Biden warns of imminent attack, says diplomacy is still possible

This has been CNBC's live blog tracking Friday's developments in the crisis involving Ukraine and Russia.

See our previous coverage here.

Biden: If Russia chooses war, it will pay a steep price
Biden: If Russia chooses war, it will pay a steep price

The Ukraine-Russia crisis entered a tense new day Friday, as reports indicated there were new outbreaks of violence and ceasefire violations.

American officials continued to push for a diplomatic solution, while Russian forces prepared to conduct more drills near Ukraine's borders. President Joe Biden, who spoke to NATO and European allies earlier in the day, said he believes Russian leader Vladimir Putin has decided to attack "in the coming days."

The U.S. president left the door open for diplomacy.

For months, Russia has been building up its military presence just outside Ukraine, its former Soviet neighbor. The Kremlin's moves have reminded Western officials of 2014, when Russian forces invaded Crimea in Ukraine.

Biden has warned Putin that Russia could face widespread, devastating economic sanctions if the Kremlin were to move ahead with an attack on Ukraine.

The tensions remained on investors' minds, as stocks traded lower Friday.

Here are some key news items:

Biden believes Putin has decided to invade Ukraine within days

U.S. officials formally attribute cyberattacks on Ukraine to Russian intelligence

Harris meets with officials in Europe

Biden believes Putin has decided to invade Ukraine within days

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his administration's efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy in response to Russia’s military buildup on the border of Ukraine, from the White House in Washington, February 18, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden said Friday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, and that an attack by Russian troops on Ukraine's capital city, Kyiv, could occur within days.

"We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days," Biden said in remarks at the White House. "We believe that they will target Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people."

"We're calling out Russia's plans loudly and repeatedly," he said, "Not because we want conflict, but because we're doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine."

The stark assessment marked a major shift away from the diplomacy and deterrence that Biden has pursued over the past several months, and it signaled the start of a new phase in the crisis.

On Friday, U.S. officials said the number of Russian troops amassed along Ukraine's borders had swelled to approximately 190,000. They said Moscow's claim in recent days that Russia was drawing back some of these troops was merely a ruse to reposition them.

Biden said he did not think Putin was "remotely contemplating" using nuclear weapons.

"He's focused on trying to convince the world that he has the ability to change the dynamics in Europe in a way that he cannot," the president said. Putin has long viewed the expansion of Western democracy in Eastern Europe as a mortal threat to his autocracy in Russia.

Biden also reiterated the rock solid unity of the NATO security alliance, which members say has grown stronger and more resilient in the face of a Russian threat that was designed in part to test NATO's resolve.

"Make no mistake. If Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice," said Biden.

"The United States and our allies are prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory, from any threat to our collective security."

— Christina Wilkie

U.S. says it is ready to contend with Russian weaponizing energy

Gasoline prices are displayed at a Los Angeles gas station on Feb. 8, 2022.
Mario Tama | Getty Images

The Biden administration said Friday that the U.S. was prepared to coordinate with major energy consumers and producers should Russia choose to weaponize energy supply as the crisis on Ukraine's borders intensifies.

"We think it would be a strategic mistake for Putin to weaponize the energy supply," said Deputy National Economic Council Director Daleep Singh, adding that two-thirds of the Kremlin's exports and half of its budget revenues come from oil and gas.

"If Putin were to weaponize that energy supply, it would only accelerate the diversification of the world away from Russian energy consumption," Singh said, adding that the U.S. is working with Europe in lockstep to find other ways to get natural gas should Russia cut off lines to Ukraine.

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

U.S. officials formally attribute cyberattacks on Ukraine to Russian intelligence

Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber & Emerging Tech, Anne Neuberger, speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 18, 2022.
Jim Watson | AFP | Getty Images

In a rare move for American intelligence agencies, the United States on Friday formally blamed Russia for a series of cyberattacks on Ukraine this week that targeted the nation's military and defense agencies, as well as two major banks.

"We believe that the Russian government is responsible for the wide scale cyber attacks on Ukrainian banks this week," said Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber & emerging technology at the White House.

It typically takes weeks or months for American intelligence agencies to collect and analyze enough information about a cyberattack to justify publicly accusing another country of being behind it. But in this case, the formal determination came within days.

Russia currently has more than 180,000 troops on and around its border with Ukraine, stoking fears of an imminent invasion.

This helps to explain why Neuberger took another rare step Friday, revealing just what kind of intelligence the United States collected to convince it of Russia's involvement.

"GRU infrastructure was seen transmitting high volumes of communication to Ukraine-based IP addresses and domains," she said, referring to Russia's main intelligence directorate by its initials.

"This recent spate of cyber attacks in Ukraine are consistent with what a Russian effort could look like" in the event of an invasion, she said.

