The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis

By Tara John, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 5:58 a.m. ET, February 18, 2022
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2:58 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Recently constructed pontoon bridge in key area in Belarus now appears to be gone

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis

A pontoon bridge built across a key river in Belarus less than four miles from the Ukrainian border has been removed, according to new satellite images and sources familiar with the matter. 

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

Satellite images from Maxar and Planet Labs showed the appearance of the tactical bridge virtually overnight on Tuesday.  

But by Thursday, the bridge was already gone. 

It was not immediately clear why it had been constructed or removed. It’s possible that the bridge was used as part of what Russia has claimed are merely exercises inside Belarus, its closest international ally in the standoff on Ukraine border. It’s also possible that Russian or Belarusian forces deployed there — forces that Western officials assess could be used to invade Ukraine from the north — already moved materiel across and no longer needed it.  

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

2:27 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US ambassador to the UN: We are "deeply concerned" about Russia's "path of confrontation" regarding Ukraine

From CNN’s Kylie Atwood

The US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, second right, talks with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at the start of a UN Security Council meeting on the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, on February 17.
The US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, second right, talks with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin at the start of a UN Security Council meeting on the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, on February 17. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US is “deeply concerned” that Russia has chosen the path of confrontation with Ukraine, instead of de-escalation. 

“For the second time in two weeks, the rest of the Security Council has delivered a clear, unambiguous message to Russia to pursue the diplomatic path. Do not pursue the path of confrontation. Unfortunately, we are deeply concerned that this is the path Russia has chosen,” Thomas-Greenfield said during a stakeout after Thursday’s UN Security Council meeting. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken challenged Russia to state that it has no intention to invade Ukraine today at the UN Security Council meeting, but she said that the remarks from Russia in recent days have been “incendiary rhetoric.”

The Russian Duma’s recommendation this week that the Kremlin formally recognize parts of the Donbas as an independent state “shows Russia’s total contempt” for the Minsk agreements, Thomas-Greenfield said. 

“Political resolutions to years-long conflict cannot happen at the barrel of a gun,” she said, adding that there is “only one country making threats” and that country is Russia. 

The US hopes Russia does not invade Ukraine but fears the worst she said. 

“As Secretary Blinken said this morning, we very much hope that Russia doesn't invade Ukraine and proves us wrong. But we fear the worst,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “That is why today the Security Council once again, urge rest of Russia to pursue the path of diplomacy. 

She said every single UN member state has a stake in this brewing crisis. 

“This is a moment for collective action,” she said. “There is too much at risk for anyone to sit on the fence.”

1:56 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russian official maintains troops are conducting drills on their own territory

From CNN's Laura Ly

Sergey Vershinin, Russia's deputy minister for foreign affairs, reiterated at Thursday’s United Nations Security Council meeting that Russian troops at the Ukrainian border remain on Russian land conducting drills.

“The fact is that the Russian forces were in the Russian territory and remain on the Russian territory,” Vershinin said. “My country is conducting drills in our own territory in the regime that we deem needed.”

Vershinin added that his country’s government is “ready for a dialogue … not imitation dialogue, but a real one.”

United States Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield responded to Vershinin’s comments by saying she hoped her Russian counterpart would announce that they do not plan to invade Ukraine. 

“Instead, it was a continuation of the disinformation and the rhetoric that we continue to hear, and we’ve heard before,” Thomas-Greenfield said. 

“Let me just say clearly … we will continue to intensify, we will continue to escalate our diplomatic efforts, and we call for Russia to cease confrontation and accept our invitation to dialogue.” Thomas-Greenfield said. “I will end by saying what [Secretary of State Antony Blinken] said today: he did not come here to promote war, but he came here to prevent war and to find a way to a peaceful solution.”

1:16 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

UK intelligence: Russia could invade Ukraine "without further warning"  

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and Sarah Dean

Russia could invade Ukraine "without further warning," according to the latest intelligence from the British defense ministry.  

"Russia retains a significant military presence that can conduct an invasion without further warning," it warned in a tweet Thursday.  

The tweet included a map of "President Putin's possible axis of invasion,” which showed Russia being capable of carrying out phase one ground movement towards Kyiv from two points along the Belarusian border and one point from the Western Russia border.  

