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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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.

12:10 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

UK foreign secretary: Reports of "abnormal military activity" in Donbas is Russian attempt to "fabricate pretexts for invasion"

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Alleged reports of "abnormal military activity" in the Donbas region are a "blatant attempt" by Russia to "fabricate pretexts for invasion," said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. 

These kinds of actions are "straight out of the Kremlin playbook," Truss tweeted Thursday. 

The United Kingdom is "very concerned," she said, by reports of "increased Russian aggression” in particular shellfire on a kindergarten in the Donbas region.  

Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine have spoken of renewed shelling in the region. Video and images confirmed by CNN showed a school in Ukrainian-controlled territory hit by a shell Thursday. 

The UK is also concerned by Russia's deployment of an additional 7,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, Truss wrote. 

The foreign secretary, who is set to give a joint press conference with her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Kyiv at 9 a.m ET, said the UK will "continue to call out Russia’s disinformation campaign." 

She urged "Russia to withdraw its troops," stressing "there is still time for diplomacy and de-escalation." 

8:09 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Kremlin reasserts noncommital response to appeal by lawmakers to recognize separatist republics

From CNN's Uliana Pavlova in Moscow

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Thursday reasserted the Kremlin's noncommital response to a recent appeal by lawmakers to formally recognize the separatist republics in the Donbas region, stressing that the recent measure was not a formal legislative package. 

Asked by a reporter in a conference call to comment on the appeal, Peskov noted that when French President Emmanuel Macron recently asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin about a bill to recognize the separatists, Putin replied that there was no bill. 

This is an initiative of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation," Peskov said. “This is their initiative, and it is not supported by the ruling United Russia party, but there is such an initiative. This was well known before the vote in the State Duma.”

Added Peskov: "It [the question] was about a bill and it was explained that there was no bill, but an initiative. There is no bill to that effect.”

Donetsk and Luhansk are regions of eastern Ukraine that have been partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

The Kremlin has maintained publicly that the Russian government remains committed to the Minsk agreement to resolve the Ukraine conflict, and international observers say that recognition could potentially scuttle the process. 

7:55 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

NATO fears Russia is staging pretext for armed attack against Ukraine

From CNN’s James Frater in Brussels

NATO allies are concerned that Russia is attempting to “stage a pretext” for an armed attack against Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, adding that NATO has observed “false flag operations” in Ukraine by Russian intelligence officers.

“We don't know what will happen, but what we do know is that Russia has amassed the biggest force we have seen for decades in and around Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. 

There are many Russian intelligence officers operating in Ukraine. They are present in Donbas, and we have seen attempts to stage a pretext -- false flag operations -- to provide an excuse for invading Ukraine,” he added. 

Speaking during a press briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Stoltenberg noted that the military alliance had observed a continued build-up of Russian military presence on the border with Ukraine, adding that allies have seen “no sign of withdrawal or de-escalation” by Russia. 

“We call on Russia to do what it says and withdraw its forces from the borders of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.  

“Allies are all ready to sit down with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council to address a wide range of issues and find common ground,” he added. 

The NATO chief also reiterated the alliance’s support for Ukraine, confirming that NATO allies are “helping Ukraine boost its ability to defend itself.” 

“Self-defense is a right enshrined in the UN charter, and allies are helping Ukraine to uphold that right, including with trainers and military equipment for the Ukrainian armed forces; cyber and intelligence expertise; and with significant financial support,” Stoltenberg said. 

7:42 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

After sanctions bill stalled, senators offer resolution for "unwavering" US support of Ukraine

From CNN's Manu Raju 

With talks over a bipartisan sanctions bill stalled, senators — led by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and GOP Sen. Rob Portman — offered a resolution showing support for Ukraine.

It’s non-binding, and they will try to pass it by unanimous consent on Thursday. 

The resolution is for "supporting an independent and democratic Ukraine against any further Russian military invasion," according to text of the resolution.

It also "commends the courage, resolve, and restraint shown by the Ukrainian people in their pursuit of sovereignty and democracy, and pays tribute to the many men and women who gave their lives in pursuit of a free and democratic Ukraine."

The text goes on to say that the Senate "reaffirms unwavering United States support for a secure, democratic, and independent Ukraine" and "denounces the Russian military buildup of over 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s border."

The Senate "encourages the President that, should any further invasion or other malign activity to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine occur by Russia, the United States Government should exhaust all tools at its disposal to impose significant costs on the Russian Federation to restore peace in Europe," according to the text.

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

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

CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Lauren Fox contributed reporting to this post.

7:55 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

India removes restrictions on flights to and from Ukraine due to demand

From Esha Mitra

An outside view of the international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 16. 
An outside view of the international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 16.  (Zurab Kurtsikidze/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

India removed all restrictions on the number of flights and seats between India and Ukraine that had been established earlier as Covid-19 countermeasures, the Ministry of Civil Aviation announced Thursday, according to state broadcaster Doordarshan News (DD News). 

“Any number of flights as well as charter flights can operate between India and Ukraine,” and Indian airlines have been asked to increase flights due to rising demand, DD News said Thursday.

It comes after the Indian embassy in Kyiv issued an advisory urging its citizens, particularly students, to “consider leaving temporarily."

All international commercial flights to India had been suspended since March 2020 due to the pandemic, except those operating in a limited capacity under air-bubble arrangements. India, which previously operated a limited number of flights with Ukraine under this arrangement, will now allow flights to operate unrestricted.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it had established a control room specifically for queries from citizens about Ukraine “in view of the prevailing situation” and said the Indian embassy in Kyiv has also set up a 24-hour helpline, according to a statement.

While no evacuations are being carried out presently, the Indian embassy in Kyiv continues to function normally and the MEA will “continue to monitor the situation on the ground and take further steps as the situation evolves,” Arindam Bagchi, the MEA spokesperson said Thursday.

7:17 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Ukraine's President spoke with European Council President on Donbas shelling

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in Moscow 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday he had spoken with European Council President Charles Michel about the shelling in Donbas. 

Both Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine spoke of renewed shelling in the region early Thursday. Video and images confirmed by CNN show that a pre-school in Ukrainian-controlled territory was hit by a shell Thursday.

Zelensky said he had informed Michel of "the security situation and today's provocative shelling, in particular in Stanytsia Luhanska."

He also said he thanked him "for the initiative of the donors' conference in support of Ukraine."