President Joe Biden tweeted on Friday night that he hoped war could be averted between Russia and Ukraine, and that the goal of revealing Russia’s ‘plans’ was to prevent war from becoming a likely option.
‘We’re calling out Russia’s plans. Not because we want a conflict, but because we are doing everything in our power to remove any reason Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine.
‘If Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice,’ he wrote.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said it had recorded 12 ceasefire violations by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine on Saturday morning after 66 cases over the previous 24 hours.
Separatists opened fire on more than 20 settlements, using heavy artillery, which have been prohibited by Minsk agreements, the military said on its Facebook page.
A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilization amid growing invasion fears.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russian separatist government in the Donetsk region, released a statement on Saturday announcing a full troop mobilization and urging reservists to show up at military enlistment offices.
He delivered his verdict at the end of an intense week of diplomacy and amid reports of explosions in territory held by pro-Russian separatists that officials believe could be false-flag attacks and a precursor to an invasion. Pro-Russian rebels accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up a gas pipeline hours after a car bomb hit Donetsk.
After delivering an update on the crisis, Biden was asked if Putin had decided.
‘As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,’ he told reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon. ‘We have reason to believe that.’
He said it was based on Washington’s ‘significant intelligence capability.’ But he insisted Putin could change course if he wanted to.
‘Russia can still choose diplomacy,’ he said. ‘It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.’
President Joe Biden on Friday said for the first time that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had made up his mind to launch an invasion of Ukraine. He spoke after a day of high drama, that included two explosions in pro-Russia rebel territory
Late on Friday night, the president tweeted that he had hoped by revealing Russia’s ‘plans’ war could be averted.
Friday’s late-night tweet came amid another day of high drama as Russia appeared to step up its preparations for war.
A car bomb exploded late Friday near the headquarters of the pro-Russian Donetsk People’s Republic, destroying a Soviet-era UAZ jeep that belonged to Denis Sinenkov, head of regional security. He was not reported to be injured.
Russian state media were the first to report on the explosion and picture the bomb site, with a notorious Russian ‘journalist’ – thought to be a state propagandist – among the first to arrive on the scene.
Just an hour before the blast, the pro-Russian heads of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic ordered women, children and the elderly to evacuate immediately ahead of what they claimed would be a Ukrainian invasion. They said they were evacuating 700,000 people.
Kiev categorically denied any plans to attack.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that reported evacuations in Eastern Ukraine and a car bombing in the city of Donetsk ‘are further attempts to obscure through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict.’
They went on to say it was ‘cynical and cruel to use human beings as pawns to distract the world from the fact that Russia is building up its forces in preparation for an attack.’
A series of satellite pictures captured Monday appeared to show the Russian military amassing ground forces, troop tents and even a field hospital close to the Ukraine border. Airfields within half an hour’s flying time of Ukraine also show runways full of aircraft consisting of both helicopters and ground attack aircraft.
Infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and support equipment could be seen parked up at a military base in Filativka, 27 miles away from the Ukraine border and a base at Novoozernoye in Crimea, 100 miles from the border.
Another image appeared to depict helicopter and su25 aircraft deployments, in Millerovo, Russia, some 20 miles away from the Ukrainian border.
Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating civilians from their territory in Eastern Ukraine.
Hours after the operation began, a car bomb exploded in their capital Donetsk, followed by a second explosion later in the evening in Luhansk – triggering warnings that these might be the ‘false flag’ operations that would precede an invasion.
Latest U.S. assessments say there are now 190,000 Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border.
That includes a battle group deployment of tanks, personnel carriers and support equipment at Millerovo Airfield, 16 miles from the Ukraine border, according to new satellite photos.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and U.K. both said Russia was behind a distributed denial of service attack that knocked Ukrainian banking and government websites offline.
Taken together, the events track with what officials said amounted to Russia’s invasion playbook.
