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Ukraine - Russia crisis news summary: 20 February 2022

Update:
Ukraine - Russia crisis news summary: 20 February 2022

Ukraine-Russia crisis: headlines

- Biden agrees to meet Putin in principle but may be smokescreen

- Netherlands moves Ukraine embassy staff to Lviv

- Russian diplomat says: US and British spies can't be trusted on Ukraine

- Johnson fears "biggest war in Europe since 1945"

Russia launches exercises by strategic nuclear missile forces on Saturday close to Ukrainian border

- US President Biden "convinced" Russian President Putin has "made decision" to invade Ukraine

- US defence secretary: Russia "poised to strike" Ukraine

- Stoltenberg: Russia "will only get more NATO"

- US VP Harris warns Russia faces "unprecedented" economic sanctions if its invades Ukraine

- As tensions increase, Russian and European energy dependence pose challenges for possible EU sanctions.

What you need to know about the conflict

- What is a false flag operation? Has one ever started a war?

- Why did Russia expel US diplomats?

- US urges American citizens to leave Ukraine

- How many time zones are there in Russia?

Related news articles:

EU backs further US-Russia dialogue

The European Union supports the latest attempt to arrange further talks between Washington and Moscow to find a diplomatic solution following a Russian military build-up near Ukraine's borders, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday.

"Summit meetings, at the level of leaders, at the level of ministers, whatever format, whatever way of talking and sitting at the table and trying to avoid a war, is badly needed," Borrell told reporters in Brussels before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

"We will support anything that can make diplomatic conversations the best way, the only way to look for a solution to the crisis," he said, after France announced U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed in principle to a summit over Ukraine.

Financial sanctions on Russia

President Joe Biden's administration has prepared an initial package of sanctions against Russia that includes barring U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions for major Russian banks, three people familiar with the matter said, via Reuters.

The measures, which would only be implemented if Russia invades Ukraine, aim to hurt the Russian economy by cutting the "correspondent" banking relationships between targeted Russian banks and U.S. banks that enable international payments.

While U.S. authorities have said banking restrictions would be part of a package of possible sanctions, the administration's plan to cut correspondent banking ties - which underpin global money flows - has not previously been reported.

The United States will also wield its most powerful sanctioning tool against certain Russian individuals and companies by placing them on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list, effectively kicking them out of the U.S. banking system, banning their trade with Americans and freezing their U.S. assets, the same sources said.

The White House and Treasury Department declined to comment.

Biden accepts Putin summit

US President Joe Biden has accepted in principle a summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis after the two countries' foreign ministers meet next week and if an invasion has not occurred, the White House said on Sunday.

"Currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon," press secretary Jen Psaki said in a release.

WORLD NEWS

Russian and Ukrainian crisis: which countries support each side? USA, China, North Korea...

Both Ukraine and Russia are supported by their traditional allies, at least traditional in what can be considered the Realpolitik of the 21st century. A clash would be terrible for the world, and the myriad actors should hope that it does not come to war.

Read more

CBS alert for war

They're doing everything that American commanders would do once they got the order to proceed. The intelligence says that Russian troops have actually received orders now to proceed with the invasion. So not only are they moving up closer and closer to the border and into these attack positions, but the commanders on the ground are making specific plans for how they would maneuver in their sector of the battlefield

David Martin, CBS News Security Correspondent

US thinks Russian soldiers already have invasion orders

US intelligence has received information saying Russian military commanders have been given orders to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine, CBS News reported on Sunday.

The report comes after President Biden said he was "convinced" that Russia was planning on invading Ukraine, but public concern remains over how much evidence has actually been published.

 

Belarus

Russia and Belarus extend military drills north of Ukraine

Russia and Belarus are extending military drills that were due to end on Sunday, the Belarus defence minister said, in a step that further intensifies pressure on Ukraine as Western leaders warn of an imminent Russian invasion.

The Belarus minister said the decision had been taken "in connection with the increase in military activity near the external borders" of Russia and Belarus and because of rising tension in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.

