The Ukraine-Russia crisis is at a pivotal moment. Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of attacking a village near the border. In the U.S., meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the United Nations, made an urgent appeal against an invasion.
For months, the U.S. and its Western allies have watched a steady buildup of Kremlin forces along Ukraine's border with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimics Russia's playbook ahead of its 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked international uproar and triggered sanctions against Moscow.
President Joe Biden has warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin of extraordinary and crippling economic sanctions if the Kremlin proceeds with an attack on Ukraine, Russia's ex-Soviet neighbor.
Here are some key news items:
U.S. officials head to Middle East to discuss potential energy issues
The White House said Thursday that U.S. officials traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the past week in order to discuss potential energy market pressures stemming from a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.
State Department Special Envoy for Energy Affairs Amos Hochstein and Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk both met with Saudi officials, according to National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne. The statement did not detail who exactly within the Saudi government met with the small U.S. delegation.
President Joe Biden has warned that if Russia were to move into Ukraine, energy markets could see a big impact. Biden has also pledged that a major new Russian-German gas pipeline would be halted.
The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany was finished in September of last year, but it has yet to transport any actual gas.
Separately, McGurk reaffirmed to both the Saudis and Emiratis U.S. support against Iranian-enabled missile and unmanned aerial vehicle attacks. He also discussed the need to combine pressure on the Houthis in Yemen in order to end the war there.
– Amanda Macias
Nation's highest-ranking military officer intensifies outreach with regional partners
The Pentagon said Thursday that the nation's highest-ranking military officer has continued to update NATO members and allies on the deteriorating security situation in Ukraine.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley spoke Thursday with Latvia's Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Leonids Kalnins and Estonia's Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Martin Herem in separate phone calls.
"The leaders discussed a range of issues, including security environment in the Baltic region and Eastern Europe," Milley's spokesman U.S. Army Col. Dave Butler wrote in a readout of the calls.
In the past week, Milley has spoken four times to Ukrainian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny as well as counterparts from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and the United Kingdom.
Milley has also spoken to Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov and NATO Military Committee chair Adm. Rob Bauer.
Last month, Milley told reporters at the Pentagon that Russia's posture along Ukraine's border was unlike anything he has seen during his four-decade military career. He said the Russians have deployed air forces, naval forces, special forces, cyber electronic warfare, command and control, logistics engineers and other capabilities along Ukraine's border.
"Given the type of forces that are arrayed, the ground maneuver forces, the artillery, the ballistic missiles, the air forces, all of it packaged together. If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties," Milley said on Jan. 28.
"It would be horrific," he added.
– Amanda Macias
Dow suffers worst day of 2022 on Russia-Ukraine tensions
Stocks suffered steep declines Thursday as traders fretted over Ukraine-Russia tensions.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell more than 600 points, or 1.8%, for its worst one-day decline of 2022. The S&P 500 slid 2.1%, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.9%.
Traders broadly dumped riskier assets, such as stocks, in favor of traditional safe havens like bonds and gold.
The 10-year Treasury note yield dropped more than 8 basis points to 1.96% (yields move inversely to prices). Gold futures, meanwhile, jumped to their highest level since June.
"In the short term, the market is just moving to the indications that it's seeing out of Russia," said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management. "That negativity and that additional cloud over the market definitely has a lot of weight right now."
Oil prices dip as traders watch Russia-Ukraine crisis, Iran nuclear talks
Oil prices settled lower on Thursday, putting crude on track for its first negative week in nine.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been driving prices, but traders attributed Thursday's move to progress on the Iran nuclear talks. A deal could bring more than 1 million additional barrels per day to the global market.
"The Iranian wildcard and Ukraine stand-off are likely to come to a head in the next few days, the outcomes of which will determine whether or not higher energy prices are here to stay," said Stephen Brennock, oil analyst at PVM Oil Associates.
— Pippa Stevens
Paul threatens to block unanimous approval of Senate resolution backing Ukraine
Sen. Rand Paul threatened Thursday to block unanimous passage of a Senate resolution pledging support to Ukraine.
The Kentucky Republican wants the nonbinding measure to say it is not an authorization to send American troops into Ukraine if Russia invades its neighbor. He said he could object to the resolution's unanimous approval if senators do not change its language or allow him to offer amendments to it.
"We believe that it should say 'nothing in this resolution is to be construed as an authorization of war, and nothing in this resolution is to be construed as authorizing introduction of troops into Ukraine,' and we'll see," Paul said on Thursday.
Lawmakers from both parties have signed on to the so-called sense of the Senate resolution. Its passage would not bring about any concrete action.
The resolution in part says that the Senate "encourages the President that, should any further invasion or other malign activity to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine occur by Russia, the United States Government should exhaust all tools at its disposal to impose significant costs on the Russian Federation to restore peace in Europe."
— Jacob Pramuk
'I am here today not to start a war but to prevent one,' Blinken says during UN exchange with Russian offiical
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Russia during an unexpected Thursday address at the United Nations Security Council to de-escalate tensions on Ukraine's border immediately and engage in dialogue and diplomacy.
"Let me be clear, I am here today not to start a war but to prevent one," Blinken told the international forum.
"The Russian government can announce today with no qualification, equivocation or deflection, that Russia will not invade Ukraine. State it clearly, state it plainly to the world and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes back to their various can hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table," Blinken said, following an address made by Russia's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Sergey Vershinin.
"In the coming days, the world will remember that commitment or the refusal to make it," America's top diplomat added.
Blinken, who embarked on a scheduled trip to Munich alongside Vice President Kamala Harris earlier on Thursday, flew instead to New York at the request of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on a call Thursday morning that she requested Blinken address the international forum because the "evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving toward an imminent invasion."
– Amanda Macias
Russian ruble weakens against U.S. dollar