The map additionally showed the possibility of phase one ground movements towards Dnipro from two points and from Crimea towards Mariupol.  

The map also displayed potential phase two ground movements from Crimea towards Mykolaiv and from Dnipro towards Vinnytsya.  It also showed potential phase one ground movements from the Western Russian border towards the direction of Luhansk.   

Based on this intelligence, Putin "still can choose to prevent conflict and preserve peace," the ministry emphasized.  

View the tweet from the British Ministry of Defence, below:

1:15 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Ukrainian foreign minister accuses Russian-backed separatists of using a tank for shelling in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Russian-backed separatists of using a tank to carry out artillery fire in eastern Ukraine, adding that authorities had, as of 3 p.m. local time, “tallied 42 instances of gunfire in the area.”

“The enemy fired at the Ukrainian territories with heavy artillery forbidden by the Minsk Agreement,” Kuleba said Thursday, highlighting that a tank was also used for shelling. 

Speaking during a news briefing alongside his British counterpart, Liz Truss, the Ukrainian foreign minister accused Russia of spreading disinformation to blame Ukraine for the incident. 

“These shells came from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, which are controlled by Russia,” Kuleba told members of the press in Kyiv. 

“Russian propaganda is trying to falsify reality and blame Ukraine for this shelling, but we are confident that they won’t succeed,” he added. 

Both Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine reported renewed shelling in the region early Thursday.

The Ukrainian armed forces said that “Russian occupation troops shelled the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska.” Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement Thursday that "Ukrainian Forces fired in response to suppress enemy’s activity, strictly adhering to the Minsk agreements."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the reports of shellfire were a matter of “very, very deep concern” but added that there were no plans to discuss the matter with the Ukrainian government.

Video and images confirmed by CNN show that a kindergarten in Ukrainian-controlled territory was hit by a shell Thursday. The kindergarten is less than five kilometers from the front lines that separate Ukrainian troops from the Russian-backed forces of the breakaway regions. CNN has not established who initiated the exchange of fire. 

2:04 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russian official says Ukraine is not adhering to Minsk agreement and attempts to blame Russia are "baseless"

From CNN's Laura Ly

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin addresses the UN Security Council in New York, on February 17.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin addresses the UN Security Council in New York, on February 17. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russia’s deputy minister for foreign affairs said at Thursday’s United Nations Security Council meeting that the Ukrainian government is not adhering to its obligations under the Minsk agreement, and attempts to blame Russia are “futile and baseless.” 

“We are increasingly thinking that the implementation of the Minsk agreement is not something that’s in the plans of our Ukrainian neighbors,” Sergey Vershinin said in translated remarks. “Seven years down the road, it is clear that none of the provisions of the package of measures have been implemented by Ukraine in full, starting with the first one – ceasefire.”

The United States and other countries have said that Russia is to blame for the failure of the Minsk agreement’s full implementation. 

Vershinin refuted claims that Russia was not adhering to its own obligations, saying there is “absolutely no grounds for that,” given there is no mention of Russia in the agreement’s text. 

“Attempts to place blame on Russia are futile and baseless. And this only hides the goal of shifting the blame away from Ukraine. I must say, we are very disappointed by the…position of our Western colleagues who are trying not to see obvious things,” Vershinin said. 

The Russian representative, who was the first country-representative speaker at Thursday’s meeting, told other subsequent speakers to not make the meeting a “circus” and to not present “baseless accusations saying that Russia allegedly was going to attack Ukraine.”

“We have long ago clarified everything and explained everything. And the announced date of this so-called invasion is behind us, so therefore…my advice to you is [to] not present yourself in an awkward situation,” Vershinin said. 

In remarks to the UN, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that intelligence clearly indicates that the buildup of Russian forces signals an attack against Ukraine in "the coming days."

12:34 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Here's what the Minsk Agreement is and what it could mean for the Russia-Ukraine crisis

From CNN's Tim Lister

As world leaders scramble to find a diplomatic solution over the ongoing Russia-Ukraine tensions, talk has turned to the 2015 Minsk Agreement as a possible way out of the crisis.

The agreement, the second of its kind (and the one that matters), was hammered out in the Belarusian capital in a bid to end what was then a bloody 10-month conflict in eastern Ukraine.

