Russia-Ukraine live updates: Biden to speak about Ukraine amid unconfirmed reports of evacuations from separatist area

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Biden to speak about Ukraine amid unconfirmed reports of evacuations from separatist area

President Biden said Friday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine in a matter of days, targeting the capital city of Kyiv.

“As of this moment I’m convinced he’s made the decision. We have reason to believe that,” Biden told reporters at the White House after a call with European leaders about the crisis. The president cited intelligence gathering for his assessment of Putin, while adding that war could be averted with further diplomacy.

The remarks amounted to some of the most specific and definitive comments Biden has used to describe his interpretation of Russia’s intentions.

“We’re calling out Russia’s plans loudly, repeatedly, not because we want a conflict, but because we’re doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving,” Biden said.

Here’s what to know

The Biden administration is “deeply concerned” that Putin has turned away from a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the Munich Security Conference.The Biden administration said that the United States has reason to believe that Russian cyber actors targeted the Ukrainian government and banks during the past week with an attack of “limited impact.”Blinken agreed to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov next week under the condition that Moscow refrains from attacking Ukraine.Vice President Harris, in Munich for a major security conference, met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and representatives of NATO’s three Baltic states and will confer with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, on Saturday.Russian media reports gas pipeline explosion amid warnings of false-flag attack as pretext for an invasionReturn to menu

An explosion occurred along a gas pipeline in eastern Ukraine on Friday, according to reports from Russia-backed separatists, as concerns heightened that Russia could use a false-flag incident as a pretext for an invasion.

Two explosions in the city of Lugansk were reported by pro-Russian media channels Friday night. One hit a gas pipeline, according to RT News Channel Today, citing local media. Videos showing the explosions were circulated on separatist Telegram accounts.

Sputnik News tied the explosions to Ukrainian shelling and also quoted a local official who cited “sabotage.”

It came as President Biden, in remarks at the White House, warned that Russia was falsely blaming attacks on Ukraine as part of a disinformation campaign that could be used as a justification for an invasion.

“There is simply no evidence,” Biden said, arguing that the assertions defy “basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over a 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a year-long conflict.”

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Biden says U.S. and Western allies are united in desire to hold Russia accountableReturn to menu

Biden said that the United States and its allies are of one accord in their mission to stand against Russia as it threatens to invade Ukraine.

“The bottom line is this: The United States and our allies and partners will support the Ukrainian people,” he said Friday at the White House. “We will hold Russia accountable for its actions. The West is united and resolved.”

While a diplomatic solution remains an option, Biden said the United States believes that Putin has decided to invade in a matter of days.

In recent weeks, the White House has consistently threatened to cause further economic turmoil for Russia if Putin ignores calls to stand down. Possible negotiations between Russian leaders and Secretary of State Antony Blinken remain on the table. But if Russia disregards them and moves forward with its original plan, Biden said there will be consequences.

“We’re ready to impose severe sanctions on Russia if it further invades Ukraine,” the president added. “But I say again, Russia can still choose diplomacy. It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.”

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Wall Street extends losses as fears of Russia-Ukraine conflict rattle marketReturn to menu

Wall Street’s sour mood dragged into another day Friday amid a maelstrom of uncertainty surrounding Russia and Ukraine, with the Dow sliding more than 200 points to wrap up another choppy week.

The blue-chip index registered its steepest loss of 2022 with Thursday’s 622-point tumble as a potential Russian invasion had Western officials on high alert. Trading was somewhat calmer Friday, even as the United States and its allies stepped up warnings that Russia appeared ready to launch an invasion and despite Moscow’s continued troop buildup and widespread shelling in eastern Ukraine.

“While we’re still being warned that a Russian invasion is highly likely, the meeting does offer hope that nothing will happen before then, which is bringing some stability in the markets,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst with OANDA, said Friday in comments emailed to The Washington Post. “We could still see some risk aversion creeping in as we near the close, given how quickly these situations can change.”

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Biden says he’s convinced Putin has decided to invadeReturn to menu

On Feb. 18, President Biden said that Russia has plans to attack Ukraine “in the coming days,” targeting Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. (The Washington Post)Biden told reporters Friday that he has reason to believe that Putin has decided to invade Ukraine.

“As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said after a reporter asked if there has been any indication about whether Putin has already made a decision.

Asked to clarify if he believes Putin has decided to invade, Biden said yes.

However, he said diplomacy remains on the table.

“Diplomacy is always a possibility,” Biden said, before stepping away from the lectern.

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Biden says Russia has engaged in false-flag operationsReturn to menu

President Biden, during remarks delivered at the White House on Friday evening, accused Russia of engaging in false-flag operations to provoke Ukraine.

As evidence, Biden pointed to the shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten on Thursday that Russia “falsely asserted was carried out by Ukraine.”

Biden said U.S. intelligence has also continued seeing “more and more disinformation being pushed out to the Russian public, including the Russian-backed separatists, claiming that Ukraine is planning to launch a massive offensive attack in the Donbas.”

