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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8:54 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Bipartisan resolution condemning Russia passes Senate after sanctions bill fails

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman and Ali Zaslav

The Senate late Thursday approved a symbolic resolution condemning Russia after failing to move a binding package of sanctions, showing the divisions that remain over Washington’s response to the Russia-Ukraine crisis even as members from both parties try to present a unified front. 

The resolution, which almost didn’t make it to the Senate floor before a week-long recess after Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, objected to it, condemns Russia for its aggressive actions towards Ukraine.

Paul objected because the original draft of the resolution didn’t include clear language ensuring nothing in the resolution could be construed as an authorization of force or an authorization to use troops, he told CNN.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who spearheaded the resolution with Republican Sen. Rob Portman, said the disagreements from both Republicans and Democrats had been resolved Thursday evening before the last series of Senate votes ahead of the recess, which allowed the resolution to pass by voice vote before the Senate gaveled out for the week.

While the resolution is a bipartisan declaration against Russia’s actions towards Ukraine, the step is a far cry from where Republicans and Democrats started weeks ago with talks of a bipartisan Russia sanctions bill. The sanctions bill, many senators believed, would have sent a strong and tangible message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that his actions towards Ukraine would have real, economic consequences. 

But the sanctions bill stalled after Republicans and Democrats could not agree on several key points including whether to impose sanctions before a Russian invasion of Ukraine and how to handle the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Sen. Jim Risch, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, killed the last shreds of hope left for a bipartisan agreement on sanctions earlier in the week when he introduced his Republican-only Russia sanctions bill, the Never Yielding Europe's Territory (NYET) Act.

Earlier Thursday: President Biden warned that he believed an attack would happen "within the next several days."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a stop at the UN Security Council before heading to Munich to warn them that Russia was laying the groundwork to justify starting a war and preparing to launch an attack on Ukraine in the coming days.

The Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Thursday that there have been no discussions of bringing the Senate back from their scheduled recess if Russia invades Ukraine.

“Nobody’s talked about that,” said Durbin, when asked if there’s any indication if Russia does choose to invade whether they’d bring the Senate back into session.

7:06 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US says Russia is planning to manufacture justification for a war with Ukraine

From CNN's Jeremy Herb, Veronica Stracqualursi, Kylie Atwood and Ellie Kaufman

Blinken speaks at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine, on February 17.
Blinken speaks at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine, on February 17. (Timothy A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

At a tense United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia is laying the groundwork to launch an attack on Ukraine and justify starting a war.

Blinken said such an attack could come in the coming days and urged Moscow to change plans.

"I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one," Blinken said. 

The US Secretary of State altered his travel plans so as to be able to attend and speak at Thursday's meeting. The United States' top diplomat noted that he was offering intelligence about Russia's plan to fabricate a reason for an invasion of Ukraine so as to "influence Russia to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there's still time."

According to the US, there is evidence at Ukraine's border indicating Russia is "moving towards an imminent invasion" and is not withdrawing troops, despite claims to the contrary.

Blinken's comments, coupled with those of others — including President Biden's warning that he believed an attack would happen "within the next several days" — display a greater sense of certainty from the administration that Russia's actions signal that the country is moving forward with plans for war.

"Every indication that we have is that they are prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine," Biden told reporters as he left the White House on Thursday.

Russia once again dismissed the notion it was preparing to attack Ukraine as "baseless accusations."

Read more here.

4:04 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Japanese prime minister spoke with Putin about Russia-Ukraine tensions, Kremlin says

From CNN's From Darya Tarasova in Moscow

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida initiated a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday evening, according to the Kremlin. 

"In connection with the interest shown by the Prime Minister of Japan, the President of Russia informed in detail about the ongoing work with the United States and its NATO allies to promote the initiative to develop long-term legal security guarantees of the Russian Federation," according to the statement from the Kremlin.

"In addition, Vladimir Putin spoke in detail about the origins and causes of the intra-Ukrainian conflict, outlining the fundamental Russian approaches to its settlement in accordance with the Minsk Package of Measures and the decisions adopted in the Normandy format," the Kremlin statement continued.

The leaders agreed to keep in touch.

4:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Ukraine ambassador to UN says potential Russian invasion is a "hanging threat"

From CNN's Laura Ly

Ukraine's UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya talks with the press after the United Nations Security Council meeting, Thursday, Feb\ruary 17.
Ukraine's UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya talks with the press after the United Nations Security Council meeting, Thursday, Feb\ruary 17. (Richard Drew/AP)

Ukraine's United Nations Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said Thursday that a potential Russian invasion is a "hanging threat" over their country and that Russian representatives continue to evade questions on it.

“We see a hanging threat over us. It’s been hanging since last year when the initial buildup of the troops began,” Kyslytsya told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting Thursday. “I regret, as some of my colleagues already said, that instead of giving clear-cut replies…the Russian side was very evasive.”

Kyslytsya added that despite reports that Russia has withdrawn a number of troops at the border in recent days, “neither [their] intelligence nor the intelligence of [their] partners can verify or corroborate this information.”

The Ukrainian ambassador also said he has not met with his Russian counterpart, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, on the matter, despite UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking him to sit down with him.

Kyslytsya said he is “always ready to negotiate,” but has not met with Nebenzia “either because he has some issues or because he doesn’t really want to sit down with me. We never had conversations with him.”

