The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis

By Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sana Noor Haq, Jeevan Ravindran, Fernando Alfonso III, Amir Vera, Helen Regan and Brad Lendon, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022
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5:21 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

Russia planning "biggest war in Europe since 1945," says UK PM Boris Johnson

From CNN's Manveena Suri and Lindsay Isaac

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. (Matt Dunham/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia is planning "the biggest war in Europe since 1945," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC during an interview that aired on Sunday.

“I'm afraid to say, that the plan that we're seeing, is for something that could be really the biggest war in Europe since 1945,” he said.

He added that “people need to understand that the sheer cost in human life that that could entail not just for Ukrainians, but also for, for Russians and for young Russians.”

On the issue of sanctions, Johnson said the aim was to impact not just “the associates of Vladimir Putin but also all companies, organizations of strategic importance to Russia.”

“We're going to stop Russian companies raising money on UK markets and we’re, even with our American friends, going to stop them trading in pounds and dollars that will very hard,” he said.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, Johnson said that in preparing to invade Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is “gravely miscalculating," adding that Moscow would have “absolutely nothing to gain from this catastrophic venture and everything to lose.”

Johnson urged Moscow to de-escalate tensions before it’s too late.

I fear that a lightning war would be followed by a long and hideous period of reprisals and revenge and insurgency, and Russian parents would mourn the loss of young Russian soldiers, who in their way are every bit as innocent as the Ukrainians now bracing themselves for attack," he said.

Johnson said, “We don’t fully know what President Putin intends,” adding that “the omens are grim and that is why we must stand strong together.”

Johnson's remarks come a day after US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russia was "moving into the right positions to conduct an attack."

"They're uncoiling and now poised to strike," Austin said, speaking from Vilnius, Lithuania on Saturday. 

"If you look at the stance he is in today, it's apparent [Putin] has made a decision and they are moving into the right positions to conduct an attack.” 

Echoing US President Joe Biden's assertion that Putin had made up his mind on invading, Austin added that the US would pursue a diplomatic solution "until the very last minute, until it's not possible."

However, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has countered Western leaders' heightened claims that a Russian invasion is imminent.

When asked about the aggressive use of US intelligence to dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine, Zelensky said he was "grateful for the work that both of our intelligence has been doing. But the intelligence I trust is my intelligence.

"I trust Ukrainian intelligence who ... understand what's going on along our borders, who have different intelligence sources and understand different risk based on intercepted data... this information should be used," Zelensky told CNN's Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour in a one-on-one interview at the security conference on Saturday.

He continued: "We are not really living in delusion. We understand what can happen tomorrow ... just putting ourselves in coffins and waiting for foreign soldiers to come in is not something we are prepared to do."

Zelensky then called for international partners to support Ukraine by investing in the country. "Strengthen our arms... our economy. Invest in our country. Bring your business in.

"We are not panicking, we want to live our lives," he added.

CNN's Ross Levitt, Karen Smith, Maegan Vazquez, Kevin Liptak, Betsy Klein, Sam Fossum, Emmet Lyons and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed reporting to this post.

This post has been updated.

4:39 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

Australian PM warns Russia the world will work together to protect Ukraine

From CNN’s Teele Rebane in Hong Kong

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (Darrian Traynor/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a warning to Russia on Sunday, saying the world will be moving together to counteract any violence it may inflict on Ukraine.

Should they follow through on their acts of violence against Ukraine. We will follow through with sanctions, together and in partnership with all of our other allies and partners,” Morrison told reporters Sunday.

“The world will be moving together to seek to counteract what would be a terrible act of violence, unprovoked, unjustified, unwarranted, unacceptable,” Morrison said. 

Morrison said there have never been any plans to deploy Australian troops to Eastern Europe, but the Australian government is working closely with international allies to support Ukraine in cyberspace and other issues.

4:16 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

China's foreign minister urges peace in Ukraine

From CNN’s Philip Wang in Atlanta

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. (Janine Schmitz/Photothek/Getty Images)

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says all parties in the Ukraine crisis should work towards de-escalation instead of hyping up war. 

