kyiv has temporarily left along with the embassy, and relocated in Lviv, according to sources familiar with the matter — as would be expected, since the agency relies on the embassy backbone to operate out of in Kyiv as it does in other cities around the world.

According to two other sources familiar with the matter, the kind of work agency officers were doing in Ukraine is standard liaison partner work that has been ongoing there since at least the Obama administration. 

But the move could still make it more difficult for the CIA to collect intelligence on Russian activities inside Ukraine, at a time when the US is warily watching for signs of Russian conventional or “grayzone” warfare.