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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9:48 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Biden: "My sense" is that Russia will invade Ukraine "within the next several days"

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the press prior to departing for Cleveland, on February 17. 
President Joe Biden speaks to members of the press prior to departing for Cleveland, on February 17.  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

As he departed the White House, President Biden told reporters this morning that the US has "reason to believe" Russia is "engaged in a false flag operation.” 

"Every indication that we have is that they are prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine," Biden said, adding, "My sense is it will happen within the next several days."

He said the Russian responses have been sent but he hasn’t read them yet. 

He noted Secretary of State Antony Blinken will go to the United Nations today and will lay out a diplomatic path, reiterating that “there is a path.”

Biden added he has “no plans to call Putin.”

He spoke for under two minutes before boarding Marine One to travel to Ohio.

9:23 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

EU ready to present "tough" sanctions package on Russia "as soon as needed," foreign affairs chief says

From CNN's Nada Bashir

The European Union is prepared to present a “full package of sanctions” on Russia “as soon as needed,” the EU's foreign affairs chief said Thursday. 

“We have already prepared a full package of sanctions. We have been working on that, and I have been in touch with the US and with all likeminded countries, with the technical support of the [European] Commission,” European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said. 

“We have a very tough package prepared,” he added.  

Speaking ahead of an informal meeting of European Council members to discuss the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Borrell reiterated that the European Union “still believes in the diplomatic process” and will concentrate efforts on diplomacy, but cautioned that the EU will “act decisively” if needed. 

“If there is aggression, I will immediately call the Foreign Affairs Council to propose the package of sanctions, and I’m sure that — even though unanimity is required — the council will approve them,” Borrell said.  

“When the moment comes, we will act decisively, when the level of intensity of the aggression requires,” he added. 

2:22 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Belarusian president tells CNN that "Western intelligence is useless" and to "calm down" about possible attack

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Asipovichi, Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko observes military exercises held by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at the Osipovichsky training ground in the Mogilev region in Belarus, on February 17.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko observes military exercises held by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at the Osipovichsky training ground in the Mogilev region in Belarus, on February 17. (Sergei Sheleg/BelTA/Reuters)

During Russian-Belarusian joint military drills, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen on Thursday that Western intelligence is "useless," while speaking about the possible threat of an attack from Belarusian territory toward Ukraine.

“You have to admit — if you have any shame at all — that you missed this period under the eyes of the whole global community. You accused Belarus and Russia that we were to invade Ukraine yesterday. We didn’t. So your intelligence and billions of dollars that you’re spending on it are useless. At least admit this!” Lukashenko said.

 Lukashenko reaffirmed his support for Russia’s position, saying the two countries have “practically formed a united army.”

“We have an agreement between Belarus and Russia, we have practically formed here a united Russia-Belarus group, a united army that is, you might say. And this is our official position. Please take it into account as we are taking into account your position,” Lukashenko said.

The Belarusian president went on asking about legitimacy of Western military experts in Ukraine.

“And on a broader subject — what are you doing here, thousands of kilometers [away]?" Lukashenko said.

"Your [military] experts in Ukraine? Your troops close to Poland, in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia? What do you have here? Thousands of kilometers away! So you shouldn’t hold it up against us. There no troops of ours in Canada or Mexico, such as infantrymen, for example. So calm down,” he said.

Some background: Western officials have expressed skepticism about Russian announcements that some of the troops assembled close to the border with Ukraine are returning to their bases. New satellite images from Maxar Technologies on Wednesday showed that in several regions close to Ukraine, Russian forces are consolidating and adding to their positions. Several units that had been gathered in camps in southern Belarus have been dispersed.

The satellite images also 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. It’s unclear whether Russian forces or Belarus is 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.”

CNN's Katie Bo Lills, Natasha Bertrand, Tim Lister and Paul Murphy contributed reporting to this post.

8:49 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US has received a response from Russia after submitting proposals 3 weeks ago, State Department official says 

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The United States has received a response from Russia today after the US gave a written document to Russia three weeks ago, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

"We can confirm that we have received a response from the Russian Federation. It was delivered to Ambassador Sullivan in Moscow today,” a senior State Department official said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier today that Moscow would send its response to the US on security guarantees today, following a meeting with his Italian counterpart. Lavrov said Moscow will also make the letter public.

The written document that the US gave to Russia had set “out a serious diplomatic path forward should Russia choose it," US Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in January. 

8:55 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russian foreign minister demands Russia’s core security issues be addressed first in negotiations

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in Moscow and Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has demanded Russia’s core security issues be addressed first in any negotiations with the United States and NATO before other security issues can be resolved.

In a news conference following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Moscow, Lavrov said that, for example, any agreement to limit and halt the deployment of short- and long-range missiles based in Europe or lower military risks associated with military exercises won’t be resolved “until we agree on our key positions.”

“That is NATO’s non-expansion to the East, non-placement of the strike weapons, and respect to the military and political configuration at the time of signing of founding act between Russia and NATO,” Lavrov listed as the core demands.

His comments come after Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, reiterated that the US and NATO had not satisfied Russia's security concerns.

"The responses we received from the United States and NATO members to security guarantees proposals, in our opinion, do not meet the three basic Russian requirements mentioned above," Putin said. "The provided responses contain a number of proposals that we are not just open to discussing, but in fact we have proposed them to our partners in previous years: proposals on European security issues, on certain weaponry issues, i.e. intermediate and short-range missiles, and on military transparency."