During his virtual address to the 58th Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Wang said territorial integrity and independence of all countries should be respected and safeguarded. 

In a virtual address to delegates at the Munich Security Conference in Germany Saturday, Wang said territorial integrity and independence of all countries should be respected and safeguarded. 

“This is a basic norm of international relations that embodies the purposes of the UN Charter. It is also the consistent, principled position of China. And that applies equally to Ukraine,” he said. “If anyone questions China’s attitude on this matter, it is an ill-intended sensationalism, and a distortion of China’s position.”

Wang added it is an imperative to return to the Minsk II agreement as quickly as possible, and that to his knowledge, Russia, the EU, and the US all expressed their support to the agreement.

As for the security of Europe, Wang said all parties are free to raise their own concerns, and Russia’s "reasonable security concerns" should be respected and taken seriously. 

“China hopes all parties will pursue dialogue and consultation to find a solution that is truly conducive to safeguarding the security of Europe,” he said.

China -- which has its own tensions with the West -- has repeatedly expressed diplomatic support for its ally, Russia as tensions over Ukraine have intensified. In a joint statement issued at the start of February, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping said both sides opposed "further enlargement of NATO." Russia fears Ukraine may join the alliance.

4:06 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

Ukrainian soldiers "ready for any scenario" as mortar shells explode near front line, interior minister says

From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Katharina Krebs in Novoluhanske and Kramatorsk

Ukraine's Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, left, visits soldiers at a front line position in Novoluhanske, Ukraine, on February 19.
Ukraine's Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy, left, visits soldiers at a front line position in Novoluhanske, Ukraine, on February 19. (Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN)

A CNN team and other journalists accompanying Ukraine’s interior minister on a tour of the front lines in eastern Ukraine came under mortar fire Saturday.

No one was injured.

Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskiy sought cover as several mortar rounds landed nearby. Shortly after the shelling, he gave interviews to international media in Novoluhanske. 

About a dozen mortar rounds landed within a few hundred meters of the group.

Speaking to CNN prior to leaving the area, Monastyrskiy said, “We spoke with soldiers on the ground. The spirit is incredibly brave and all guys are ready for any scenario.”

He said that it had been his first time under fire. He told reporters that he was in the car en route and they had to stop every time they heard shelling and lay on the ground.

At a news conference later in Kramatorsk, Monastyrskiy was asked by CNN what role Ukraine believed that Russian military advisers were playing in the fighting in the eastern part of the country. 

"We have information about the advance of the Russian army along our territory," he said. "There is also information that certain units of the Wagner PMC have entered our territory. The purpose of the stay is to organize sabotage in our territory."

Some background: Wagner is a private Russian paramilitary force that has long been associated with the separatists in eastern Ukraine and has also deployed to Libya, Syria and the Central African Republic, among other countries.

The Russian government denies any connection with Wagner or other private military contractors.

Over the past few days, the Ukrainian armed forces have reported a surge in heavy weapons fire against Ukrainian positions along what is known as the line of contact.  

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said that through 17:00 local time (10 a.m. ET) Saturday, "70 violations of the ceasefire regime were recorded by the Russian occupation forces, 60 of which by using weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements."

The ministry also said that two Ukrainian serviceman were killed and four wounded on Saturday.

The Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov repeated in a Facebook post Saturday that Ukraine had no plans to launch an offensive against the breakaway regions, as claimed by the leaders of the self-declared Luhansk and Donetsk republics. 

"We do not plan any offensives, but we will not allow the firing on the positions of our troops and human settlements with impunity," Reznikov said.

3:44 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

EU condemns use of "heavy weaponry and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas" in eastern Ukraine

From CNN’s James Frater and Tim Lister

The European Union has urged Russia to de-escalate by substantially withdrawing military forces from near its border with Ukraine and highlighted the “increase in ceasefire violations” along the Line of Contact in eastern Ukraine in recent days.

“The EU condemns the use of heavy weaponry and indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas, which constitute a clear violation of the Minsk agreements and international humanitarian law,” read the statement from the EU’s high representative on Saturday.

