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Ukraine - Russia border crisis | News summary 15/02

Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the town of New York in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 9, 2022.

Ukraine crisis: latest updates

What are Russia's aims in Ukraine?

Over recent months Russian President Vladimir Putin has gathered a significant military force along the Ukrainian border, signalling that an invasion may be in the offing. But why would Russia choose to antagonise a nation that Putin has repeatedly claimed is an ally?

UK lawmaker Bob Seely MP suggests that the conflict stems from a dispute over Ukrainian automony and claims that it could one day be admitted into NATO, the groups of Western powers often seen as opponents to Russia. 

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Has Russia withdrawn troops from Ukrainian border?

On Monday the Russian defence ministry announced that it would be withdrawing troops from the Ukrainian border, after completing what it described as military exercises in the region. However after two days there is little evidence to suggest that has been the case, and NATO allies have warned against accepting the Russian account of events in the area. 

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US is prepared to "respond decisively" to Russia offensive

In a White House address given on Tuesday evening, President Biden reiterated his belief that there is a diplomatic solution to tensions on the Ukrainian border. However his administration will act swiftly in response to an invasion and Biden assured NATO allies in the region that the US would support their cause. 

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Tank

Russia says video shows tanks, military equipment leaving Crimea

Russia's defence ministry published video on Wednesday that it said showed a column of tanks and military vehicles leaving annexed Crimea across a railway bridge after drills, adding that some troops would also return to their permanent bases.

Moscow announced a partial pullback of forces from near Ukraine on Tuesday. The move was met with scepticism, however, and US President Joe Biden said that more than 150,000 Russian troops were still amassed near Ukraine's borders.

World powers are engaged in one of the deepest crises in East-West relations for decades, jostling over post-Cold War influence and energy supplies as Moscow wants to stop the former Soviet neighbour ever joining the NATO military alliance.

On Wednesday morning, video footage showed what the defence ministry said were tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and self-propelled artillery units leaving the Crimean peninsula that Moscow seized from Kyiv in 2014.

"Combat equipment and military personnel will be delivered by military trains to the units' permanent deployment points,"the defence ministry said. "Upon arrival, the equipment will be serviced and prepared for carrying out the next phase of combat training."

The video, published by the RIA news agency, showed dozens of military vehicles crossing the bridge at night. A separate convoy of service vehicles drove across a different bridge, the TASS news agency cited the military as saying.

REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov

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President Biden continues to advocate for a diplomatic solution

We are ready with diplomacy — to be engaged in diplomacy with Russia and our Allies and partners to improve stability and security in Europe as a whole. 

And we are ready to respond decisively to a Russian attack on Ukraine, which is still very much a possibility.

Through all of the events of the last few weeks and months, this has been our approach.  And it remains our approach now.

Joseph Biden, US President

Russia makes claims about moving back forces away from the border with Ukraine

While the Kremlin has made claims today that they are withdrawing their forces from the area, intellgicne rpeorts have not picked up on this troop movement.

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Watch President Biden's full statement on Russia and Ukraine

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What has the White House said about the cyber attacks suffered by Ukraine?

I don’t have anything on the attribution at this point in time.  I know there have been a range of reports.  What I can say is that we have been in touch with the Ukrainians, our Allies and partners — working with them to deter and respond to malicious cyberactivity. 

We have also been warning for weeks and months, both publicly and in our engagements with the Ukrainians as well as our European partners, about the potential for Russia to conduct cyber operations in Ukraine, but I don’t have anything more specific on attribution at this point. 

Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary

Markets responding favorable on speculation military tensions easing

Russia announced that some of its troops were pulling away from the border with Ukraine now that the exercises there have finish. Markets reacted positively to the news even though President Biden warned that the US has not verified those claims and that there is still a chance of invasion.

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A Russian invasion of Ukraine could cause pain further afield

An invasion by some or all of the roughly 130,000 Russian troops amassed on three sides of Ukraine could result in the loss of tens of thousands of lives. The US has threaten swift and severe sanctions on Russia and Vladamir Putin personally, but experts warn not to expect Russia to sit idly by.

They caution that Russia would most likely retaliate with cyber-attacks which could lead to counter cyber-attacks on Russia. The back and forth could end up escalating between the NATO countries and Russia becoming "something far more dangerous and catastrophic.”

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Senators stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine

A bipartisan group of senators released the following joint statement that the US Senate stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine:

“In this dark hour, we are sending a bipartisan message of solidarity and resolve to the people of Ukraine, and an equally clear warning to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

“Should Vladimir Putin further escalate his ongoing assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia must be made to pay a severe price. We are prepared to fully support the immediate imposition of strong, robust, and effective sanctions on Russia, as well as tough restrictions and controls on exports to Russia, and we will urge our allies and partners in Europe and around the world to join us.