"We are ready to continue this joint work further. We are also ready to follow the negotiation track but all issues must be considered as a whole, without being separated from the main Russian proposals, the implementation of which is an unconditional priority for us," Putin said.

Lavrov went a step further on Thursday, saying: “Our priority is not seeing isolated issues plucked from the package of measures and then claim we’ve resolved all issues.”

“We noted in the second part of the American response to our initiative there is willingness to discuss and find agreement on the issues we’ve been proposing our NATO colleagues as urgent for the last several years,” Lavrov said.

“They have been avoiding these issues in many ways. I mean an agreement to limit and halt the deployment of short- and long-range missiles land-based in Europe, refraining from placement of other offensive weapons in areas where they can threaten security, reach concrete agreements when it comes to trust measures, measures to lowering military risks associated with military exercises of both parties, including air force and navy traffic,” he said.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “reiterated the US commitment to continue to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis Moscow has precipitated.”

8:30 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US defense secretary: Intel community investigating cyberattacks on Ukraine, but it's out of Putin "playbook"

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US intelligence community is still investigating who was behind a series of denial of service attacks on Ukraine’s government and banks earlier this week, but the move is out of the Russian playbook.

“In terms of confirming whether or not this was Russia behind this, the intelligence community continues to assess what happened there,” Austin said during a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday. “But I would just ... point out to you, this is a play taken out of [Russian President Vladimir Putin's] playbook.”

Some background: 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," according to a government minister.

Cyberattacks like the one on Tuesday are part of a series of moves the US expected to see before a Russian military invasion, including “increasing rhetoric in the information space,” Austin said. He noted the US is “beginning to see more and more of that.”

8:21 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US defense secretary: Russia is not withdrawing, but adding combat aircraft and stocking up blood supplies

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US government is not seeing any kind of withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine’s border. Instead, the US continues to see Russia add to its capabilities and troops “even in the last couple of days,” Austin said during a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.

Austin said the US is seeing Russia “fly in more combat and support aircraft,” plus “sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea” and even “stocking up their blood supplies.”

He also said the US is seeing some of Russia’s troops “inch closer to that border” with Ukraine in recent days.

“I was a soldier myself not that long ago, and I know firsthand that you don’t do these sort of things for no reason, and you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home, so we and our allies will stay vigilant,” Austin said.

Austin said that while the US is still “gathering the details” about shelling in Ukraine’s Donbas region, there is concern that it may have been done by Russia to create a pretext for an invasion.

“We’ve said for some time that the Russians might do something like this in order to justify a military conflict,” Austin said. “So we’ll be watching this very closely.”

8:15 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US secretary of state to address UN Security Council this morning amid tensions with Russia

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will deliver remarks at the UN Security Council meeting at 10 a.m. ET, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday morning.  

“Our goal is to convey the gravity of the situation. The evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving towards an imminent invasion,” she said. 

Thomas-Greenfield said that the US is doing “everything we can to prevent a war,” and the meeting this morning at the UN should not distract from what is happening on the ground in Ukraine.  

Blinken will speak to the intense US commitment to diplomacy and de-escalation, Thomas-Greenfield said.  

The meeting is on the implementation of the Minsk agreements, which was an effort to bring about peace in eastern Ukraine in 2014. But they never successfully brought about a ceasefire. 

Blinken’s address to the UNSC was a last minute change to his schedule. Thomas-Greenfield said she asked Blinken to make the address because “this is a crucial moment.”

Some background: The Russians and Ukrainians interpret the agreements in different ways, with Russia claiming that the agreements mean that breakaway regions of Ukraine must be given autonomy and elections which would give Russia representation in Ukraine’s government. 

Ukraine has addressed the United Nations Security Council over a Russian State Duma request for President Vladimir Putin to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as sovereign and independent, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Wednesday.  Donetsk and Luhansk are regions of eastern Ukraine that have been partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. 

“We have officially addressed the UNSC with an initiative to discuss Russian State Duma’s appeal to recognize the so-called ‘LDNR’, which undermines Minsk agreements and the peace process. We requested UNSC to consider the issue at the February 17th meeting on Minsk agreements,” Kuleba tweeted Wednesday.

8:06 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US Vice President Harris is en route to Germany for high-stakes trip on Russia and Ukraine

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

US Vice President Kamala Harris at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on February 17.
US Vice President Kamala Harris at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on February 17. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris departed Washington, DC, for a high-stakes trip to Munich, Germany, where she is set to attend and deliver a keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference and hold meetings with world leaders, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The trip comes as US officials say 7,000 new Russian soldiers have arrived near Ukraine, contradicting any Russian claims of a pullback.

She waved before climbing the steps to Air Force Two, but did not answer a shouted question on her message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Officials said she will be discussing a "full range of issues" with foreign leaders, including unity between allies, the economic consequences that have been prepped if Russia were to invade and a diplomatic path to de-escalation.

The senior administration official described the vice president's key objective in Munich as three-pronged: Focus on the "fast-changing" situation on the ground, maintain full alignment with partners and send a clear message to Russia that the US prefers diplomacy but is ready in case of Russian aggression.

CNN's Jasmine Wright contributed reporting to this post.