The EU statement went on to commend Ukraine’s “posture of restraint in the face of continued provocations and efforts at destabilization.” And it expressed concern at “staged events” that it said could be used as a “pretext for a possible military escalation.”

The statement from the bloc comes after Ukrainian officials raised concerns about expected “provocations” in breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, saying they expect Russia to be involved in so-called false-flag operations there.

On Friday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, said the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk had alleged Ukrainian forces would launch an offensive against them – which Danilov called “completely untrue.” Danilov was speaking soon after an explosion in Donetsk wrecked a vehicle close to the DPR headquarters. The cause of the blast was unclear.

"There is a great danger that the representatives of the Russian Federation who are there will provoke certain things. They can do things that have nothing to do with our military," he said, and without providing evidence, added, "We can't say what exactly they are going to do -- whether to blow up buses with people who are planned to be evacuated to the Rostov region, or to blow up houses -- we don't know."

Also on Friday, the German and French Foreign Ministers said they did not see “any grounds” for the claim from separatist leaders against Ukrainian forces, warning that “staged incidents could be misused as a pretext for possible military escalation."

The EU also said it was witnessing intensified “information manipulation efforts” and expressed support for the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, calling for the mission to be allowed to carry out its mandate without any restrictions. 

“The EU sees no grounds for allegations coming from the non-governmental controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of a possible Ukrainian attack. The EU urges Russia to engage in meaningful dialogue, diplomacy, show restraint and de-escalate.”

The separatist-controlled areas in Ukraine's Donbas region, are known as the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserts the two regions are in effect Russian-occupied. The self-declared republics are not recognized by any government, including Russia. The Ukrainian government refuses to talk directly with either separatist republic.  

3:28 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

A split-screen moment for the Ukraine crisis, with hard and soft power on display

Analysis by CNN's Nathan Hodge

The Ukraine crisis had a split-screen moment on Saturday, as the Kremlin put on a display of hard power and the Ukrainian president staged a charm offensive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin led headlines first, as he oversaw a major test of the readiness of Russia's nuclear triad: The land-, sea- and air-based components of his strategic deterrent.

In other words, the Kremlin leader got to brandish his nukes. The drills were a classic key-turning exercise: The Russians rehearsed the scenarios for ordering the launch of a nuclear strike, with crews launching intercontinental ballistic missiles, bombers dropping cruise missiles and a submarine firing a ballistic missile.

It's meant to impress. Nuclear deterrence involves an element of theater, and Putin played the role to the hilt, watching the big screen inside the Kremlin situation room alongside his ally and close partner, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Russia's nuclear drills, in some respects, were the icing on the cake of massive military drills that have taken place over the past nine days. The Kremlin has presented those exercises -- in Belarus, on the Black Sea and in other parts of the Russian Federation -- as a major test for Russia's conventional armed forces.

But the Biden administration and its NATO allies believe, with high confidence, that those exercises are a smokescreen for positioning troops to invade Ukraine.

The United States estimates Russia now has 169,000-190,000 personnel in and around Ukraine, including Russian-led separatist forces inside the Donbas region of Ukraine. But despite a warning from President Joe Biden that Putin has made up his mind to invade Russia's neighbor, Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelensky left his country to attend the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

Read the full story here:

3:27 a.m. ET, February 20, 2022

Sunday catch-up

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Several world leaders met at the Munich Security conference in Germany Saturday. The conference is taking place as the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine threatens to boil over and diplomatic efforts stall.

Here are some of the latest headlines overnight to bring you up to speed:

  • US President Joe Biden is being regularly updated on Ukraine and will convene the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room on Sunday, according to an administration official.
  • Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday sanctions on Russia should be made public before a possible invasion of Ukraine occurs.
  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said earlier Saturday Russia was "moving into the right positions to conduct an attack" while Vice President Kamala Harris vowed a "swift, severe and united" response if Russia did invade.
  • Meanwhile, President Putin was joined by his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko Saturday as he launched Russia's ballistic and cruise missile exercises.