A satellite image provided by Maxar shows a battalion-sized unit in a convoy near Filativka training area, Crimea February 15, 2022. The base is just 27 miles from the Ukraine border. Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The action was widely condemned under international law, and the territory remains disputed
In this Friday image, satellite pictures provided by Maxar Technologies shows ground forces units, troop tents and a field hospital remain deployed at Novoozernoye, Crimea, 100 miles from the Ukraine border. Tanks, armored personnel carriers (APC), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and support equipment also remain parked in maneuver/convoy position in the area
In satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closer view of s400 air defense units at Luminets Airfield in Belarus, pictured on Friday. The base is 220 miles from the Ukraine border, or about half an hour’s flying time
A satellite image shows new helicopter deployments near Lake Donuzlav in Crimea, 160 miles from the Ukraine border
A satellite image shows su25 ground attack aircraft, at Luninets air field in Belarus, February 14, 2022
A satellite image shows an overview of a helicopter deployments near Lake Donuzlav, in Crimea, Ukraine, pictured Friday
A satellite image shows new helicopter and su25 aircraft deployments, in Millerovo, Russia, seen on Friday. The base is 20 miles away from the Ukrainian border
A satellite image shows su25 aircraft deployments, in Millerovo, Russia on February 15. The base is 20 miles away from the Ukrainian border
This Maxar satellite image taken on Tuesday released on Friday shows battle group deployment and troop tents at Valuyki, Russia, approximately 20 miles east of the border with Ukraine. – US President Joe Biden said on February 18 that he believes Russian leader Vladimir Putin has already decided to invade Ukraine and that the attack could begin ‘in the coming days’
This Maxar satellite image taken on February 13, 2022 and released on February 18, 2022 shows a helicopter unit and troops in Belgorod, Russia, approximately 25 miles east of the border with Ukraine
A satellite image shows new helicopter deployment, at Lida airfield in Belarus, 160 miles from the Ukraine border. The picture was taken on Wednesday
Biden responded by dismissing the mounting volume of propaganda coming from Russia and its separatist rebels, saying there was no truth to reports of a genocide unfolding in the Donbass – the disputed area of East Ukraine – or that Ukrainian troops had shelled a kindergarten.
Biden called out reports of a Ukrainian genocide and that its troops had shelled a kindergarten as propaganda.
‘We also continue to see more and more disinformation being pushed out to the Russian public, including Russian-backed separatists claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbass,’ he said.
‘Well, look, there is simply no evidence to these assertions and it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on his borders to escalate a year-long conflict.’
Russian news agencies said a gas pipeline in Ukraine’s breakaway region of People’s Republic of Luhansk, caught fire late on Friday after a blast. It came after authorities there warned that Ukraine was planning to attack – setting the stage for conflict
People sit inside a but waiting to be evacuate to Russia amid crisis in Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine, on Friday. Spiking tensions in eastern Ukraine on Friday aggravated Western fears of a Russian invasion and a new war in Europe, with a humanitarian convoy hit by shelling and pro-Russian rebels evacuating civilians from the conflict zone. A car bombing hit the eastern city of Donetsk, but no casualties were reported
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, on Friday
People walk from a bus after evacuating from Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, in the Rostov-on-Don region, near the border with Ukraine, Russia, early Saturday
Two women sit inside a but waiting to be evacuated to Russia amid crisis in Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine
Column of buses carry evacuated people to Russia amid crisis in Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine, on Friday
A US Army soldier deployed to Poland to back up NATO allies stands next to Polish soldier
Soldiers stand guard at the operating base in Mielec Poland
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army walk on the tarmac at Pope Field ahead of deployment to Poland from Fort Bragg, N.C. on Monday, Feb. 14
From pretext to ground troops: The four steps in a Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Antony Blinken
Blinken said he was outlining Russia’s plans during a meeting of the UN Security Council ‘not to start a war but to prevent one’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken used a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to outline how the US believes a Russian invasion of Ukraine would unfold
1) Manufactured pretext – Russia would accuse Ukraine of a violent outrage such as a fabricated terrorist bombing inside Russia, a faked mass grave, a drone strike against civilians or a fake – or even a real – chemical weapons attack.
2) Emergency meetings in Moscow – Blinken said the highest levels of government may ‘theatrically’ convene emergency meetings to address the so-called crisis, before issuing a proclamation that they must defend Russians in Ukraine.
3) Attack – the next stage will come with Russian missiles and bombs dropping on Ukraine, jammed communications, and cyberattacks designed to shut down ‘key Ukrainian institutions.’
4) Ground invasion – Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans. Blinken said that would include Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
Blinken offered another chilling line.
‘Conventional attacks are not all that Russia plans to inflict upon the people of Ukraine,’ he said.
‘We have information that indicates Russia will target specific groups of Ukrainians.’
The US has faced repeated questions about the validity of its intelligence. And those seated around the table from Blinken will remember the false claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction presented there almost 20 years ago.
‘Let me be clear, I am here today not to start a war but to prevent one,’ said Blinken.