Kyslytsya also said that there are ongoing conversations between Ukraine and their international partners with respect to strengthening their defense capabilities and said Ukraine’s current army is much stronger today than it was several years ago. He asserted that the ongoing conflict is not just between Russia and Ukraine, but constitutes a “joint responsibility of every single country here in the United Nations.” 

Should a Russian attack occur, Kyslytsya said he believes “by the end of the day, responsible members of the international community will assess the situation, will assess the legal framework, and will undertake all necessary measures.”

4:38 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Vice President Harris arrives in Munich for security conference

From CNN's From Allie Malloy and Natasha Bertrand

US Vice President Kamala Harris, second right, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder, right, and US Ambassador Amy Gutmann, second left, upon Harris' arrival at the airport in Munich, Germany, on February 17.
US Vice President Kamala Harris, second right, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder, right, and US Ambassador Amy Gutmann, second left, upon Harris' arrival at the airport in Munich, Germany, on February 17. (Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Vice President Kamala Harris has just arrived in Munich, Germany, to attend the Munich Security Conference.

The foreign trip is perhaps Harris’ most high-stakes trip of her vice presidency yet.

The conference comes as Russia amasses forces on Ukraine's border and the Biden administration has taken a central role in rallying Western nations and other allies to the Ukrainian cause. 

Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Harris will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this weekend while at the conference, her first meeting with the Ukrainian leader.

The vice president will maintain a "very intense" schedule when she is in Munich, the senior administration officials said. The meeting with Zelensky will be one of several high-level meetings Harris will hold.

CNN's Jasmine Wright contributed reporting to this post.

3:23 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

UK prime minister says picture in Ukraine "continues to be very grim" 

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel  

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday said the ongoing tensions between Russia and Ukraine “continues to be very grim.” 

“The picture in Ukraine continues to be very grim. This weekend I will travel to the [Munich Security Conference] for discussions with partners,” he said in a tweet

“The West is united: De-escalation and dialogue is the only way forward,” he reiterated. 

Earlier on Thursday, British defense ministry said its latest intelligence assessment suggests that Russia could invade Ukraine "without further warning.” 

View his tweet here:

3:22 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

OSCE reports sharp increase in ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine 

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv 

Monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have reported a sharp escalation in ceasefire violations along the frontlines dividing Ukrainian and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. 

The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine reported in their latest daily bulletin that in the 24 hours until 7:30 p.m. local time on Feb. 16, they recorded 189 ceasefire violations in the Donetsk region, including 128 explosions.

In the previous reporting period, it recorded 24 ceasefire violations in the region. In Luhansk region, the mission recorded 402 ceasefire violations, including 188 explosions, when in the previous reporting period, it recorded 129 ceasefire violations in the region. 

The SMM reported that a member of the armed formations [separatist forces] threatened an SMM patrol at a training area in the Luhansk region. 

“The Mission’s freedom of movement continued to be restricted, including at a heavy weapons holding area in a government-controlled area of Luhansk region, at a permanent storage site and a heavy weapons holding area in non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk region, and at a training area in a non-government-controlled area of Luhansk region,” it said.  

“Its unmanned aerial vehicles again encountered instances of GPS signal interference, assessed as caused by probable jamming," it continued.

The violations continued on Thursday. A resident of the city of Donetsk — which is controlled by the separatists — told CNN that shelling in her district had been the heaviest in two years. There was no clarity on where that fire had originated from.  

The OSCE said that on Thursday as a result of "allegations of civilian casualties and damage to civilian properties and infrastructure sites over the past 24 hours, the Mission rerouted a number of its patrols in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including to a kindergarten and a railway station in Stanitsya Luhanska (government-controlled, 16km north-east of Luhansk)." 

The kindergarten was hit by artillery fire early Thursday. Two people suffered minor injuries, according to Ukrainian authorities.  

Both sides in the conflict accused the other of ceasefire violations Thursday. The Ukrainian defense ministry said that as of 2 p.m. local time Thursday its forces recorded "34 ceasefire violations committed by the Russian occupation forces, 28 of which by using weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements." 

The Donetsk People's Republic said Thursday that "Since the beginning of the current day, Ukrainian militants have violated the ceasefire 22 times.” 

3:10 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russia says it's their "sovereign right" to station troops where they are needed for country's defense

Russia’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin said Thursday that it’s their country’s “sovereign right” to consider their security and station their troops where they are needed for national defense. 

“If we do something, we do this having in mind our national interests, and the interests of our national security,” Vershinin told reporters after Thursday’s Security Council meeting on the Minsk agreement. “This is our sovereign right to think about our security … and also to have our troops where we believe they are important for the defense, once more for the defense, of the Russian Federation.”

Vershinin said allegations that Russia plans to invade Ukraine are tantamount to “hysteria” and echoed earlier assertions by Russian officials that officials in Western countries are fueling it. 

“I believe that now we look at our partners in western capitals to drop and to stop this hysteria about the intentions of Russia in the region,” Vershinin said, adding that their commitment is to the “de-escalation and peaceful solution of this crisis.”

“I believe in diplomacy and I’m glad that our partners believe in diplomacy. Certainly we should do all that is possible to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution for this,” Vershinin said, calling the conflict an “inter-Ukrainian crisis.”

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.