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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8:02 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Satellite images show build-up of Russian helicopters within miles of Ukraine

From CNN's Paul Murphy, Tim Lister and Gianluca Mezzofiore

Satellite images show a new helicopter unit and battle group has been deployed to Millerovo Airfield in Russia, some 16 kilometers away from the Ukrainian border.
Satellite images show a new helicopter unit and battle group has been deployed to Millerovo Airfield in Russia, some 16 kilometers away from the Ukrainian border. (Maxar Technologies)

New satellite imagery from Maxar shows a substantial increase in the deployment of Russian helicopter forces close to the Ukrainian border.

Maxar assessed that a new helicopter unit and battle group deployment consisting of tanks, armored personnel carriers and support equipment have deployed to Millerovo airfield, situated 16 kilometers from the border with Ukraine. 

Millerovo is close to the part of Ukraine's border that is controlled by pro-Russian separatists of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic.

Slightly further north, Maxar said that a new helicopter unit (more than 20 helicopters) has deployed near Valuyki, approximately 27 kilometers east of the border with Ukraine.

As seen in a previous imagery package, nearly 20 helicopters remain deployed near Belgorod, approximately 35 kilometers east of the border with Ukraine.

Videos uploaded to social media, and vetted by CNN, show that attack helicopters are present at both airfields near Valuyski and Belgorod, Russia.

In Crimea, there are now 70 helicopters, more than 60 were first observed earlier this week, at a disused airbase at Lake Donuzlav on the Black Sea coast remain in place.

The increase comes despite a statement earlier this week from the Russian Ministry of Defense saying that some military units would be moved away from Ukraine and return to their home bases. Russia even published videos of trains moving a number of tanks as evidence that it was following through on its statement.

In the past week a combination of satellite imagery and social media videos have shown advanced Russian tanks, howitzers and ballistic missiles moving towards the Ukrainian border, especially to the north and north-east.

And satellite imagery earlier this week showed troops, military vehicles and helicopters at the Zyabrovka airfield near the city of Gomel in Belarus, around 25 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

7:14 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

Ukrainian official: It's impossible to know "what exactly is going on in the thoughts of" Vladimir Putin

From CNN's Matthew Chance and Katharina Krebs

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podoliak has told CNN “it is impossible to say with certainty what exactly is going on in the thoughts of the Russian leader.”

Podoliak's comments come on the heels of President Biden saying he's convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine.

Podoliak went on to note that Biden’s stance is undoubtedly based on information from the intelligence community, saying that it's “not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with the statements.”

However, said Podoliak, "one should pay attention to the more important meaning in the words of President Biden: he confirmed that there is still a chance for diplomacy. And we will use this chance."

Another senior Ukrainian official told CNN that Ukrainian President Zelensky is still planning to travel to Munich and return on the same day. But he did note that the “security situation will be reassessed in morning.”

6:15 p.m. ET, February 18, 2022

US House Speaker says Kyiv mayor "conveyed the urgent concerns of the innocent people of Kyiv"

From CNN's Lauren Fox 

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, attends the 58th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Friday, February 18.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, attends the 58th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Friday, February 18. (Tobias Hase/dpa via AP)

While at the Munich Security Conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she met with Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, who "conveyed the urgent concerns of the innocent people of Kyiv under threat of a Russian invasion."

The House Speaker said her Congressional delegation "reiterated America’s support for the people of Ukraine and opposition to Putin’s aggression."

Pelosi said in a statement that the delegation, “has made and will continue to make clear: America remains unwavering in our commitment to swift, severe consequences if Russia chooses to invade Ukraine."

"Under President Biden, the transatlantic alliance is stronger and more united — and we will continue to be together in our response," the statement said.

You can read the House Speaker's statement in its entirety here.

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.