‘Information presented here is validated by what we’ve seen unfolding in plain sight before our eyes for months.’
Instead he pinned his hopes on a meeting between his Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Russian Foreign Minister this Thursday.
He called for unity among Western leaders in tackling the crisis, a call that was echoed by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The U.K. leader urged Russia to avoid ‘unnecessary bloodshed’ ahead of a speech at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday when he will urge the West to speak with ‘one voice’ on the price Moscow would pay for an invasion.
‘There is still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but it will require an overwhelming display of western solidarity beyond anything we have seen in recent history,’ he said.
The warning comes as the British Prime Minister today prepares to deliver a speech warning the people of Russia that their ‘sons’ coffins will pile high’ if President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine, The Sun reports.
Just before Biden began speaking the Russian Interfax news agency reported that ‘a powerful explosion’ struck a gas line in Ukraine’s breakaway region of the People’s Republic of Luhansk.
Pro-Russian rebels were quick to claim it was the work of Ukrainian forces.
It followed earlier reports in the Russian media that the first explosion was a car bomb intended to assassinate a top Russian separatist official – who was unhurt.
Western intelligence agencies have long been warning of a Russian ‘false flag’ operation that could involve a staged attack on Putin’s separatist allies to provide a pretext for the Kremlin to send its forces into Ukraine.
A day earlier Secretary of State Antony Blinken laid out before the UN Security Council how a faked terrorist bombing or even a chemical attack might be used to manufacture a pretext for war.
‘Russian missiles and bombs will drop across Ukraine,’ he said. ‘Communications will be jammed. Cyberattacks will shut down key Ukrainian institutions.’
After that Russian tanks and soldiers ‘will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans. We believe these targets include … Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million people.’
Putin has already assembled a ‘kill list’ of targets for assassination or imprisonment, multiple people familiar with US intelligence have learned, according to Foreign Policy. Officials said the list includes Ukrainian political figures and other prominent officials.
‘As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,’ said an unnamed U.S. official.
‘These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons,’ the official said.
The Biden administration is reportedly ‘startled’ at how formalized the lists are.
Asked about the list in her daily briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House was ‘very concerned’ by the report.
At the same time, the White House accused Russia of being behind a cyber attack on Ukraine’s defense ministry.
President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered the Russian government to house and feed people leaving two self-proclaimed east Ukrainian breakaway republics once they arrived in southern Russia.
He also ordered every person who arrived from Donbass to be given a payment of 10,000 roubles ($129).
Ukraine on Friday called on the international community to condemn what it said were provocations by Russia in separatist-held eastern Ukrainian areas, saying that Moscow would only escalate the situation further if it did not.
‘…we are watching the Russian Federation launch a campaign to spread mass disinformation, increase shelling of Ukrainian positions and civilian infrastructure with weapons banned by the Minsk agreements, and escalate the security situation,’ the foreign ministry’s spokesman said in a statement.
‘Lack of a proper reaction or a neutral position will only fuel the escalation of the situation by Russia.’
There are now thought to be up to 190,000 Russian soldiers backed by tanks, artillery, helicopters, fighter jets and missile batteries within reaching distance of Ukraine as Putin prepares to personally oversee nuclear missile drills that will take place tomorrow.
At a glance: What to know as the tension grinds on…
WHAT DID BIDEN SAY ABOUT PUTIN’S INTENTIONS?
After weeks of saying the U.S. wasn’t sure if Putin had made a final decision to launch an invasion, Biden said Friday he’s now convinced he has and it could occur in the ‘coming days.’
He said an invasion could include an assault on the capital, Kyiv.
Biden said he was confident in the new assessment because of the Americans’ ‘significant intelligence capability.’
WHAT SANCTIONS WOULD RUSSIA FACE?
The U.S. has decided to hold off on at least one of the most crushing financial options available to punish Russia if it invades Ukraine, Deputy National Economic Council Director Daleep Singh told reporters at a White House briefing Friday.
Booting Russia out of the SWIFT financial system that moves money around the world was one of the most damaging steps the U.S. could take against the Russian economy, but it is opposed by some European allies for the spillover damage it would cause to their economies as well.
Asked Friday if Americans and their European allies – many of them more exposed to any collateral damage from sanctions hitting Russia´s economy – were on the same page on specific financial penalties, Biden said he expected ‘slight differences.
Singh described sanctions against Russian financial institutions and state-owned enterprises, as well as U.S. export controls that would deny Russia advanced technology it seeks for its industry and military.