“In the face of Russian escalation against Ukraine, we will continue to support robust security, economic, and humanitarian assistance for the people of Ukraine. The United States and our partners should also move quickly to ensure that the Government of Ukraine receives sustained emergency assistance to defend against an illegal Russian invasion.

“Make no mistake: the United States Senate stands with the people of Ukraine and our NATO allies and partners most threatened by Russian aggression. Our troops stand ready to reinforce the defenses of our Eastern European allies and we are prepared to respond decisively to Russian efforts to undermine the security of the United States at home and abroad.  We also call upon our allies to join us in bolstering NATO’s eastern flank.

“The international order established in the aftermath of World War II has not faced such a grave threat since the Cold War. This order, which protects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations, has enabled an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity for the United States and its allies. Unfortunately, Russia is threatening this system, and the United States is prepared to meet this challenge with bipartisan and unified resolve.”

Sent by:

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

Senate Republican Whip John Thune

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Jack Reed and Jim Inhofe

Senate Banking Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Sherrod Brown and Pat Toomey

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Robert Menendez and Jim Risch

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman Mark Warner and Marco Rubio 

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Biden speech from White House

President Biden gave a speech at the White House to address the situation in Ukraine, and said the USA had not been able to verify Russian claims that it had pulled troops back from Ukraine’s border. According to Biden, Russia’s ground forces remain in a “threatening position”. 

“The United States and NATO are not a threat to Russia," said the US president. “We’re not targeting people of Russia. We do not seek to destabilize Russia. To the citizens of Russia. You are not our enemy.”

Biden confirmed that he would give diplomacy "every chance" but refused to "sacrifice basic principles".

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Where are the Diomede Islands? What is the US-Russian border there?

There is one place where the US and Russia are separated by a mere two-mile stretch of water. The Diomede Islands, also once known as the “Ice Curtain”.

AS USA's Greg Heilman has the lowdown

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Russian invasion of Ukraine "still very much a possibility" - Biden

In his remarks on the Ukraine crisis, President Biden has said a Russian invasion of its neighbouring country is "still very much a possibility", but added that the US is engaged in “non-stop diplomacy” to avert such an eventuality. “We should give diplomacy every chance to succeed," Biden said.

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Language in Ukraine: Russian, Ukrainian or both?

A number of language questions are doing the rounds right now, including: how many people speak Russian in Ukraine?, how similar are Ukrainian and Russian? and do people in Ukraine speak Russian even if their first language is Ukrainian?

It's worth noting that any discussion of language is political, and given the situation right now, the discussion of language is hyper-political right now in Ukraine.

That said, here’s the basics. The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, an East Slavic language, which shares its origin with Russian (dating back to the times of Kievan Rus - a loose federation of East Slavic, Baltic and Finnic people, whose dialects are the forerunners of the East Slavic languages).

So Russian and Ukrainian are similar - they both use the Cyrillic alphabet, but while they both have 33 letters, Russian has four letters Ukrainian doesn’t have and vice versa. Add to that that the sounds are quite different, words don’t always have the same meaning and the grammar is similar but not identical and there’s no doubt we’re looking at two separate languages here.

Ukrainian is the native language of 67.5% of Ukraine’s population, while Russian is the native language of 29.6% (the remainder of the population have any of 40 minority languages as their native language). Note that Russian is the most common first language in Crimea (now annexed by Russia) and Donbas (where pro-Russian independence forces are active).

That said almost all Ukrainians who speak Ukrainian as their native language are bilingual and also fluent in Russian, and Russian is widely used in popular culture and informal and business communication, although the younger generations, particularly in Western Ukraine are keener on learning English or other foreign languages to Russian. 

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Video: President Biden delivers remarks on Ukraine crisis

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Biden

Biden to offer remarks on Ukraine crisis

US President Joe Biden is to deliver remarks on the Ukraine-Russia tensions at 3:30pm ET, the White House says.

"He will reiterate that the United States remains open to high-level diplomacy in close coordination with our allies, building on the multiple diplomatic off-ramps we and our allies and partners have offered Russia in recent months," a statement said. "The United States continues to believe diplomacy and de-escalation are the best path forward, but is prepared for every scenario."

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/AFP)

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Ukraine reports cyber attack on defence ministry website, banks

Ukraine's defence ministry and two banks came under a cyber attack on Tuesday that shut access to the ministry's website, Ukraine's information security centre said.

The Ukrainian Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security, which is part of the culture ministry, did not say who it blamed for the attack, but a statement suggested it was pointing the finger at Russia.

"It is not ruled out that the aggressor used tactics of little dirty tricks because its aggressive plans are not working out on a large scale," it said.

Kyiv has blamed Moscow for similar attacks in the past, since Russia began massing more than 100,000 troops near the frontier.

A message on the home page of the Ukrainian defence ministry website said it was under maintenance. The ministry tweeted that its website was apparently under a cyber attack and it was working on restoring the access to it.

