The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis

By Tara John, Adrienne Vogt and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 3:41 a.m. ET, February 19, 2022
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5:39 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Nearly half of Russian forces in attack position, US defense official says

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Nearly half of Russian forces surrounding Ukraine are in attack position, according to a US defense official familiar with the latest assessment. 

The number of battalion tactical groups has swelled to approximately 120-125. A battalion tactical group usually comprises 1,000 troops.

The official said the Russian military has continued to move forces toward the border, and within the last 48 hours, the number of forces in attack position has reached 40-50%.

At the same time, the Russian destabilization campaign has begun, the official said, with Russia accusing Ukraine of genocide in Donbas, conducting false flag operations, and more.

On Friday, a military vehicle exploded in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine near the Government House building, the headquarters of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. 

An advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Minister, Anton Gerashchenko, called it a “staging and a provocation.”

Earlier Friday: The Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, two self-governed regions in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, organized the evacuation of civilians to Russia. 

Russia promised each refugee would receive 10,000 rubles (around $130) upon arrival in the Rostov region of the country.

5:32 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Biden says it's up to Ukraine's Zelensky if he leaves the country for security conference this weekend

From CNN's Sam Fossum

US President Joe Biden on Friday said it is up to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky whether he will attend this weekend's security conference in Germany.

"That's a judgment for him to make," Biden said when asked by reporters following remarks he gave on the current state of tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

Biden added, "I've spoken with Zelensky a dozen times, maybe more, I don't know. In the pursuit of a diplomatic solution it may — maybe be the wise choice. But it's his decision."

CNN has previously reported that Biden administration officials have privately urged Zelensky that they do not believe it is a good idea for him to leave Ukraine and visit Munich on Saturday.

5:37 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Biden says uptick in Russian disinformation could be pretext for war 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said there has been an uptick in Russian disinformation that could be used as a pretext for an invasion into Ukraine.

Speaking at the White House, Biden said reports pushed to the Russian public that Ukraine is planning to launch an attack in separatist-controlled Donbas lacked evidence. He said those claims defied logic.

"All of these are consistent with the playbook the Russians have used before," Biden said.

"This is also in line with the pretext scenario that the United States and our allies and partners have been warning about for weeks," Biden went on.

He said the US had seen an uptick in violations of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine.

5:18 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Biden believes Putin has decided to invade Ukraine

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden says he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine. 

“As of this moment, I am convinced he's made the decision,” Biden said at the White House.

Biden previously stated he did not believe the Russian leader had made up his mind, but acknowledged his insights into Putin’s thinking were limited.

In previous appearances over the past month, Biden has suggested that Putin's thinking was a mystery to almost everyone, indicating even top Russian advisers were in the dark as to his intentions.

Friday's comments marked a significant shift in the President's view, and a far more definitive stance on his counterpart's plans.

After his initial answer, Biden was pressed again whether he was convinced Putin had determined to go ahead with an invasion. 

"Yes," Biden said.

Asked if that precluded diplomacy to defuse the crisis, Biden said it did not.

"Diplomacy is always a possibility," he said. 

And questioned as he was preparing to depart the Roosevelt Room why he believed "he is considering that option at all," Biden said only, "We have a significant intelligence capability."

5:22 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

US President Biden warns of "severe sanctions" on Russia if invasion occurs but says it is "not too late" to negotiate

US President Joe Biden once again warned Russia of possible consequences if an invasion of Ukraine occurred, but said "it is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table."

"The bottom line is this. The United States and our allies and partners will support the Ukrainian people. We will hold Russia accountable for its actions. The West is united and resolved. We're ready to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it further invades," Biden said.

"Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table," Biden said.

Biden noted that Russia agreed that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should meet on February 24 in Europe.

"But if Russia takes military action before that date, it will be clear that they have slammed the door shut on diplomacy," Biden warned.

"They will have chosen war and they will pay a steep price for doing so. Not only from the sanctions that we and our allies will impose on Russia, but the more outrage the rest of the world will visit upon them," he continued.

5:26 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Biden says US believes Russia intends to attack Ukraine "in the coming days"

From CNN's Jason Kurtz

President Biden said the US believes that Russian troops intend to attack Ukraine "in the coming week, the coming days."

