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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11:27 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin: Our priority is peace, not confrontation, but a Ukraine NATO membership would pose security threat

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council, in Moscow, Russia, on February 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council, in Moscow, Russia, on February 21. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik/AP)

Moscow’s priority is to ensure security guarantees are reached with NATO to maintain peace, “not a confrontation,” Russian president Vladimir Putin said Monday, cautioning however that the admission of Ukraine into NATO would pose a security threat to Russia.

“In recent months, at the end of last year, we stepped up our efforts with our main partners in Washington and NATO to finally agree security measures and to ensure the peaceful development of our country. This is our priority, not a confrontation,” Putin said.

“But we must understand the reality we are living in, and I have said many times already that if Russia faces a threat like admitting Ukraine into NATO, then the threat against our country will be multiplied,” he added.

Speaking during a meeting of Russia’s Security Council in Moscow, Putin noted that “using Ukraine as a tool of confrontation against Russia is a serious and large threat” to Moscow.

“Russia has always tried to resolve all conflicts by peaceful means. Nevertheless, the Kyiv authorities conducted two punitive operations in these territories [Donetsk and Luhansk], and it seems that we are now witnessing an escalation for the third time,” Putin said.

It is not immediately clear what operations Putin was referring to.

Ukrainian officials have denied what has been described as "disinformation" and "deliberate provocations" by the Russian Federation.

10:40 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

White House: President Biden being briefed "regularly" today on Russia-Ukraine crisis

From CNN's Betsy Klein

US President Joe Biden speaks during press conference at the White House on February 18, in Washington, DC.
US President Joe Biden speaks during press conference at the White House on February 18, in Washington, DC. (Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

US President Biden has no public events on his schedule this Presidents’ Day, but a White House official says he is being briefed “regularly” by his national security team on the Russia-Ukraine crisis on this federal holiday and the White House is “monitoring events closely.”

On Friday, Biden delivered remarks about the ongoing crisis, saying he is now convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine, but emphasized that room for diplomacy remains.

9:59 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Ukraine's foreign minister calls for the inclusion of Kyiv and other allies in possible talks with Russia 

From CNN’s Anastasia Graham-Yooll

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba proposed an alternative to possible bilateral talks between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, calling for the inclusion of Ukraine and other allies. 

“Ukraine welcomes any diplomatic efforts to prevent escalation of the conflict, but the most suitable format for the discussion regarding de-escalation and forming new guarantees of security would be a summit in the following format: five permanent UN Security Council members, plus Ukraine, Germany and Turkey,” Kuleba told reporters in Brussels.

According to the White House, Biden has agreed “in principle” to a meeting with Putin, providing Russia does not invade Ukraine.

The meeting, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, would happen after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meet on Thursday.

Speaking during a news briefing following a meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, Kuleba also announced that an agreement had been reached, in principle, for the EU to “roll out an advisory training military mission” in Ukraine.

“These are not combat forces, this is a new element in the cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union,” Kuleba said.

“The details, the main parameters and the timeline of this roll out are still to be discussed, but it's critical that we open this new page in our relations,” he added.

10:46 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Russian foreign minister says he will meet with US secretary of state on Thursday in Geneva

From CNN's Sarah Dean

Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint news conference in Moscow, on February 21.
Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint news conference in Moscow, on February 21. (Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he will meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva on Thursday, in comments at a security council meeting.

What the US is saying: On Sunday, Blinken told CNN that he's planning to meet with Lavrov this week "provided Russia doesn't invade Ukraine in the interim."

"If [Russia] doesn't invade, I will be there. I hope he'll be there, too. I will do everything I can to see if we can advance a diplomatic resolution to this crisis created by Russia and its aggression against Ukraine," Blinken said.

He noted that the US "put on the table a number of ideas that we can pursue that would strengthen security" for Russia, the United States, and the rest of Europe.

"That's the conversation I welcome having with Foreign Minister Lavrov. It depends entirely on if Russia invades or not," Blinken said.

10:22 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Putin says he's considering request to recognize separatist-held regions of Ukraine 

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Anna Chernova in Moscow

Ukrainian Military Forces servicemen walk through trenches on the front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 21.
Ukrainian Military Forces servicemen walk through trenches on the front line in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on February 21. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he is considering a request from pro-Russian separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine's breakaway regions to recognize them as independent.

