The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis – CNN

1 min ago

US defense secretary: “Still time for diplomacy” on Ukraine crisis

From CNN’s Nada Bashir

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, inspects the honor guard with his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak during a welcoming ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, on February 18.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, inspects the honor guard with his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak during a welcoming ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, on February 18. (Leszek Szymanski/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

There is “still time for diplomacy” between Russia and NATO to find a resolution to the ongoing Ukraine crisis, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Friday. He cautioned however that the US and its allies “will be ready” should Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to invade Ukraine. 

The United States, in lockstep with our allies and partners, including Poland, has offered Mr. Putin a path away from crisis and towards greater security,” Austin said. 

“Whatever path he chooses, the United States and our allies and partners will be ready,” he added. 

Speaking during a joint press conference alongside his Polish counterpart Mariusz Blaszczak in Warsaw, Austin noted that the US continues to observe a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. 

“Although Russia has announced that it is moving its forces back to garrison, we have yet to see that. In fact, we see more forces moving into that border region,” Austin told reporters. 

“We also see them continuing to prepare by doing things that you would expect military elements to do as they were preparing to launch an attack,” he added, noting that NATO has observed Russia moving and dispersing troops near the Ukrainian border, and increasing its logistical capabilities in the region. 

“The United States also continues to move material assistance to Ukraine to help the Ukrainians defend themselves. Fortunately, neither Poland or the United States are alone in dealing with this challenge,” Austin said. 

“The entire [NATO] alliance stands with Ukraine in supporting its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, and its right to choose its own path and relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world,” he added. 

3 min ago

Polish defense minister thanks US counterpart for American troops, tanks, and jets

From Amy Cassidy

US soldiers arrive at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, in Poland, on February 16.
US soldiers arrive at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport, in Poland, on February 16. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)

Poland’s National Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak thanked his US counterpart for deploying American troops to the country amid fears of Russian aggression during a joint press conference on Friday.

“Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for the American forces in Poland and also your declaration about [the] possibility to reinforce NATO and Poland, if required in future,” he said, speaking alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

He also thanked Austin personally for his role in reinforcing the Polish military with Abrams tanks and F35 fighter jets and highlighted the importance of strengthening NATO’s flank in eastern Europe.

Poland is in defense of our eastern border but also [the] eastern flank of NATO. That’s why NATO engagement is so important for us. We face huge challenges,” Blaszczak said.

He described Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine as “the biggest security crisis since the end of the Second World War.”

The “best answer” to the threats posed by Russia is NATO not being afraid and staging a deterrence, he said, adding: “We can see this policy being implemented when American troops are deployed in Poland.

“Unity of NATO is the best answer to aggressive behavior of Russia. Russian imperialist behavior requires from all allies activities that would deter Russia,” he said.  

“American soldiers’ arrival in Poland will support our defense. We will provide all necessary assistance to American soldiers as required.”

25 min ago

Putin to attend planned military drills where ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched Saturday

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin will attend planned exercises Saturday where ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched, the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement Friday. 

“On Saturday, a planned exercise of the strategic deterrence forces will be held under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. Ballistic and cruise missiles will be launched. 

“The exercises will involve the Aerospace Forces, the Strategic Missile Forces, the Northern and Black Sea Fleets,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said according to RIA. 

“The exercise of the strategic deterrence forces was planned earlier to test the readiness of forces and means,” it continued.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Putin would oversee the drills because “such exercises and such launches are impossible without the head of state; you know about the famous black suitcase, the red button, and so on. When it comes to specifics, this is not public information.”

58 min ago

Kremlin addresses the situation in Donbas, calling it “disturbing”

From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova in Moscow

The situation in Donbas is “very disturbing” and potentially “very dangerous,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday during a regular phone call with journalists. 

What is happening in the Donbas, I repeat once again, is very disturbing news, which really causes a feeling of alarm and is potentially very dangerous,” Peskov said. 

It comes after both Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine spoke of renewed shelling in the region.

Peskov said Thursday the reports of shellfire were a matter of “very, very deep concern” but added that there were no plans to discuss the matter with the Ukrainian government.

8 min ago

Russian-US diplomacy stalls, with a shelled Ukrainian kindergarten a stark reminder of the lives at stake

Analysis by CNN’s Nathan Hodge

A woman stands inside among debris after the reported shelling of a kindergarten, in the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, Ukraine, on February 17.
A woman stands inside among debris after the reported shelling of a kindergarten, in the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, Ukraine, on February 17. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

On any other week, the high-level diplomatic drama that unfolded in Moscow on Thursday should have been the main headline. But the images of a shelled kindergarten in eastern Ukraine shifted international focus to the Donbas region, where the world braced itself for signs that the simmering conflict there might escalate very seriously and catastrophically.

Thankfully, the shell that hit the Stanytsia Luhanska school took no lives. But they were a reminder of the very real stakes for people living near the Line of Contact that separates Ukrainian government forces from Russian-backed separatists.

For weeks, world leaders have been shuttling back and forth to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and making high-level phone calls to try to put the brakes on a confrontation between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis.

Yet in Moscow, there’s been no signs of a breakthrough, but a clear ratcheting up of tension. On Thursday afternoon local time, US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan paid a visit to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he received a long-awaited response from the Russian government to a written document delivered to Russia three weeks earlier.

The document made clear that the Russians laid full blame on the US and its allies for stoking the Ukraine crisis, even as evidence continues to mount that as many as 150,000 Russian troops are arrayed around Ukraine’s borders.