NATO says Russia has up to 30,000 troops in Belarus and could use them as part of an invasion force to attack Ukraine, although Moscow denies any such intention.

Explosions were heard in the centre of Donetsk, a city in the eastern Donbass region controlled by Russia-backed separatists, a Reuters reporter said, in addition to heavy shelling elsewhere in the region earlier in the day. SMS messages sent to residents of Donetsk urged men to report for military duty.

"As we described it, everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place - all of these false flag operations, all of these provocations, to create justifications... you heard president Joseph Biden say this the other night - we believe president Putin has made the decision but until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still persuade president Putin from carrying this forward.

"President Biden is prepared to engage president Putin at any time, in any format, if that can help prevent a war. I reached out to my Russian counterpart, foreign minister Lavrov, to urge that we meet, next week in Europe. The plan is still to do that - unless, Russia invades in the meantime".

Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State
Macron Putin

Macron and Putin agree to take action to preserve peace —Elysee

French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed in a call on Sunday on the need to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, Macron’s office said on Sunday.

The two countries’ foreign ministers will meet in the coming days to that effect and will work on a possible summit at the highest level with Russia, Ukraine and allies to establish a new security order in Europe, the Elysee palace said.

Blinken

Blinken: All signs suggest Russia poised to invade Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said everything that's happening on the ground in Ukraine, including the announcement of an extension of military exercises by Russia and Belarus, suggest the world is on the brink of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking on broadcaster CNN's State of the Union show, Blinken, however, added that the United States was committed until the last minute to using every opportunity to see if diplomacy can dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from going ahead with an invasion.

Poland to convene extraordinary OSCE meeting on Ukraine crisis

Poland, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said on Sunday it would convene an extraordinary session of the group's Permanent Council on Ukraine. Ukraine requested the session to take place on Monday, according to a letter posted on Twitter by Adam Hałacinski, Poland's permanent representative to the OSCE.

Kiev forces shelled LPR 49 times per day - TASS

Ukrainian armed forces shelled the territory of the Lugansk People's Republic (LPR) 49 times during the past 24 hours, TASS reports, citing a post on the People's Militia of the LPR website. "Over the past day, Ukraine’s forces violated the ceasefire 49 times, shelling 26 settlements of the republic," the statement said, adding that weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements were actively used. Ukraine’s security forces used artillery, various types of grenade launchers, mortars, and small arms.

"It was a mistake of Western leaders to break such promises while Soviet and Russian leaders kept theirs. And now people ask why we don’t accept oral assurances and gentlemen agreements. Only iron-clad legally binding guarantees this time, nothing less.

"That’s how our Western colleagues are thinking - in the categories of “zero sum game”. Either us, or them. That explains a lot of problems and pitfalls that the West has created for itself recently. Our choice is a win-win scenario of indivisible security and cooperation for all".

Dmitry Polyanskiy, First Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the UN

India advises its citizens and students to leave Ukraine

The Indian embassy in Ukraine has advised Indian citizens to look for any available commercial or charter flight to get out of the country amid tensions over a possible invasion by Russia. The earlier advisory had asked students to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.

"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".

Joe Biden, US President
kremlin

Kremlin says Western naming of Ukraine invasion dates is provocative

Repeated Western predictions of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are provocative and may have adverse consequences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday. US President Joe Biden said on Friday he was convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade Ukraine, and though there was still room for diplomacy, he expected Russia to move on the country in the coming days.

Russia has repeatedly denied preparing to invade Ukraine. Putin takes no notice of such Western statements, Peskov told Rossiya 1 state TV. "The fact is that this directly leads to an increase in tension. And when tension is escalated to the maximum, as it is now, for example, on the line of contact (in eastern Ukraine), then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences," he added. "So all this has - may have - detrimental consequences. The daily exercise of announcing a date for Russia to invade Ukraine is a very bad practice."

Kuleba

Ukraine says it's time to implement some sanctions against Russia

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said today that it was time for the West to implement at least part of the sanctions it has prepared against Russia. "Russia has to be stopped right now. We see how events are unfolding," Kuleba said.