At a time of high oil and gas prices, the U.S. also did not intend to try to block Russian energy from reaching global markets, he said, but gave no details.
Italy, which is heavily reliant on Russian gas, has pushed for energy to be kept out of any sanctions. Italian Premier Mario Draghi told reporters on Friday that he laid out his government’s view at a European Council meeting in Brussels a day earlier.
WHAT´S HAPPENING IN EASTERN UKRAINE?
In Ukraine’s Donbas region, where fighting since 2014 between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels has killed some 14,000 people, the rebels announced in videos posted online Friday that they were ordering an ‘immediate evacuation’ to Russia because of the unrest.
But metadata embedded in the video files showed they had been created two days earlier.
A group of international monitors in eastern Ukraine that is tasked with keeping the peace reported more than 500 explosions in the 24 hours ending Thursday midday.
On Friday, a car exploded outside the main government building in Donetsk, but no casualties were reported, and a U.N. Refugee Agency convoy came under shelling.
The rebels accuse Ukraine of preparing to invade the region, which Kyiv denies. The unrest may be part of Moscow´s suspected playbook of portraying Ukraine as the aggressor, thereby giving Russia grounds to invade.
Putin sent his emergencies minister to the Rostov region bordering Ukraine to help organize the evacuation. He ordered the government to give 10,000 rubles (about $130) to each evacuee. That´s equivalent to about half the average monthly salary in the area.
WHAT’S NEW ABOUT THE CYBERATTACKS?
The U.S. and Britain are blaming Russia for this week’s cyberattacks targeting Ukraine´s defense ministry and major banks.
Anne Neuberger, the White House´s chief cyber official, said the attacks this week were of ‘limited impact’ since Ukrainian officials were able to quickly get their systems back up and running, but it is possible that the Russians were laying the groundwork for more destructive ones.
She and the British Foreign Office linked Tuesday’s attacks to Russian military intelligence officers.
WHAT´S GOING ON AT THE KREMLIN?
The Kremlin says Putin will watch drills involving Russia´s strategic nuclear forces from the situation room at the Russian Defense Ministry.
The Defense Ministry said Putin will personally oversee Saturday’s display of his country’s nuclear might. Notably, the planned exercise involves the Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula after seizing it from Ukraine in 2014.
WHAT FORCES DOES RUSSIA HAVE NEAR UKRAINE?
The new U.S. estimate of up to 190,000 includes the Russian-backed separatists inside Ukraine, the Russian National Guard and Russian troops in Crimea, the peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. These forces were not counted in previous assessments of troops deployed near Ukraine´s borders and in neighboring Belarus.
As further indication that the Russians are preparing for a potential invasion, a U.S. defense official said an estimated 40% to 50% of the ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border have moved into attack positions nearer the border. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. military assessments.
The official also said the number of Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups deployed in the border area had grown to as many as 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each battalion tactical group has 750 to 1,000 soldiers.
WHAT HAS NATO DONE?
Meanwhile, NATO is beefing up its eastern regions.
The U.S. has begun deploying 5,000 troops to Poland and Romania. The Biden administration announced Friday it has approved a $6 billion sale of 250 Abrams battle tanks and related equipment to Poland.
Britain is sending hundreds of soldiers to Poland and offering more warships and planes. It also is doubling the number of personnel in Estonia and sending tanks and armored fighting vehicles.
Germany, Norway and the Netherlands are sending additional troops to Lithuania. The Dutch government also is sending to Ukraine 100 sniper rifles, combat helmets and body armor, two mine detection robots and weapon-detection radar systems.
WHAT ARE THE DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS TO PREVENT WAR?
Biden spoke by phone on Friday afternoon with a number of European leaders and the leaders of the European Union and NATO about the likelihood of Russian aggression, the White House said.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who was on the call, planned to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday and with Putin on Sunday.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken were attending the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany. Moscow sent no delegates there.
Harris indicated the alliance’s approach to the crisis would continue.
‘We remain, of course, open to and desirous of diplomacy, as it relates to the dialogue and the discussions we have had with Russia,’ Harris said in Munich.
‘But we are also committed, if Russia takes aggressive action, to ensure there will be severe consequences in terms of the sanctions we have discussed,’ she said at a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock expressed regret that Russian leaders declined to attend the Munich conference.
‘Particularly in the current, extremely threatening situation, it would have been important to also meet Russian representatives in Munich,’ Baerbock said. Even tiny steps toward peace would be ‘better than a big step toward war,’ she added.
