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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8:57 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US Air Force jets arrive in Germany in effort to strengthen NATO allies

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

US Air Force F-35 fighter jets arrived at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany Wednesday in an effort to strengthen NATO allies and show a united front to Russia.

The jets come from the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, joining a number of other aircraft that have already deployed to NATO countries.

On Monday, eight F-15Es from the 336th Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Caroline arrived in Lask, Poland, while six KC-135 tankers from the 100th Aerial Refueling Wing at Mildenhall, England arrived at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“These deployments were conducted in full coordination with host nations and NATO military authorities, and although temporary in nature, they are prudent measures to increase readiness and enhance NATOs collective defense during this period of uncertainty,” the statement from US Air Force in Europe said.

F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, depart Vermont Air National Guard Base in South Burlington, Vermont, on February 16
F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, depart Vermont Air National Guard Base in South Burlington, Vermont, on February 16 (Senior Master Sgt. Michael Davis/U.S. Air National Guard)


8:50 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US says Russia has added 7,000 troops to the Ukrainian border

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The United States says that Russia has added 7,000 troops to its assemblage of forces along the Ukrainian border.

This stands in direct contrast to claims by Russia that it has actually pulled its troops back.

The allegations by the United States come Wednesday evening as a senior administration official says the increase proves that Russia's assertion of withdrawal is "false," and suggests that Russian President Vladimir Putin's apparent warming to the notion of diplomacy is merely a guise.

"Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk, and make claims about de-escalation, while privately mobilizing for war," the official said.

Wednesday's new numbers would mean the totality of Russian forces at the border now exceeds the 150,000 figure President Biden shared on Tuesday.

In a speech from the East Room, Biden allowed that a Russian troop withdrawal would be "good," but quickly noted he'd seen no evidence to suggest such a pullback was indeed underway.

"Our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position," Biden said. "And the fact remains right now Russia has more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine and Belarus and along Ukraine's border."

Earlier in the week, Putin said that Russia was sending some troops back to base after the completion of training drills in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia in 2014.

Leaders from Europe and the US, however, universally doubted such a claim.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had not yet seen "any sign of de-escalation on the ground," adding that "signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue" were grounds for cautious optimism.

US Secretary Antony Blinken concurred, saying on Wednesday that there is "a difference between what Russia says and what it does."

"What we're seeing is no meaningful pullback," Blinken added.

Watch CNN's Nick Paton Walsh report on the increased US military and NATO presence in Poland amid the potential threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine:

7:11 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

Bipartisan resolution condemning Russia’s actions toward Ukraine could get a vote as soon as tomorrow

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Lauren Fox

A bipartisan resolution condemning Russia’s aggression and actions towards Ukraine could get a vote on the Senate floor as soon as tomorrow, according to Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of both the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“It will most likely be tomorrow,” Kaine said. “You could see there being a consensus."

The resolution is being offered after talks about a bipartisan sanctions bill halted when Republican Sen. Jim Risch, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a Republican-only Russia sanctions bill on Tuesday.

Now there is an effort among bipartisan senators to come to an agreement on some language condemning Russia's actions against Ukraine to show broad support among Democrats and Republicans for Ukraine while tensions remain extremely high between the two countries. The main proposal being floated is a joint resolution led by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Sen. Rob Portman, but Risch said several proposals are being floated. 

Risch said there was a “legitimate disagreement” on the extent of sanctions proposed by Democrats and Republicans. 

“I suspect and I predict that if there’s an invasion,” of Russia into Ukraine, “my bill is going to become very, very popular,” Risch said, referring to the Russian sanctions bill he introduced on Tuesday.

More context: A group of senators are traveling to Germany on Thursday for the Munich Security Conference, where several world leaders, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other heads of state and ministers, will be in attendance.

Kaine believes senators traveling to the conference want to show some kind of support for Ukraine before heading overseas, which is why it's possible the resolution could come tomorrow.

“We’ve got a bunch of colleagues going to Munich, and I suspect that they would like to have something,” Kaine said.

5:58 p.m. ET, February 16, 2022

US stock markets finish flat in a choppy day of trading

From CNN's Paul R. La Monica 

US stocks ended Wednesday mostly unchanged as investors remained focused on Russia-Ukraine headlines.

The market rallied from earlier lows after the release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting, which suggested the Fed may not raise rates as aggressively as feared.

Earlier in the day, the government reported that US retail sales rose sharply in January, rebounding from a decline in December.

Here's how the market looked at the closing bell:

  • The Dow finished down 0.2%, or about 54 points.
  • The S&P 500 was up 0.1%.
  • The Nasdaq Composite ended 0.1% lower.

Watch a market strategist explain why geopolitical volatility could be a future buying opportunity:

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.