White House official says Blinken and Lavrov will discuss the possible Biden-Putin summit
From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Arlette Saenz
A White House official says Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will discuss a possible summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin when they meet later this week.
But the official added a word of caution about those discussions.
“Blinken and Lavrov will discuss further if the invasion hasn’t started by then — in which case it’s all off,” the official said.
Another senior official added that no plans currently exist for a summit when it comes to timing or format.
9:27 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
Macron spoke with Putin for a second time on Sunday
From CNN's Samantha Beech
French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a second time in fewer than 24 hours, the Elysée Palace said in a statement late Sunday.
The talk comes as Macron proposed a summit between US President Joe Biden and Putin, the Elysée Palace said.
Of the second Putin call late Sunday Paris time, the Elysée said: “The phone call between the French President and President Putin started at 11 p.m. Paris time (1 a.m. Moscow time)." That is 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.
The Elysée said the call lasted an hour.
This is the second time Macron has spoken to Putin in fewer than 24 hours, according to the French presidency. The first call lasted one hour and 45 minutes.
Macron’s second call with Putin follows his conversation with Biden earlier on Sunday. The White House said Biden and Macron spoke for 15 minutes.
Context: President Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to a meeting with President Putin as long as Russia does not further invade Ukraine, according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. CNN has asked the Kremlin if it has also agreed in principle, but has not received an immediate response.
9:05 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
French President proposes Biden-Putin summit during call with Biden, Elysée says
From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey, Samantha Beech, Kaitlin Collins and Matthew Chance
French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed a summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Elysée Palace said in a statement.
The statement said the potential summit can only be held “if Russia does not invade Ukraine.”
Macron and Biden spoke by phone for around 15 minutes to discuss the situation in Ukraine on Sunday.
The French presidency also said Macron had two calls with Putin on Sunday.
The Elysée said Macron proposed a summit on security and strategic stability in Europe with Biden and Putin, and then with all other stakeholders. The statement did not name those stakeholders, but said Macron would work with them to prepare the content of these discussions.
The Elysée claimed both Biden and Putin agreed to the summit “on principle."
Biden has agreed "in principle" to a meeting with Putin as long as Russia does not further invade Ukraine, according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
CNN has reached out to the Kremlin to ask about the agreement in principle for a summit, but did not receive an immediate response.
The Elysée said the content of the summit will be prepared by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their planned meeting on Feb. 24. CNN is yet to confirm this assertion from the French presidency.
8:54 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
President Biden agrees to meet with Putin "in principle" as long as Russia does not invade Ukraine
From CNN’s Sam Fossum and Arlette Saenz
President Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as long as Russia does not further invade Ukraine, according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
This potential summit, according to an Elysee Palace statement, was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The meeting, according to Psaki, would happen after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet on Feb. 24.
"President Biden accepted in principle a meeting with President Putin following that engagement, again, if an invasion hasn’t happened," Psaki said in a written statement on Sunday night. "We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon."
8:40 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
Satellite imagery shows Russian ground forces dispersing to positions close to the Ukraine border
From CNN's Tim Lister in Kyiv and Paul Murphy
New satellite imagery shows intensified activity among Russian units close to Ukraine's northeastern border, with units that were in garrisons appearing to take up field positions.
The satellite images were collected by Maxar on Sunday.
Maxar assesses that "multiple new field deployments of armored equipment and troops have been observed northwest of Belgorod and near Soloti and Valuyki, Russia."
These towns are within 35 kilometers (around 21 miles) of the Russian border with Ukraine.
Maxar observes, "This new activity represents a change in the pattern of the previously observed deployments of battle groups (tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and support equipment). Until recently, most of the deployments had been seen primarily positioned at or near existing military garrisons and training areas."
“Today (Sunday) most of the combat units and support equipment at Soloti have departed and extensive vehicle tracks and some convoys of armored equipment are seen throughout the area."
The images show that encampments or staging grounds that contained substantial forces last Sunday, February 13, are now relatively empty.
"Some equipment has also been deployed east of nearby Valuyki, Russia in a field approximately 15 kilometers north of the Ukraine border," Maxar noted.
Separately, CNN has geolocated several videos from the region over the weekend that show long columns including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and howitzers moving through rural areas in the Belgorod oblast (district).
"A number of new field deployments are also seen northwest of Belgorod (deployments are approximately 30 kilometers from the border with Ukraine) with much of the equipment and troops positioned in or near forested areas," Maxar observed.
The images show extensive tracks where armor has moved across the countryside.