President Joe Biden planned to speak Friday afternoon with leaders of European and NATO-allied countries, part of a desperate 11th hour effort to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull back troops.

— Christina Wilkie

U.K. to move remaining Kyiv embassy staff to Lviv

The United Kingdom will move remaining embassy staff in Kyiv to Lviv, Ukraine as the threat of a Russian invasion of its neighbor looms, according to the U.K. Foreign Ministry.

The move follows a reduction in U.K. embassy staff from Kyiv that began on Jan. 24th. The U.S. started moving remaining embassy staff from Kyiv to Lviv earlier this month.

The Foreign Ministry reiterated that British nationals should leave Ukraine, and that those who could become isolated in the country in the event of a Russian attack "should not expect increased consular support or help with evacuating in these circumstances."

— Brad Howard

NATO Article 5: Why the U.S. would go to war to defend Ukraine's neighbors

NATO Headquarters at the Blue Hour on December 04, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium.
Thomas Trutschel | Photothek | Getty Images

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden pledged that the United States was prepared to defend NATO allies should the crisis on Ukraine's border with Russia spill over into an all-out war.

"Make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us," Biden said in a Feb. 15 address, evoking the alliance's Article 5 rule.

The significance of Article 5 comes as an extraordinary deployment of Russian troops advance on Ukraine's northern and eastern flank, a revelation that has prompted NATO members to bolster their defenses. While Ukraine is not a NATO member country, it shares borders with four NATO member countries.

A cornerstone of the 30-member alliance is the principle of collective defense, known as Article 5 of NATO's founding treaty.

According to the alliance's treaty, Article 5 states:

"The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security."

Article 5 is complemented by Article 6, which states:

"For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

  • On the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France , on the territory of Turkey or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
  • On the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer."

While at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called America's commitment to Article 5 "ironclad." A day later, Austin traveled to Warsaw and said the U.S. "will do what's necessary to help defend our partners and allies."

In the 73 years of the NATO alliance, Article 5 has only been invoked once — in defense of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy may cancel flight as invasion threat grows 'more dramatic'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks on the phone with European Council President Charles Michel in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 17, 2022.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | via Reuters

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may scrap his plans to attend a security conference in Germany this weekend due to the escalating crisis with Russia, his spokesperson said, NBC News reported Friday.

"As of this morning, President Zelenskyy was planning to attend the Munich Security Conference," the spokesperson said. "Now we are observing the situation, which is getting more and more dramatic."

The Biden administration is reportedly worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin might in some way take advantage of Zelenskyy's absence from Ukraine. Vice President Kamala Harris is currently scheduled to meet with Zelenskyy in Munich on Saturday.

Zelenskyy was scheduled to leave for the conference tomorrow morning, but "if there is a dramatic escalation or some worrying messages then he might change his mind," the spokesperson said.

A final decision will be made in the next few hours, the spokesperson added.

Kevin Breuninger

U.S. stocks fall, head for second-straight losing week

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The major U.S. stock averages fell Friday, on pace for a second consecutive down week as investors monitored the latest Russia-Ukraine headlines.

Riskier assets are selling off in favor of safe havens. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield rose, meaning prices had decreased.

The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average on Thursday saw its worst daily performance since November.

Hannah Miao

Sanctions could target Russian oligarchs

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on economic issues via a video link in Moscow, Russia February 17, 2022.
Alexey Nikolsky | Reuters

Russia's 10 richest billionaires have lost over $12 billion in wealth over the past two months, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire's List. Russian billionaires could lose even more if the U.S. and U.K. impose sanctions on the country's biggest oligarchs as a result of a Ukraine invasion.

The White House hasn't released any names or detailed plans for sanctions against Russia's richest money-men. The U.K. government is also drawing up sanctions against Russian oligarchs. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters las month that the planned sanctions package includes Russian "elites" who are part of the Kremlin's inner circle – many of whom have strong business ties to the U.S. and Europe.

The U.S. already has sanctions against 180 individuals following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent aggressions.

The new round of sanctions, however, could tighten the noose even further around Putin and his financial network. The big question is whether the list will include Russian billionaires who have more extensive ties and business relationships with Europe and the U.S. -- and have so far escaped sanctions.

"One option is to go after the people who are aiding and abetting the oligarchs already sanctioned," said Julia Friedlander of the Atlantic Council, who served in the U.S. Treasury coordinating sanctions policy and combatting illicit finance. "The other option is to go after the biggies."

Neither the White House nor the U.K. government has said who "the biggies" might be.

Friedlander said the 2014 sanctions largely failed because they assumed that the oligarchs being sanctioned would pressure Putin to change course. Instead, the Russian rich found ways to channel their wealth further underground and bypass the restrictions. They also remained loyal to Putin.