Oshadbank confirmed the cyber attack, saying that it resulted in slowing down of some of its systems. The strategic communications centre said that Privatbank users also had problems with payments and a banking app. Privatbank did not immediately comment.

(Reuters)

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How might the global stock market be affected if Russia invades Ukraine?

On Tuesday Russia announced that it will remove some of its troops from the border with Ukraine, claiming that “combat training exercises, including drills, have been conducted as planned.”

However the threat of invasion undoubtedly remains and there is concern about what effect an extended period of uncertainty could have on financial markets, particularly at a time when the global economy is recovering from covid-19.

Read more

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Putin opens door for diplomacy

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow is ready for security talks with the US. and NATO.

Russia says some of its troops are returning to their bases from near the Ukrainian border, but NATO says it is yet to see hard evidence.

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Call between US and Russian foreign ministers over Ukraine

In a call with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, counterpart Sergei Lavrov urged 'pragmatic dialogue' over 'range of issues raised by Russia' said the Russian foreign ministry

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Comments from the press conference

We need to resolve this question [of Ukraine in NATO] now, we need to resolve this question over the course of these negotiations. We hope very much our concern will be heard by our partners and taken seriously.

Vladimir Putin, Russian President

Security can only be achieved with Russia, not against Russia... War has become unthinkable in Europe and we have to make sure it stays that way.

Otto Scholz, German Chancellor

Press conference between Vladimir Putin and Otto Scholz

We'll bring you commnents from the Russian president and German chancellor as they come out.

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Why is Wednesday an important date for the Russia Ukraine conflict?

A translation from American news media seemed to suggest Ukraine was bracing for war on Wednesday, despite weeks of attempts to calm tensions by President Zelensky's government.

A sarcastic quip from the former comedian-turned-politician appeared to be the first acceptance from Ukraine that war was imminent, but the Ukrainian president was joking that Ukraine would hold a national day of celebration to ease fears from an invasion.

Read more

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WATCH: what has the US got planned if Russia does invade Ukraine?

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British PM: "mixed signals" from Russia over withdrawal

Asked about US intelligence suggesting a Russian invasion could happen on Wednesday, Boris Johnson says Moscow has "huge preparation ready to go at virtually any moment".

Johnson also says the UK's embassy in Ukraine's capital Kyiv will remain open.

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What are the potential consequences for the United States if Russia attacks Ukraine?

However there will remain a considerable Russian military presence in the area and White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan has warned that “any day now, Russia could take military action against Ukraine.”

In recent weeks reports of Russian military activity near Ukraine had heightened as President Vladimir Putin assembled a 100,000-strong force along the border. If Russia were to invade Ukraine, what would be the consequences for the United States?

Read more

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What are the Donetsk and Luhansk republics?

Both Donetsk and Luhansk are in the region that Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, when Russia occupied the Crimea.

Since, Russia has issued more than 700,000 passports to residents in the area, souring relations with Ukraine and the EU. Sporadic fighting still happens there, but they are under defacto Russian control.

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Russian parliament speaker on breakaway states

Kyiv is not observing the Minsk agreements. Our citizens and compatriots who live in Donbass need our help and support.

Vyacheslav Volodin, State Duma speaker

Despitre withdrawal Russia pushes ahead with breakaway recognition

The withdrawal of some Russian forces has been seen as a positive measure to prevent a war between Russia and Ukraine. But another move conducted this morning would seem to put ukraine under further pressure.

Recognition of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics could finally end the Minsk peace process in east Ukraine, where a conflict between government forces and Moscow-backed separatists has killed 15,000 people since 2014.

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Is Russia considering invading Ukraine? Why would Russia invade Ukraine?

Both Russia and Ukraine share deep cultural ties and a 1,200-mile border. But despite the shared past Ukraine has slowly shifted more toward the West in recent years, becoming more integrated with the US and its allies. There is even some suggestion that Ukraine may one day join NATO, the alliance formed by Western powers in the aftermath of the Second World War to mediate the growing prominence of Soviet forces.

Russia, fairly, sees NATO as a military threat right on its border, and the acceptance of former soviet constituent states is difficult for Putin to stomahc.

Read more

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Russian comment upon troop withdrawal

We have always said that after the exercises are over... troops would return to their permanent bases. There's nothing new here. This is a usual process.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman

Russian troops end exercises and return to bases, say Russian media

Tension in Eastern Ukraine seemed to lower slightly this morning upon news that Russia was ending some military exercises in Belarus.

Ukraine said proof was needed of the pull-out, saying "when we see the withdrawal, then we'll believe the de-escalation".

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Good morning and welcome to the AS USA live feed for February 15, following developments on the Ukraine - Russia border.

News this morning suggests a withdrawal of some Russian troops from South West Russia, but the scale and timing is currently unknown. The US and NATO is still encouraging nations to withdraw citizens from Ukraine, warning that bombing could begin at any minute, without providing evidence publicly.

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