"Other company-sized units are deployed within farm and/or industrial areas."
CNN has observed that some tanks and other vehicles in the area appears to have been marked with a large "Z" -- suggesting they are being formed into a fighting unit.
8:09 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
Ukrainian military alleges separatists in the east fired on their own territory to 'falsely accuse' Ukraine
From CNN's Tim Lister
The Ukrainian Joint Forces Command has alleged that Russian-backed separatists launched "'heavy armament fire' against their own territory in an effort to 'falsely accuse' the armed forces of Ukraine and further escalate the situation."
It said the barrage began at 9 p.m. local time Sunday and involved firing from Lobacheve toward the city of Luhansk. Both places are within the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) in eastern Ukraine.
"With Ukrainian defenders refraining from any aggressive acts that could possibly trigger a violent response, the occupation forces continue to destroy civilian infrastructure on the temporarily occupied territories and sporadically shell civilian settlements," the command said.
"By doing so, the occupation forces once again demonstrated their cowardice and complete disregard for the lives and health of the local civilian population."
For its part, the LPR alleged that Ukrainian forces were "firing artillery into the territory of the LPR along the entire line of contact, presumably they are preparing to attack."
Ivan Filiponenko, an LPR official, said, "All along the line of contact, the enemy undertook preparations for an intended offensive."
The separatists have accused Ukraine of preparing for an offensive against the two self-declared republics, an accusation that has been denied by Ukraine.
On Saturday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it deplored "the spreading of disinformation about an imminent military action by the Ukrainian government forces."
4:50 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron speak about situation in Ukraine
From CNN’s Lauren Kent in London and Mitchell McCluskey in Atlanta
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke about the situation in Ukraine on Sunday, according to readouts from the United Kingdom and France.
In a readout of the call, the Élysée Palace said the two leaders updated one another on their diplomatic efforts involving Ukraine, including Macron’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where France said the leaders agreed to hold trilateral talks to reach a ceasefire.
“The Prime Minister noted that President Putin’s commitments to President Macron were a welcome sign that he might still be willing to engage in finding a diplomatic solution. The Prime Minister stressed that Ukraine’s voice must be central in any discussions," a Downing Street spokesperson said in a statement.
“The leaders agreed on the need for both Russia and Ukraine to meet their commitments under the Minsk Agreements in full. They also underscored the need for President Putin to step back from his current threats and withdraw troops from Ukraine’s border,” the Downing Street statement said.
Johnson and Macron agreed to stay in close contact over the next week.
4:20 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
New intel adds to US fears that Russia is readying for military action
From CNN's Jim Sciutto in Lviv, Ukraine, and Natasha Bertrand in Munich
The US has intelligence indicating orders have been sent to Russian commanders to proceed with an attack on Ukraine, according to two US officials and another source familiar with the US intelligence.
The intelligence regarding the order to tactical commanders and intelligence operatives is one of several indicators the US is watching to assess if Russian preparations have entered their final stages for a potential invasion.
Other indicators, such as electronic jamming and widespread cyber-attacks, have not yet been observed, according to some of the sources. The sources cautioned that orders can always be withdrawn or that it could be misinformation meant to confuse and mislead the US and allies.
But the news of the intelligence comes after President Biden said on Friday that he believes Putin has made a decision to invade — a comment echoed by Vice President Kamala Harris and by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday. Blinken said the Russian playbook is “moving forward.”
“We believe President Putin has made the decision,” Blinken said Sunday in an interview on CNN. “But until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward.”
The Washington Post first reported on the orders being given.
CNN's Katie Bo Lillis contributed to this report
2:40 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022
Biden and Macron expected to speak soon
From CNN’s Kevin Liptak
President Joe Biden is expected to speak Sunday with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron following Macron’s back-to-back phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, a source familiar said.
The exact timing of the conversation wasn’t clear.
Macron is working to find a diplomatic path to avoid conflict, as reflected in the Élysée readouts of his calls today.
Biden's Sunday National Security meeting regarding Ukraine has ended, per a White House official. The meeting began at 11:30 a.m., a White House official told CNN.
Some more context: French President Emmanuel Macron and Putin agreed on Sunday on “working intensively to enable a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group to be held in the next few hours,” the Élysée Palace said in a readout of the call on Sunday.
The Élysée readout said the aim of the meeting would be to “obtain a commitment from all parties to a ceasefire on the line of contact.”
The Trilateral Contact Group includes representatives from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Per the statement, the two leaders agreed on the need to “give priority to a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and to do everything possible to achieve it.”