This time, Friedlander says, the U.S. is taking a harder line – potentially cutting off all access by the oligarchs to the U.S. financial system and access to any assets in a U.S. jurisdiction. The measures are also more coordinated with Europe, and especially the U.K., where oligarchs have billions invested in property, financial accounts and assets.

The U.S. estimates the Russians have up to $1 trillion in assets held overseas, held through a byzantine network of shell companies and individuals often connected and often with direct or indirect links to Putin. By targeting the oligarchs, the U.S. can put financial pressure on Putin's financial network. Friedlander said oligarchs who move large amounts of money around the world, especially converting rubles into dollars, likely have some transactions involving a U.S. bank or financial institution, which could cut them off.

"Sanctions don't stop tanks," Friedlander said. "But in this case they might help act as one deterrent."

– Robert Frank

Russian stocks, ruble futures under pressure

A vendor counts Russian rouble banknotes at a market in Omsk, Russia February 18, 2022.
Alexey Malgavko | Reuters

Russian assets were under pressure Friday as traders weighed the latest developments in the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

The VanEck Russia ETF (RSX), which is made up of a slew of Russian stocks, dropped more than 4%. That decline comes the back of a 5.2% slide on Thursday.

Meanwhile, futures contracts tied to the Russian ruble fell 0.9% — indicating traders are betting on further declines for the country's currency.

Fred Imbert

Biden to give update on Ukraine crisis from White House

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2021.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden will give an update Friday on the deteriorating security conditions on Ukraine's border with Russia and Belarus.

Biden's remarks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House are slated to being at 4 p.m. ET. Biden's address, the second so far this week, comes hours after a scheduled call with transatlantic leaders.

Earlier in the week, Biden pledged the United States was prepared to defend NATO members as the crisis on Ukraine's border with Russia intensifies.

"Make no mistake, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. An attack against one NATO country is an attack against all of us," Biden said, evoking the alliance's collective defense rule known as Article 5.

"If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world," Biden said, adding that Washington's allies were ready to impose powerful sanctions that will "undermine Russia's ability to compete economically and strategically."

The group of leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO last held a joint call one week ago.

— Amanda Macias

Biden expected to move more U.S. troops closer to Ukraine, NBC News reports

U.S. soldiers stand next to U.S. Army Stryker wheeled tanks at the Grafenwoehr training area.
Armin Weigel | picture alliance | Getty Images

President Joe Biden is expected to approve a new deployment of more U.S. troops and military equipment to NATO ally Hungary, two Defense officials confirmed to NBC News.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share details of the new deployment, said that the troops are slated to move from an area within the U.S. European Command to Hungary in the coming days.

The U.S. is expected to send Stryker armored fighting vehicles, manufactured by General Dynamics, to Hungary with the troops.

The new marching orders come as the Biden administration reaffirms its commitment to bolster NATO ally defenses ahead of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Biden to speak with transatlantic leaders on Ukraine crisis

President Biden has warned Putin that the U.S. and its allies are willing to impose swift and severe costs on Russia.
Courtesy: The White House

President Joe Biden will speak Friday afternoon with leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom, the European Union and NATO on the unfolding crisis on Ukraine's borders.

The White House said the call between the transatlantic leaders will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.

The group of leaders last held a joint call one week ago. During that discussion, the officials "expressed their concern about Russia's continued build-up of military forces around Ukraine and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a White House readout of the call

In the past week, Biden has spoken separately to Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

— Amanda Macias

Germany’s role in World War II makes us reluctant to send Ukraine weapons, German official says

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock speaks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 18, 2022.
Ina Fassbender | Reuters

Germany's history has made the country reluctant to send weapons to Ukraine, according to German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

"If we look at Poland, if we look at France, they have been attacked by us [in the past] … our responsibility after the Second World War was that never again from Germany will there be war, and never again will there be genocide," Baerbock told an audience at the Munich Security Conference on Friday. "We are thinking a lot about this, but that's why we have a very restrictive arms control legislation, because of our history."

Several Western countries, including the U.S. and the U.K., have sent military hardware to Ukraine to help the country defend itself in case of a Russian attack. But Germany has faced some criticism for sending 5,000 army helmets, and no weapons, to Ukraine.

Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko, who was in the audience listening to Baerbock speak, urged Germany to change course, noting that Russia needed to see attacking Ukraine would come with "a painful price."

"We need defensive weapons," he said. "We are ready to fight, we're ready to defend our families, our state, [but] we need support. Thank you for the 5,000 helmets, but it's not enough. We can't defend our country just with that."