Kuleba's statement came soon after Russia and Belarus announced an extension of military drills near Ukrainian borders, with Western leaders warning of an imminent Russian invasion while clashes intensify in eastern Ukraine. "It's time to act. I'm officially saying that there are all the grounds to implement at least a part of sanctions prepared against Russia, now," Kuleba said at a televised briefing from a security conference in Munich.

"We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe" - VP Harris

US vice-president Kamala Harris gave a press briefing on the Ukraine-Russia crisis on Sunday, telling reporters, "Listen guys, we're talking about the potential for war in Europe. Let's really take a moment to understand the significance of what we are talking about. It's been over 70 years, and through those 70 years, as I mentioned yesterday, there has been peace and security. We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe. It is in the best interest of all, that there is a diplomatic end to this moment. That is where we want it to end".

Sanctions "will be painful" if Putin decides to invade Ukraine, warns Pelosi

 

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday that if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to invades Ukraine, it would constitute "an attack on democracy" and would be met with swift and severe economic sanctions.

"There's a price to pay for what Putin has put us through now. This isn't, bully the world and then take a walk and you're off the hook," Pelosi said. "If he decides to [invade], it won't be a long time for the Russian people, sadly, to feel the impact of the [sanctions because of] insecure decisions being made by their president. Let's hope that sanity prevails".

Donbass

Ukraine temporarily closes checkpoint in Donbass due to shelling

On Sunday, Ukraine suspended operations at one of the seven checkpoints to territory in the eastern Donbass region controlled by Russia-backed separatists, due to heavy shelling, the Ukrainian military said.

Incidents of shelling across the line dividing government forces and separatists increased sharply last week, in what the Ukrainian government called a provocation. Kiev's Western allies say Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine and are concerned that the escalation might be used as a pretext.

Russia denies any plans to attack its neighbour, while Ukraine strongly denied suggestions by Moscow that Kiev could launch an offensive in eastern Ukraine.

Separatists on Saturday fired three times on the Schastya checkpoint using mortars and heavy anti-tank grenade launchers, as ceasefire violations by separatists along the frontline increased to 136 from 66 on Friday, the military said on its Facebook page.

Two Ukrainian soldiers were reported killed and four wounded on Saturday.

Considering "the escalation of the situation... and the inability to guarantee the safety of the civilian population" using the checkpoint, the command was suspending its use from 8am (0600 GMT) on Sunday "for the period of the threat," the military said.

Putin may be 'irrational' on Ukraine - Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday that Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin might not be thinking logically so the threat of sanctions may not be enough to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions "may not be enough to deter an irrational actor and we have to accept at the moment that Vladimir Putin is possibly thinking illogically about this and doesn't see the disaster ahead," Johnson told the BBC.

Johnson also said he was unable to peer into the soul of Putin, Russia's paramount leader since 1999.

Netherlands moves Ukraine embassy staff to Lviv

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry said it has decided to move its embassy functions in Ukraine from Kiev to Lviv temporarily because of safety considerations.

The decision follows statements by the United States saying that Russia could launch an attack on the country on any time.

Many countries have moved diplomats to Lviv in the far west of Ukraine from Kiev, with NATO moving its Ukraine staff there on Saturday. The Netherlands government last week urged Dutch citizens to leave Ukraine.

Russia is "threatening global order"

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a speech on Saturday said the "world has been watching in disbelief" as Russia has amassed troops at the Ukrainian border, adding that Russia's attempts to intimidate Ukraine threaten the "entire international order."

Good morning and welcome to our live blog on the latest developments in the Ukraine-Russia crisis. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC, "The plan that we're seeing is for something that could be the biggest war in Europe since 1945 just in terms of sheer scale" while US President Joe Biden is "convinced" his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has "made the decision" to invade Ukraine. Yesterday, Biden's defence secretary, Loyd Austin, echoed these sentiments, saying Russia is "poised to strike" its neighbouring country.

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