But Minsk II has never been fully implemented, with its key issues still unresolved.

Here's what you need to know:

Who are the key players? A rare meeting between Russian, Ukrainian, German and French leaders in February 2015 sought to bring peace to areas of Ukraine that had been taken over by pro-Russian separatists the year before. Those areas, in Ukraine's Donbas region, became known as the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserted the two regions were in effect Russian-occupied.

The talks also aimed to work towards a political settlement for the region.

The result, Minsk II, was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the separatist leaders and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was subsequently endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution.

What were the conditions of the agreement? A ceasefire. In February 2015, there was still heavy fighting in some areas between Ukrainian forces and Russian-supported rebels, with the Ukrainians taking heavy losses.

The withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the frontlines.

That the OSCE — a 57-member security organization that also includes the US and Canada — monitor the frontlines.

A dialogue on local elections in areas occupied by pro-Russian rebels.

The restoration of full economic and social links between the two sides, so that, for example, pensions could be paid.

That Ukrainian government control be restored over the border with Russia.

The withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.

Constitutional reform that would provide some autonomy to the regions of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region no longer under the central government's control.

Read the full story here.

2:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine "shows no signs of slowing down," UK foreign secretary says 

From CNN’s Scott McLean

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that despite Russia’s claims, its military buildup around Ukraine “shows no signs of slowing down.” 

“There is currently no evidence that forces are withdrawing. Russia must step back from the brink. The Kremlin has had every offer of diplomacy… Time after time, they have chosen not to engage with these proposals but to obfuscate and object,” Truss said in Kyiv following a meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.  

“Russia claims its being threatened, but what is the real threat? It’s not NATO’s defensive alliance; the real threat is more than 100,000 battle-ready troops massed on the border of this sovereign state,” she said.   

“Russia thinks that NATO should not expand; the truth is that countries want to join NATO. People want insurance and they see safety in numbers, and this is only accelerated by Russia’s belligerence,” the foreign secretary added.  

She went on to say that even if Russia pulls back from its border with Ukraine, the “problem will not have gone away. The free world needs to draw a line under a decade of drift.” 

Truss said she was surprised by seeing “China’s leaders aligning themselves with the Kremlin” as Beijing claims "a policy of non-interference.”  

“If China wants to be seen as a responsible global actor, they should be doing everything possible to ensure that Russia steps back,” she added.  

Truss blamed Russia for “violating its commitments, and probing our weaknesses” for years and urged the West to “wise up.”  

“In dangerous times, we have to take a hard-headed approach. That includes being ready to accept short-term pain for long-term gain, whether through imposing tough sanctions, for cutting strategic dependence by opposing Nord Stream 2,” she added.  

1:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

UK prime minister accuses Russia of "false flag" operation on school as pretext to invade Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday accused Russia of fabricating a pretext to invade Ukraine by attacking a kindergarten in Donbas. 

According to the Ukrainian armed forces, in a shelling by “Russian occupation troops” on the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, the kindergarten in the Ukrainian-controlled territory was hit by Thursday.  

Video and images confirmed by CNN show that it was hit by a shell in the attack on the community.

While Johnson told reporters the attack was a “false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action,” this particular incident should not be conclusively termed a false flag operation by Russia intended to blame Ukraine for an attack on its own community.  

However, world leaders including US President Biden, have accused Russia of carrying out “false flag” operations in recent days designed to blunt the impact of any pretext Russia may use to invade Ukraine.  

Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine have said there has been renewed shelling in the Donbas region, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling the kindergarten shelling "a big provocation." 

“We fear very much that that is the kind of thing we'll see more of over the next few days,” Johnson warned, adding that if Russia was “so mad as to invade,” it would result in a bloody and protracted conflict.” 

Johnson reiterated that that the UK will apply heavy economic sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine, but continued: “I do think there is still time for the Putin regime to step back.”

“There's still time to avoid a catastrophe, a catastrophe for Russia, a catastrophe for Ukraine and for the world," Johnson added.  

“If Russia was so mad as to invade, I don't think people should imagine that this will be a brief business. This will be a bloody and protracted conflict in which I'm afraid that there will be many casualties, including many Russian casualties and I just hope that people in Russia can see that for what it is,” Johnson said.