The burning wreckage of a car is seen in the car park of the Donetsk separatist government, after what pro-Russian media claimed was an assassination attempt against the head of regional security
The blast, which was first reported by Russian state media, is thought to be the start of Putin’s long-predicted false flag operation used to justify an invasion of the country
The destroyed UAZ military jeep belonged to Denis Sinenkov, head of regional security in Donetsk, in what Russian state media suggested was an assassination attempt
Ukraine called on world leaders to condemn ‘provocations’ by Russia in the country’s east, including the explosion, and warned of further escalation if they did not
An hour before the bomb went off, separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk had ordered an evacuation of civilians because of what they said was the threat of Ukrainian invasion (pictured, children are evacuated from an orphanage)
Children are pictured after being loaded on to a bus for evacuation out of the city of Donetsk, in separatist-occupied eastern Ukraine, after leaders spread rumours that Kiev’s troops were about to attack
Buses arrive in the city of Donetsk, rebel-occupied Ukraine, after pro-Moscow leaders announce that women, children and the elderly would be evacuated starting today ahead of what they said would be an attack by Kiev
The streets of Donetsk are deserted as an air raid siren sounds, raising fears that Putin is about to march Russian forces across the border and spark a bloody war in Europe
Buses are pictured arriving in the city of Donetsk to carry away civilians as part of an evacuation ordered by pro-Moscow rebel forces which control the region
Cars are pictured queuing for fuel in Donetsk amid fears that Russia could soon march troops across the border as part of a wider invasion of Ukraine
People are pictured queuing for an ATM in Donetsk amid fears that Putin could be about to spark a bloody war in Europe
Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk (left), and Leonid Pasechniky, leader of neighbouring Luhansk, issued videos within minutes of each-other this evening ordering civilians in rebel-held areas to evacuate
Shortly after the evacuation orders were given, Russian TV broadcast what it said were ‘leaked’ Ukrainian battle plans in what appeared to be another disinformation attempt
Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko meet at the Kremlin today, as Russia announced major missile drills to take place tomorrow which will be personally overseen by the two men
The report said Putin has massed troops on Ukraine’s northern border in a way that ‘directly threatens Kiev, the capital’ and showed a series of possible routes Russian soldiers could take in an invasion that could see them take much of the east of the country
A map showing where Putin’s forces have assembled on Ukraine’s borders, the military options Putin might be considering, and key targets he would likely go after in the event he chooses to invade – something the US continues to war could be just weeks away from happening
Moscow says the drills will involve the live-fire of ballistic and cruise missiles as part of a wide-reaching ‘readiness’ check of the country’s nuclear and non-nuclear forces. It is feared the exercise, which Moscow insists has been planned for a while, will provide cover for an invasion – with a missile barrage likely to be the Kremlin’s first move.
Earlier in the day, rebel forces claimed to have thwarted a ‘sabotage’ attack earlier in the day by Ukrainian forces, including Polish nationals, on chlorine tanks. The US had warned just the day before that rebels might stage a faked chemical weapons attack.
Shunning the West, Putin instead spent Friday meeting with Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk – who announced he will help oversee the drills on Saturday.
Lukashenko, who for many years resisted welcoming Russian troops to his country, has now allowed thousands in to stage joint drills at military bases and has even floated the idea of changing the country’s constitution to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed there.
As diplomats gathered, Russia continue to push claims of ‘genocide’ in Ukraine’s Donbass region that the West warns will likely be used as a pre-text to attack. Last night, at the UN, Russia presented papers alleging 9,000 civilians including 126 children have been killed by Ukrainian forces. The claims have not been verified.
Meanwhile Britain’s Ministry of Defence outlined how it believes a Russian invasion will play out, noting that over half of Moscow’s forces near Ukraine have been moved to within 30 miles of the border. Ukraine warned today that the total number of troops now stands at 149,000, while the US said it could be up to 190,000.
Putin has massed troops on Ukraine’s northern border in a way that ‘directly threatens Kiev, the capital’, said the MoD report, which showed a series of possible routes Russian soldiers could take in an invasion that could see them take much of the east of the country.
It warned there would be ‘considerable’ civilian casualties in the event of war and that Putin ‘would be willing’ to sustain the losses ‘to get what he wants’.
On Friday, a US State Department spokesperson said reported evacuations in eastern Ukraine and a car bombing were ‘further attempts to obscure through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict.’
