The latest on the Ukraine-Russia crisis

By Helen Regan, Brad Lendon, Rob Picheta, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0629 GMT (1429 HKT) February 22, 2022
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12:10 a.m. ET, February 21, 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

Overview of helicopter deployment battle group and troops, Valuyki, Russia.
Overview of helicopter deployment battle group and troops, Valuyki, Russia. (Maxar Technologies)

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.

11:37 p.m. ET, February 20, 2022

Pentagon press secretary says "we still think there's time to prevent" a Russian invasion of Ukraine

From CNN's Sarah Fortinsky

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby doubled down on the Biden administration's strategy of using the threat of sanctions as a deterrent and rejected increased calls for imposing pre-invasion sanctions, saying, "[Russian President Vladimir Putin] has not conducted another invasion in Ukraine yet, and we still think there's time to prevent that."

"It's supposed to be a deterrent. If you punish somebody for something they haven't done yet, then they might as well just go ahead and do it," Kirby added. "And we're hoping that that could affect the calculous of Mr. Putin."

Kirby said on "Fox News Sunday" that Putin still has many options on the table if he chooses to take a diplomatic off-ramp to the tensions, saying, "We have made serious proposals and talked about changing, for instance, the scope and scale of some of our exercises in Europe, being willing to talk about offensive missile capabilities in Europe. We have certainly put forward other proposals to try to convince Mr. Putin that we're serious."

Kirby made clear the issue of Ukraine's membership in NATO, however, is "an issue for Ukraine and for NATO. That is not something that Mr. Putin can simply institute a veto over or decide for himself, that kind of thing is again between the alliance and Ukraine."

Some context: Kirby would not address individual claims made by Putin, but he characterized them as "outrageous claims" and said, on the whole, "these are just not credible."

He said that Putin is "playing the victim," which he said is exactly out of the "Russian playbook."

"It is absolutely right out of the Russian playbook. He may be moving Xs and Os around the field right now militarily, but it seems like he's using the same old playbook," Kirby said, adding, "And I don't want to make light of this analogy. This isn't a football game. This is potentially war and lives are at stake here."