Read the full story:

Russian-US diplomacy stalls, with a shelled Ukrainian kindergarten a stark reminder of the lives at stake

1 hr 29 min ago

Russian Defense Minister to speak with US counterpart, Russian state news agency reports

Olga Pavlova and Sarah Dean in Moscow

The Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu will hold a telephone call with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Friday, Russian state news agency TASS reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Defense.  

TASS reported the call is at the initiative of the American side. 

Austin is in Poland Friday, where he is expected to hold a joint news conference with his Polish counterpart Mariusz Błaszczak. 

This comes as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrives in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti. 

The pair will discuss a number of issues, including “security in the region and joint actions to ensure the national interests in the two countries,” RIA cites the Belarusian president’s press service as saying. 

Russia and Belarus are currently holding ten days of joint military drills, which began in Belarus on February 10 and will end on February 20.

8 min ago

Ukrainian Defense Minister addresses rise in shelling, says Ukraine won’t be provoked into responding

From Tim Lister and Kostan Nechyporenko in Kyiv

Members of the Ukrainian military forces on the front line with Russian-backed separatists, near Novolugansk, in the Donetsk region, on February 17.
Members of the Ukrainian military forces on the front line with Russian-backed separatists, near Novolugansk, in the Donetsk region, on February 17. (Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Friday that the shelling of Ukrainian territory from areas controlled by Russian-backed separatists had risen dramatically in the past day.

Reznikov told the Ukrainian Parliament that between January 1 and February 16 there had been a total of 107 instances of shelling — but on Thursday alone there were 60 such attacks, 43 of them carried out using weapons prohibited under the Minsk agreement.

Reznikov said the main targets were civilians, describing the attacks as a war crime.

He said Ukraine’s main task was to avoid what Russia wanted, which was retaliation for such attacks.

He asked people living in the breakaway regions not to believe what he described as rumors that Ukrainian forces were planning an offensive — an allegation frequently made by officials in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Similarly, he said there was no question of Ukrainian aggression against Belarus. “Our descendants would curse us for this.”

Reznikov estimated that Russia has 129,000 ground troops near Ukrainian borders and a further 20,000 as Russia’s naval and aviation component.

The war in eastern Ukraine started in 2014 and has claimed the lives of over 14,000 people. Intense fighting in 2014 and 2015 left portions of eastern Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. 

1 hr 56 min ago

Ukraine says violations of ceasefire in east continue

From Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych in Kyiv

The Ukrainian military said Friday that in the first nine hours of the day 20 violations of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine were recorded “15 of which by using weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements.”

“The enemy used 122 mm artillery systems, 120 mm and 82 mm mortars, grenade launchers of various systems, infantry fighting vehicles, and large-caliber machine guns,” the Joint Forces office reported.

It said there are no casualties among the Ukrainian military.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry recorded 60 ceasefire violations Thursday, the highest since May 2018.

The Russian-backed separatist regions have accused Ukrainian forces of shelling residential areas under their control.

Under the Minsk agreements, both sides must withdraw heavy weapons from the front lines.

Some context: This comes after Monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported a sharp escalation in ceasefire violations along the frontlines dividing Ukrainian and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. 

The OSCE said as a result of “allegations of civilian casualties and damage to civilian properties and infrastructure sites over the past 24 hours, the Mission rerouted a number of its patrols in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including to a kindergarten and a railway station in Stanitsya Luhanska (government-controlled, 16km north-east of Luhansk).” 

The kindergarten was hit by artillery fire early Thursday. Two people suffered minor injuries, according to Ukrainian authorities.  

Both sides in the conflict accused the other of ceasefire violations Thursday. 

The war in eastern Ukraine started in 2014 and has claimed the lives of over 14,000 people. Intense fighting in 2014 and 2015 left portions of eastern Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the hands of Russian-backed separatists. 

2 hr 2 min ago

Here’s what the Minsk Agreement is and what it could mean for the Russia-Ukraine crisis

From CNN’s Tim Lister in Kyiv

As world leaders scramble to find a diplomatic solution over the ongoing Russia-Ukraine tensions, talk has turned to the 2015 Minsk Agreement as a possible way out of the crisis.

The agreement, the second of its kind (and the one that matters), was hammered out in the Belarusian capital in a bid to end what was then a bloody 10-month conflict in eastern Ukraine.

But Minsk II has never been fully implemented, with its key issues still unresolved.

Here’s what you need to know:

Who are the key players? A rare meeting between Russian, Ukrainian, German and French leaders in February 2015 sought to bring peace to areas of Ukraine that had been taken over by pro-Russian separatists the year before. Those areas, in Ukraine’s Donbas region, became known as the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). The Ukrainian government in Kyiv asserted the two regions were in effect Russian-occupied.

The talks also aimed to work towards a political settlement for the region.

The result, Minsk II, was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, the separatist leaders and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was subsequently endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution.

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What were the conditions of the agreement? A ceasefire. In February 2015, there was still heavy fighting in some areas between Ukrainian forces and Russian-supported rebels, with the Ukrainians taking heavy losses.

The withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the frontlines.

That the OSCE — a 57-member security organization that also includes the US and Canada — monitor the frontlines.

A dialogue on local elections in areas occupied by pro-Russian rebels.

The restoration of full economic and social links between the two sides, so that, for example, pensions could be paid.

That Ukrainian government control be restored over the border with Russia.

The withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries.

Constitutional reform that would provide some autonomy to the regions of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region no longer under the central government’s control.

Read the full story here.