The spokesperson said: ‘This type of false flag operation is exactly what Secretary [of State] Blinken highlighted in his remarks to the U.N. Security Council.
‘It is also cynical and cruel to use human beings as pawns to distract the world from the fact that Russia is building up its forces in preparation for an attack. Russia is the sole instigator of these tensions and is threatening the people of Ukraine. It has put its troops on Ukraine’s borders and routinely abuses and violates the rights of the people of Donbass and Crimea.’
President Joe Biden delivered public remarks on Friday afternoon to give an update on U.S. diplomatic efforts to prevent what it calls an increasingly likely Russian invasion of Ukraine amid shelling and an evacuation in eastern Ukraine.
The Biden has said that a diplomatic solution remains possible if Russia chooses but that Washington and its European allies are prepared to enact harsh punishments if Moscow opts to invade. Biden on Thursday said a Russian invasion could come in the next few days.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will be among the dignitaries attending the three-day event, known as ‘Davos for defence’, which kicks off on Friday at the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich.
No Russian delegation will attend the conference, the Kremlin said last week – the first no-show in years, underscoring how much East-West relations have deteriorated.
Even at the height of the Ukrainian revolution preceding Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attended. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the forum had increasingly become biased towards the West, ‘losing its inclusivity, objectivity’.
Daniela Schwarzer, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center, said: ‘Russia has limited interest in dialogue and in particular an open conversation about security in Europe.
‘The conference is an occasion for the political West to show unity vis-a-vis Russia and vis-a-vis authoritarian regimes more generally.’
Biden on Thursday there was now every indication Russia was planning to invade Ukraine in the next few days and was preparing a pretext to justify it, after Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow rebels traded fire in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin accused him of stoking tensions and threatened unspecified ‘military-technical measures’.
Schwarzer noted that the conference, while scaled back compared to pre-pandemic ones, would be the first physical meeting of the international security and foreign policy community in two years. In-person conversations were key to ‘building trust’, she said.
The Ukraine standoff is not the only crisis that will keep conference attendees busy. Roundtables on Saturday, the main day of events, will also address the fragile security situation in the Sahel and the revival of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
Conference Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger told reporters he could not recall a time when there were ‘so many overlapping crises’.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven club of rich nations – including France, Britain, the US and Japan – will discuss the Ukraine crisis on the conference sidelines Saturday.
The talks will be hosted by Baerbock, whose country currently holds the G7 presidency.
‘Even tiny steps towards peace are better than big steps towards war. But we also need serious steps towards de-escalation from Russia,’ she said.
Pro-Moscow rebels claim to have thwarted ‘sabotage’ mission on chlorine tanks after US warned of ‘false flag’ chemical weapons attack to justify an invasion
Pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine claim to have thwarted a ‘sabotage’ attack on chlorine tanks, just a day after the US warned they could stage a false flag chemical attack to create the pre-text for a Russian invasion.
Commanders from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic claimed a unit of around 10 or 12 people including Polish-speaking saboteurs attacked a chlorine plant in the town of Horlivka on Friday.
Poland is a NATO member which neighbours Ukraine and has spoken out against the invasion, whilst also welcoming deployments of US troops, weapons and vehicles over the last few weeks.
The rebels even supplied video which they claimed had come from a body camera taken from a dead enemy combatant, showing them opening fire. The footage does not clearly show where the person is or what they are firing at.
Moscow-backed rebels claim to have thwarted a sabotage attack on chlorine tanks near Donetsk, and even released what they claimed was bodycam footage taken from one of the dead saboteurs
A statement from the DPR ‘people’s militia’ – with close ties to the Russian armed forces and secret services – said: ‘Our observers revealed the movement of two special-purpose groups of Ukrainian armed forces numbering 10 and 12 people.
‘Our defenders were forced to open fire from duty weapons. The enemy suffered losses of at least two killed, three wounded and was forced to retreat.’
The statement from the militia said: ‘According to our reconnaissance, saboteurs planned to blow up a container with chlorine on the territory of a sewage treatment plant near the city of Gorlovka (Horlivka).
‘At the site of the clash, foreign-made personal protective equipment and ammunition, as well as an action camera mounted on a bulletproof vest, were found.’
The militia claimed that ‘shortly before the clash, we intercepted the conversations of saboteurs in Polish.
Western leaders, led by the US, have been repeatedly warning that Russia or Moscow-backed separatist forces will try to stage a false flag operation that would justify Putin invading on the basis of ‘protecting’ ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
The ‘attack’ comes just a day after the US warned rebels would try to stage a false flag chemical weapons attack in order to justify Putin marching his troops across the border
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned just yesterday that this may take the form of a real or faked chemical weapons attack, which may also involve the use of faked corpses and mourners.