He said there is “simply no evidence” for these assertions, saying it would defy basic logic “to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on [the] borders, to escalate a year-long conflict.”

“All these are consistent with the playbook the Russians have used before to set up a false justification to act against Ukraine,” Biden said. “This is also in line with the pretext scenarios that the United States and our allies and partners have been warning about for weeks.”

Biden added that, “throughout these tense moments, the Ukrainian forces have shown great judgment, and I might add, restraint.”

“They refuse to allow the Russians to bait them into war,” Biden added. “But the fact remains, Russian troops currently have Ukraine surrounded.”

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Germany and France express ‘grave concern’ over Russian buildupReturn to menu

The foreign ministers of Germany and France on Friday condemned an uptick in violence in eastern Ukraine and said that they were concerned that “staged incidents” could be used by Russia as a pretext for escalation.

In a statement, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said they saw no reason for the mass evacuations of civilians from separatist areas of eastern Ukraine into Russia in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian attack.

“We do not see any grounds for these allegations and urge Russia to use its influence over the self-proclaimed republics to encourage restraint and contribute to de-escalation,” the statement said. “We are concerned that staged incidents could be misused as a pretext for possible military escalation.”

Meanwhile, the use of heavy weaponry and the “indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas” constitute a clear violation of the Minsk agreements, they said, referring to protocols that outlined a truce in the region after the separatists took control of territory following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The ministers expressed their “regret” that de facto leaders of those areas had declined to attend a meeting convened by international observers to defuse tension.

“We continue to express our grave concern about Russia’s massive build-up of armed forces in and around Ukraine and call on Russia to contribute to de-escalation by a substantial withdrawal of military forces from the proximity of Ukraine’s borders,” they said.

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Top military commanders urge Ukrainians to be wary of false information from MoscowReturn to menu

By David L. Stern4:27 p.m.

LVIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s top military commanders said Friday evening that Kyiv had no intention of attacking the separatists in the country’s east and urged Ukrainians not to believe false information being disseminated by Moscow.

Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov posted a statement on his ministry’s website saying that the Ukrainian government “values the life of every citizen” and that the army did not plan “any offensives and does not use weapons if it could pose a threat” to civilians.

Reznikov said that Moscow was preparing “various staged events to justify their crimes,” which were a “manifestation of information warfare.”

“I appeal to the citizens once again,” he said. “Do not believe in fakes and do not be afraid.”

Meanwhile, Lt. General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, issued his own statement, in which he addressed Ukrainians living in the areas controlled by Russian-backed insurgents.

“I appeal to the inhabitants of the temporarily occupied territories,” Zaluzhnyi said in a video posted on social media. “Do not believe the lies of the occupying power.”

Zaluzhnyi said reports that groups of Ukrainian saboteurs planned to blow up chlorine facilities at sewage treatment plants in the eastern Ukrainian city of Horlivka “did not correspond to reality.”

“The only acceptable option for us to de-occupy our people and territories is [one that is] political and diplomatic,” he said.

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Zelensky weighing whether to travel to Munich Security ConferenceReturn to menu

With tensions mounting, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is weighing whether to travel to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Among other things, he is scheduled to meet with Vice President Harris while there.

Zelensky spokesman Sergei Nyfyforov said officials are monitoring the situation, “which is getting more and more dramatic.”

“The president is scheduled to depart tomorrow morning,” Nyfyforov told NBC. “If there is a dramatic escalation or some worrying messages then he might change his mind. As of now, we are still waiting to see what is going to happen.”

Meanwhile, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said Zelensky is still planning to travel to Munich on Saturday.

“I can confirm for today once more that we do not see a full-scale invasion into the territory of our country,” Danilov said.

Pressed on whether the United States was concerned, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that it is for Zelensky to decide on whether to leave Ukraine for the conference.

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Biden administration believes Russian government is responsible for cyber attacks on Ukrainian banksReturn to menu

Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology, said Friday that the United States has reason to believe that Russian cyber actors targeted the Ukrainian government and banks during the past week with an attack of “limited impact.”

“We believe that the Russian government is responsible for wide-scale cyber attacks on Ukrainian banks,” Neuberger said. “We’ve shared the underlying intelligence with Ukraine and with our European partners.”

The attack, she said, was limited “because Ukrainian cyber defenders rapidly brought back both the state-owned banks and the Ministry of Defense Networks.” The cyber operations included overloads of online services at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and state-owned banks.

Cybersecurity expert Oleh Derevianko explains why cyberattacks against Ukraine don’t have to hit big targets to create huge disruptions in the country. (Whitney Leaming, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)“Russia has used cyber as a major part of its military activity beyond its borders, including to undermine, coerce and destabilize Ukraine,” Neuberger said. “For that reason, and at the president’s direction, we’ve been working to prepare for potential cyber attacks since November.”

Neuberger said that the administration is also shoring up cyber defenses nationally but added that there are currently no credible cyber threats to the United States.