"The purpose of today’s meeting is to listen to colleagues and to determine our further steps in this direction, including the appeal from the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic to Russia seeking recognition of their sovereignty and the resolution of the state Duma on the same subject," Putin told his security council, in comments aired on television.

More context: Even as Russian forces mass on Ukraine's border, the spotlight last week swung back to the rumbling low-intensity war in eastern Ukraine and its possible role in setting the stage for a broader conflict.

The Ukrainians say shelling by the Russian-backed separatists is at its highest in nearly three years, and for their part the separatists allege the use of heavy weapons by Ukrainian armed forces against civilian areas.

On Thursday, a kindergarten in Ukrainian-controlled territory less than 5 kilometers from the front line was hit. On Friday and Saturday, the Ukrainian authorities reported a further spike of shelling by heavy weaponry, which is banned from within 50 kilometers of the front lines by the Minsk Agreements.

Ukraine said it recorded more than 100 truce violations in the east, after a day of heavy weapons fire that saw fears of a Russian invasion mount.

The leaders of the two breakaway pro-Russian territories claimed the Ukrainians are planning a large military offensive in the area. On Friday they organized mass evacuations of civilians to Russia, while instructing men to remain and take up arms.

Ukrainian officials repeatedly deny any such plans. 

About the recent history in Donbas: War broke out in 2014 after Russian-backed rebels seized government buildings in towns and cities across eastern Ukraine. Intense fighting left portions of the Donbas region's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. Russia also annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that sparked global condemnation.

The separatist-controlled areas in Donbas became 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.

The Minsk II agreement of 2015 led to a shaky ceasefire agreement, and the conflict settled into static warfare along the Line of Contact that separates the Ukrainian government and separatist-controlled areas. The Minsk Agreements (named after the capital of Belarus where they were concluded) ban heavy weapons near the Line of Contact.

Read more about the separatist-held regions here.

CNN's Tamara Qiblawi, Nathan Hodge and Ivana Kottasová contributed reporting to this post. 

9:31 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Latest UK intel shows "in some ways" Putin's plan has "already begun," prime minister's spokesperson says 

From CNN's Luke McGee, Niamh Kennedy and Alex Hardie in London  

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow, on February 3.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow, on February 3. (Alexei Nikolsky/TASS/Getty Images)

UK intelligence indicates that Russia intends to launch an invasion of Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said Monday, adding that “in some ways, Putin's plan has in effect already begun.”

“We're seeing elements of the Russian playbook that we would expect to see in certain situations starting to play out in real time,” Johnson’s spokesperson told a lobby briefing on Monday. 

Last week, Britain’s Defense Ministry warned that Russia “retains a significant military presence that can conduct an invasion without further warning,” posting on Twitter a map showing Putin's “possible axis of invasion.”

The map showed Russia’s capability to carry out phase one ground movements towards the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, from two points along the Belarusian border, and one point from the Western Russia border.  

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to provide an update on the Ukraine crisis in statement to parliament on Monday. 

9:24 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

EU adopts emergency support package for Ukraine

From CNN’s Claudia Rebaza and Arnaud Siad

People board up a window at a school damaged in a shelling attack, in Donetsk region, on February 21.
People board up a window at a school damaged in a shelling attack, in Donetsk region, on February 21. (Alexander Ryumin/TASS/Getty Images)

The European Union will provide an emergency support package of 1.2 billion euros ($1.36 billion) in the form of loans to foster stability in Ukraine, the council said in a news release on Monday. 

“It intends to provide swift support in a situation of acute crisis and to strengthen Ukraine’s resilience,” the council added.

The council “fast-tracked” and adopted the package 21 days after the European Commission presented its proposal, saying “the current geopolitical tensions are having a detrimental effect on Ukraine's economic and financial stability.”

“Persistent security threats have already triggered a substantial outflow of capital. Ukraine is losing access to international capital markets due to the heightened geopolitical uncertainty and its impact on the economic situation,” it added.

“The EU has acted swiftly and decisively to help Ukraine. Within 21 days, we completed the necessary work, which means that €1.2 billion macro-financial assistance can now reach Ukraine," French Minister of Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire said about the package.

According to the news release, the financial assistance will have a duration of 12 months and will consist of two disbursements, subject to the satisfactory implementation of the ongoing International Monetary Fund program in Ukraine and entry into force of a Memorandum of Understanding on “specific structural policy measures,” which will be agreed between the European Commission and Ukraine.