Other possibilities raised by the US include a faked drone bombing, and disinformation placed in Russian media by officials about mass killings of civilians.
Russian prosecutors are currently pushing such claims at the UN, alleging that they have uncovered mass graves of hundreds of civilians killed by Ukrainian shelling.
At the UN last night, Russia submitted documents that claimed 9,000 civilians include 126 children have been killed by Ukraine’s forces since 2014 – the last time Putin invaded the country.
Kiev has rubbished these claims, and instead accuses rebel forces of firing shells at them and inflicting casualties – including one fired yesterday which hit a kindergarten and left three wounded.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Polish Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak attend a welcoming ceremony before their meeting in Warsaw, Poland
Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of his security council today, amid continued warnings from the West that a Ukraine invasion is now just days away
Russian cruiser Moskva of the Black Sea Fleet opens fire with its main guns during combat drills around Crimea on Friday
An image released by the Russian Defence Ministry shows cruiser Moskva of the Black Sea Fleet taking part in combat drills
Russian tanks are pictured lining up beside railway tracks to be loaded on to transports in what Moscow claims is a withdrawal of forces from Ukraine’s borders, but the West says are actually units moving closer to the frontlines
Russian T-72B tanks are loaded on the back of a train at an unknown location on the border with Ukraine, as Kiev warns troop numbers in the region have now reached 149,000
A top-down view of a Russian T-72B tank shows it being loaded on to the back of a train transport somewhere near Ukraine
A video released by Russia’s defence ministry shows tanks loaded on to the back of a train transport somewhere near Ukraine
The UK has warned that more than half of Russia’s forces near Ukraine are less than 30 miles from the border, despite Moscow claiming to be pulling back (pictured, tanks on a transport somewhere near the border)
‘Declarations of willingness to talk must be backed up by real offers to talk. Declarations of troop withdrawals must be backed up by verifiable troop withdrawals.’
Also on Friday, US defense secretary Lloyd Austin was paying a visit to Poland – which neighbors Ukraine and is where thousands of US troops and permanent American missile bases are stationed – as a show of support.
After a welcome ceremony in the capital Warsaw, Austin dismissed Russian assertions that forces are being withdrawn from areas around Ukraine and said the United States was committed to the defense of NATO allies.
‘What Mr. Putin did not want was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that’s exactly what he has today,’ Austin told a press conference after announcing the planned sale of Abrams battle tanks to NATO member Poland.
Mr Blaszczak said that Poland will be willing to help refugees displaced by the fighting, amid warnings that up to a million people could flee across the border if war breaks out.
Meanwhile Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a summit in Brussels that sanctions being prepared for Russia in the event of an attack would be harsher than those imposed after the attack on Crimea in 2014.
Elsewhere, the Ukrainian military and independent conflict monitors reported a large uptick in fighting along the frontlines between Kiev’s forces and separatist rebels in the country’s east.
Ukraine said there were 60 incidents of shelling along virtually the whole of the frontline Thursday, the most-active day of attacks since 2018. Shelling continued early Friday, according to witnesses.
International monitors tasked with keeping the peace reported more than 300 explosions in 24 hours ending Thursday, around four times as many as an average day over the past month.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on Friday accused monitor groups of lying about what is happening in eastern Ukraine and accused Ukrainian forces of firing with banned weapons.
Rebel commanders also claim they are being shot at by Ukrainian forces, but Kiev has rubbished the claim – saying they are the ones under ‘unprovoked’ attack.
The village of Stanytsia Luhanska suffered more than its share of explosions on Thursday. One shell crashed into a kindergarten, blasting a hole in the wall that sent soccer balls flying off the classroom shelves just as the school day started. Others blasted craters into the schoolyard and shattered windows of nearby homes.
‘We heard the sound of broken glass. The children were very scared. Some kids started crying immediately, and the explosions continued for the next 20 minutes,’ said Olena Yaryna, the school director.
At Valentyna Melnychenko’s nearby home, the explosions filled her living room and hall with smoke.
‘I switched off the TV, and there were seven more shellings and then it stopped,’ she said as she surveyed the damage outside, her hair covered in a bright pink scarf that contrasted with the gray debris behind her.