Neuberger said that, as part addressing Russian cyber attacks, the Department of Energy found “sheer technical indicators of techniques used by Russian cyber actors to conduct cyber attacks against Ukrainian electricity systems during prior crises in Ukraine.”

“Russia likes to move in the shadows and [counts] on a long process of attribution so it can continue its malicious behavior against Ukraine in cyberspace,” Neuberger said.

Putin sends mixed signals, demands that the West accept his terms but talks of diplomacyReturn to menu

MOSCOW — Putin said Friday that Moscow would be willing to pursue diplomacy to settle the crisis. But he demanded that the United States and NATO accept Russia’s demands as a “package” rather than offering limited compromises around issues such as intermediate range missile deployment.

Putin insisted that Russia would not accept a compromise, calling on the West to “properly accept” his terms. He also said, “we are ready to follow the negotiation track, provided that all issues are considered as a complex, without separation from the main Russian proposals, the implementation of which is an absolute priority for us.”

Amid Western leaders’ calls for Putin to de-escalate Russia’s aggressive posture on Ukraine’s borders and pull back troops, the Russian leader showed his irritation at the rejection of key Moscow demands by Washington and NATO, raising uncertainty about his willingness to pursue talks scheduled next week between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Putin’s warning of an “escalation” of hostilities in eastern Ukraine deepened fears that he might order an attack on Ukraine in coming days. He spoke at a news conference alongside his close ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who said the two leaders discussed how to jointly deter “Western aggression.”

Putin’s warning of an “escalation” of hostilities in two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine came days after he accused Ukrainian authorities of “genocide” in the regions, comments that raised fears that the Kremlin was preparing a pretext to attack.

In comments to the U.N. Security Council, Blinken warned Thursday that Russia may manufacture a pretext to invade, such as claims of genocide.

Biden will give an update Friday afternoon on diplomacy efforts as Russia moves troops to Ukrainian borderReturn to menu

Biden will give an update Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern time on the U.S. efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy, as well as on Russia’s buildup of military troops on the Ukrainian border, the White House said.

The president will speak before reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. He will deliver the update after speaking with transatlantic allies on their continued diplomatic efforts at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time.

U.S. says Russia now has as many as 190,000 personnel in and near UkraineReturn to menu

The United States asserted Friday that Russia has “probably” massed as many as 190,000 personnel in and near Ukraine, a significant jump from an estimate of 100,000 on Jan. 30.

The assessment, part of a statement by the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, includes Moscow-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and personnel in the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

“This is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War,” said the statement, as delivered by U.S. Ambassador Michael Carpenter.

According to the statement, the United States believes Russia has massed between 169,000 and 190,000 military personnel in and near Ukraine.

“This estimate includes military troops along the border, in Belarus, and in occupied Crimea; Russian National Guard and other internal security units deployed to these areas; and Russian-led forces in eastern Ukraine,” the statement said. “While Russia has sought to downplay or deceive the world about their ground and air preparations, the Russian military has publicized its large-scale naval exercises in the Black Sea, Baltic Sea and the Arctic.”

United States ‘deeply concerned’ Russia has turned away from diplomatic path, Blinken saysReturn to menu

MUNICH — The Biden administration is “deeply concerned” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned away from a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told an audience at the Munich Security Conference on Friday.

The top U.S. diplomat made the remarks amid fears that an evacuation announcement by a Russian-backed leader of a separatist-controlled area of eastern Ukraine could be followed by military action.

“Even as we are doing everything we possibly can to make clear there’s a diplomatic path … we are deeply concerned that is not the path Russia is embarked on,” said Blinken, speaking on a panel that included German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Blinken said Russia continues to create “false provocations” and that the United States is committed to shining a “light on what we see.”

Blinken said the “single greatest source of strength we have” is solidarity with European partners, including Germany. The German government has decided against providing Ukraine with defensive weapons, even as other countries have supplied mortars, antitank missiles and other gear.

Responding to criticism that Germany has not done more to help Ukraine, Baerbock said, “We have different roles, and we have a different history.” She noted that Berlin’s opposition to sending weapons abroad stemmed from its post-World War II vow to “never again” start a “war” or a “genocide.”

On imposing sanctions on Moscow for its actions, she vowed that Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany would not be spared — something that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been more reluctant to state specifically.

“All options are on the table, including Nord Stream 2,” she said.

Blinken defended Germany’s actions related to the Ukraine crisis, saying it plays a “complementary” role.

In Kyiv, an anniversary tribute to pro-Western ‘Maidan revolution’Return to menu

KYIV, Ukraine — Eight years ago, on Feb. 18, 2014, Ukrainian police stormed anti-government protesters in Kyiv’s Maidan square. It was a turning point in days of violence that would leave dozens dead and oust a pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

On Friday, under the cloud of a potential Russian invasion, Ukrainians gathered to honor the memories of those lost in the “Maidan revolution.” Citizens attached paper angels to monuments. Veterans brought flags to a memorial that bears the names of the protesters who died during the revolution. Moments of silence were observed at the site that changed the country.

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