12:59 p.m. ET, February 21, 2022

US seeing Russia continue to prepare for invasion, with one source saying there has been "no slowdown"

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Jim Sciutto

The US continues to see Russia making moves in the field that are consistent with preparations to invade Ukraine, two US officials told CNN on Monday.

One US official familiar with the latest intelligence says military preps continue unabated and there has been “no slowdown.”

Those "tactical indicators” that Russian forces in the field are doing, are what they would be doing “if they were told to invade,” another US official said. The US is now looking for the “larger actions” beyond field activity that would indicate upcoming kinetic activity on a wider scale, the official said.  

Other indicators, such as electronic jamming and widespread cyberattacks, have not yet been observed, according to multiple 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.

On Sunday CNN reported that 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.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Monday that a Russian attack on Ukraine could begin “in the coming hours or days” and would be “extremely violent.” 

“We believe that any military operation of this size, scope and magnitude of what we believe the Russians are planning will be extremely violent. It will cost the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, civilians and military personnel alike. But we also have intelligence to suggest that there will be an even greater form of brutality because this will not simply be some conventional war between two armies: It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people, to repress them, to crush them, to harm them,” Sullivan said during a Monday appearance on NBC’s “Today Show.” 

8:35 a.m. ET, February 21, 2022

Forensic analysis of separatists’ video casts serious doubts on authenticity 

From CNN's Gianluca Mezzofiore

It was a dramatic video, widely shared when it appeared last Friday by Telegram channels sympathetic to Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

It supposedly showed a barrage of gunfire and shelling by Polish-speaking saboteurs trying to blow up a chlorine tank near the city of Horlivka a week earlier -- on February 11. Horlivka is in territory controlled by the separatists of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

The press service of the People’s Militia of the DPR picked it up and claimed that the saboteurs were killed and the video was recovered from their bodies. 

However, metadata from the video file reveals a creation date of February 8, ten days before it was shared on Telegram, a CNN analysis shows. And three days before the alleged date of the attack.

The messaging platform preserves metadata for the videos posted there and it cannot be changed.

But that is not all. Another section of the metadata -- called a “pantry creator tool” -- revealed that Adobe Premiere Pro was used to edit the video using different assets -- called “ingredients” -- from a separate repository.

“It seems to be a composed video, meaning that it is a collection of several assets, for example, when you add audio to a video or build a collection of smaller clips, images etc.,” said Givi Gigitashvili, research associate at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. 

“The ingredients file path of this particular video contains a name ‘2021-02-04 ВИДЕО-ЗАПИСЬ ДРГ(+).mp4,’ which may indicate that some ingredients are from 2021,” he added. 

The location of that and other video assets also has “2021” and “February 2” as names for project folders, again suggesting that the original timeframe dates back to last year. 

Among these assets, also in the Pantry section of the metadata, is a filename “M72A5 LAW and AIPLAS live fire.mp4.”

As first noticed by Eliot Higgins, founder and creative director of Bellingcat, the filename corresponds to a YouTube video with the same name, featuring explosions and gunfire at a location in Finland. 

CNN asked Rob Maher, an audio forensics expert at Montana State University, to analyze the media assets. He compared the boom sequence audio from one of the shots in the YouTube video with similar audio in the Telegram video. 

“The sequence of booms is remarkably similar in timing,” Maher concluded. “For the particular boom I compared, the timing is not exactly identical, but it is inexplicably similar.”

According to Maher, in order for the boom sequences in both videos to be that similar, “the geometrical relationship between the artillery piece, target, and microphone would have to be the same” -- meaning that they would have to be in the exact same position in both videos. 

If the geometry was different “the relative time of arrival of the various boom sounds would be different” because the boom sound would propagate at different speeds to the microphone. 

“It seems pretty unexpected and coincidental that those acoustic arrival times would be so similar in these two ‘unrelated’ videos,” Maher concluded. “If the assertion is that the separatists’ video contains edited sound, this might be one explanation."

Maher’s findings are corroborated by other sound designers and experts on Twitter such as Ciaran Walsh, who compared the spectral analysis of the explosions in the two videos, and arrived at similar conclusions. 

“I think (there’s) plenty of evidence indicating that audio is added from that YouTube video,” Gigitashvili said. 

It is not the first time that separatists have been seen posting questionable videos on Telegram. A CNN analysis of the Friday video statements by the leaders of the DPR and Luhansk People's Republic revealed that the footage was recorded 2 days earlier.