Three people were wounded and half the village lost power. Oleksandr Pavliuk, a Ukrainian army commander, said the explosions were intended to provoke a response and ultimately a counter-response, echoing the warnings from the United States.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been in place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 to try and maintain the cease-fire. But even they were drawn into the fray this week.
In addition to the explosions, the organization recorded nearly 600 cease-fire violations over the course of a day, more than double the average for the past month. And three of the organization’s small surveillance drones went astray after the GPS signal was jammed; a fourth couldn’t make it off the ground without a signal.
Electronic interference went further overnight, when the cellphone network went down in Luhansk for hours, for the second night in a row, according to an Associated Press journalist working in the area.
Ukrainians decorate a street with symbolic angels as they commemorate those killed during the 2014 Maidan protests which ousted the country’s last pro-Moscow president and set it on a path to closer alignment with the West
A girl looks at paper angels paying tribute at the Maidan activists memorial also called the ‘Heroes of the Heavenly Hundred’
A woman places a red carnation and a symbolic paper angel at a memorial paying tribute to those killed during the 2014 Maidan protest which ousted Ukraine’s last pro-Moscow government
German police officers stand guard at a perimeter fence set up around the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich where a security conference will take place today
A police officer with a dog patrols the grounds around the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, where a security conference will take place today with Ukraine high on the agenda
US Vice President Kamala Harris is greeted by Bavaria’s State Premier Markus Soeder as arrives at the airport in Munich, southern Germany, ahead of the conference
The latest warning comes after a day of fraught relations after Moscow’s foreign ministry handed a lengthy document to the US ambassador to Russia demanding that all of Washington’s weapons in central and eastern Europe and the Baltics be removed – along with all weapons already sent to Ukraine – and repeated demands that Ukraine is banned from joining NATO.
In the document, which the US is expected to reject, Moscow accused Washington of failing to respond constructively to the demands it presented in December, including for a halt to the eastern enlargement of NATO.
Russia’s ‘red lines’ were still being ignored, it said in a riposte to US and NATO counter-proposals received last month.
At the same time, the US deputy ambassador to Moscow was expelled – prompting Joe Biden to say he now expects Russia to invade Ukraine in a ‘matter of days’ and that he will not be speaking to Putin in the meantime.
Blinken was in New York on Thursday after pushing back his plans to travel to the Munich Security Conference, which is likely to be the focus of international diplomacy for the next few days.
He laid out what Washington knew of Kremlin planning, starting with a ‘manufactured provocation and theatrical emergency meetings of the Russian government.
Next would come a promise to protect Russians in Ukraine, before cuber attacks and air strikes would begin. Tanks and soldiers would then move on key targets, including Kiev.
His purpose, he said, in laying out the intelligence findings was to persuade Putin to follow a different course.
Instead he demanded that Moscow issue an unequivocal promise that it will not invade Ukraine.
‘The Russian government can announce today, with no qualification, equivocation or deflection, that Russia will not invade Ukraine,’ he said.
‘State it clearly. State it plainly to the world, and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, the planes back to their barracks and hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table.’
In response, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin said Blinken’s scenarios were ‘regrettable.’
‘I would even go so far as to say that they are dangerous because they bring in more tension into the unready tense atmosphere,’ he said, while repeating Moscow’s claims that some troops were already heading home after completing drills.
Earlier he called on the gathered foreign ministers not to turn the meeting into a ‘circus’ or use it to spread ‘baseless accusations.’
Blinken, speaking in front of the UN Security Council on Thursday, said: ‘As we meet today the most immediate threat to peace and security is Russia’s looming aggression against Ukraine.
‘The stakes go far beyond Ukraine. This is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people.’
‘This crisis directly affects every member of this council and every country in the world because the basic principles that sustain peace and security – principles that were enshrined in the wake of two world wars and the Cold War – are under threat,
‘The principle that one country cannot change the borders of another by force. The principle that one country cannot dictate another’s choices or policies or with whom it will associate. The principal of national sovereignty.’
The Russian document sent to the US ambassador on Thursday listed a series of demands to de-escalate the situation around Ukraine.
These included a halt to Western weapons supplies and removal of those already sent, the withdrawal of Western military advisers and instructors from Ukraine, and a halt to any joint NATO exercises with Ukraine.
‘In the absence of the readiness of the American side to agree on firm, legally binding guarantees of our security from the United States and its allies, Russia will be forced to respond, including through the implementation of military-technical measures,’ the document said.
Russia has suggested in the past that ‘military-technical measures’ could include missile and troop deployments.