"We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, the coming days," the President said Friday speaking from the White House. "We believe that they will target Ukraine's capital Kyiv — a city of 2.8 million innocent people."

Biden went on to condemn such an attack, in the process pledging to continue supporting Ukraine.

"We're calling out Russia's plans loudly and repeatedly ... we're doing everything in our power to remove any reason Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving. Make no mistake: if Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice," Biden said.

"The United States and our allies are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory from any threat to our collective security as well. We also will not send troops in to fight in Ukraine, but we will continue to support the Ukrainian people," the President added.

5:05 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Biden addresses the "disinformation being pushed out" by Russia regarding Ukraine

(Alex Brandon/AP)
(Alex Brandon/AP)

US President Joe Biden addressed the flurry of misinformation Russia has been releasing as the threat of invasion hangs over Ukraine.

In remarks from the White House Friday afternoon, Biden said he's "seen reports of a major uptick in violations of the ceasefire by Russian-backed fighters attempting to provoke Ukraine in the Donbas."

"For example, a shelling of Ukrainian kindergarten yesterday which Russia has falsely asserted was carried out by Ukraine. We also continue to see more and more disinformation being pushed out to the Russian public, including Russian-backed separatists, claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbas," Biden said. "Look, there is no evidence [of] these assertions, and it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a year-long conflict."

Biden's remarks follow reports from Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine of shelling in the Donbas region on Thursday.

Video and images confirmed by CNN show that a kindergarten was hit by a shell.

5:04 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

NOW: Biden speaks on Russia-Ukraine crisis

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Sam Fossum

President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, on Friday, Feb. 18, in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, on Friday, Feb. 18, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP)

US President Joe Biden is speaking now from the White House on the latest developments in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, as his White House is now blaming Russian intelligence for a massive cyberattack on Ukraine.

The President last spoke about the crisis on Thursday as he departed the White House for a trip to Ohio, when he said there is "every indication" a Russian invasion of Ukraine "will happen in the next several days," and the threat of an attack is "very high."

Biden's remarks come amid escalating tensions as US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter warned earlier Friday that the US has assessed a significant Russian military buildup near Ukraine just in the last two weeks.

Before his remarks, Biden spoke with allies in North America and Europe. He will hold a phone call with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO to discuss the ongoing crisis.

5:23 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

US officials say Russia has a list of senior Ukrainian officials it would remove if it invades

From CNN's Katie Bo Lillis and Kevin Liptak

Multiple US and western government officials tell CNN that the US has intelligence that Russia has drawn up lists of current political figures that it would target for removal in the event it invades Ukraine and topples the current government in Kyiv.

Sources familiar with the intelligence say the target lists are part of Russian planning to replace the current administration in Kyiv with a more Russia-friendly government, bolstering a previous disclosure by the British government identifying pro-Moscow figures it said Russia planned to install. 

The most likely outcome for those politicians and public figures whom Moscow has targeted to be ousted in the event Kyiv falls, these sources say, is jail or assassination. 

"We'll see what kinds of choices these people will be given, but a lot of them will be jailed or killed," said one source familiar with the intelligence. "I think for most it will depend on how cooperative these people are when the time comes and the circumstances in which they are captured or taken."

"If it's in public" — in front of cameras — "that'll be different very different from somebody who they corner in the middle of nowhere," this person added. 

CNN has not seen the underlying intelligence intercepts or the documents that name the targets or the purported collaborators and their supposed positions in a pro-Russia administration.

And for now, the threat remains contingent on invasion, even as Russia has massed between 169,000 and 190,000 personnel in and around Ukraine, including Russian-led forces in breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. 

American officials have continued to escalate warnings that Russia is prepared to launch an invasion in Ukraine in the coming days — including a full-scale march on Kyiv — but they caution that they don't believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued the order yet. Putin's exact plans remain stubbornly difficult to determine. Western intelligence officials have closely watched for signs that Russia has prepared a friendly government-in-waiting as a key indicator of its intentions. 

"As we've seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression," said a separate US official. "These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons."

CNN has reached out to the Ukrainian government for comment. 

Foreign Policy first reported on the details of US intelligence on the Russian planning.