— Chloe Taylor

Harris meets with the leaders of Baltic state NATO allies

(LtoR) Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, Latvian President Egils Levits, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda pose for photographs on the sidelines of a multilateral meeting during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 18, 2022.
Andrew Harnik | AFP | Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris met with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia on Friday in a multilateral working event at the Munich Security Conference.

The three Baltic countries formally joined the NATO alliance in 2004, the first former Soviet states to do so. On Friday, their leaders stressed to Harris that they know firsthand the threat that Ukraine is facing.

But the buildup of Russian troops and the threat of an invasion isn't just a Ukrainian problem, they said. It's a regional threat to any country that shares a border with Russia.

What happens in Ukraine will have an immediate tangible effect on their own countries' national security.

"We have all lost our independence to Russia once, and we don't want it to happen again," said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia. "We understand what is at stake here."

Harris said she recognized the unique position of the Baltic states.

"I recognize the threats at this moment, historically and going forward to our friends, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. We stand with you," she said.

"We stand together, all of us as NATO allies ... an attack on one is an attack on all."

-- Christina Wilkie

Blinken warns impact of Russian invasion will disrupt international order

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during the annual Munich Security Conference, in Munich, Germany February 18, 2022.
Andreas Gebert | Reuters

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Thursday that the renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine will disrupt not only European security but the world's international order of maintaining peace.

"What's at stake is, first yes, the lives and wellbeing of Ukrainians, but what's at stake are larger principles that are the foundation of the entire international order," explained America's top diplomat during a panel discussion at the Munich Security Conference.

"Those principles are being challenged right now by Russia in Ukraine, principles like you can't change the borders of another country by force, principles like you can't dictate to another country its choices, its decisions, its policies including with who they associate, principles like you cannot exert a sphere of influence to subjugate neighbors to your will," Blinken added.

Blinken said the U.S. was in alignment with G-7 countries, the European Union and NATO to impose "massive consequences" against Russia should it proceed with an invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine downplays likelihood of a large-scale invasion

Members of the Ukrainian forces arrive in a BTR armored personnel carrier (APC) during an urban combat training exercise in Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Speaking to lawmakers in Ukraine's Parliament on Friday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the country's army was ready for any scenario that may arise.

He added: "We don't undermine the threat in any case, but the possibility of escalation is considered to be relatively low regarding a large-scale invasion of Ukraine."

Reznikov also told lawmakers that there was no evidence Russian troops had withdrawn from the border, contrary to Moscow's claims that it had initiated a partial pullback.

— Chloe Taylor

Harris meets with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg

US Vice President Kamala Harris (R) meets with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during the Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 18, 2022.
Andrew Harnik | AFP | Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris met Friday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the first event of her itinerary at the Munich Security Conference.

As they prepared to sit down with aides for a working meeting, Harris said the United States remains "supportive of diplomacy as it relates to the dialogue and discussions we've had with Russia."

But she added, "We are also committed to taking corrective actions to ensure there will be severe consequences in terms of the sanctions we have discussed. And we know the alliance is strong in that regard."

Stoltenberg praised the Biden-Harris administration for its commitment to NATO, and said the Ukraine crisis had only served to draw the security alliance closer together.

"The reality is that North America and Europe are doing more together now that we've done for many years," he said.

Following the meeting with Stoltenberg, Harris is scheduled to a multilateral meeting with the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

— Christina Wilkie

Austin speaks to Russian counterpart

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland February 18, 2022.
Slawomir Kaminski | Agencja via REUTERS

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu on Friday, the second known call between the two in the past week.

"Secretary Austin called for de-escalation, the return of Russian forces surrounding Ukraine to their home bases, and a diplomatic resolution," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby wrote in a Friday statement.

The call comes on the heels of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels and as Austin wraps up travel to Poland.

"It's ironic but what Mr. Putin did not want to see was a stronger NATO on his flank and that's exactly what he will see going forward," Austin told reporters during a press conference in Warsaw.

Following his departure from Poland, Austin is slated to visit Lithuania.

— Amanda Macias

Fresh cease-fire violations reported in eastern Ukraine

Local residents of the Ukrainian-controlled village of Stanytsia Luhanska, Luhansk region, clean up debris from their home after the shelling by Russia-Backed separatists on February 18, 2022.
Aleksey Filippov | AFP | Getty Images

The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country's eastern border.

The Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 20 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 9 a.m. local time.

Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.

CNBC was unable to verify either report. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.

The U.S. has warned that Russia could use false assertions, including claims about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as a pretext for an invasion.

— Chloe Taylor

Russian military to carry out nuclear drills on Saturday: state media

Russian nuclear submarines Prince Vladimir, above, and Yekaterinburg are harbored at a Russian naval base in Gazhiyevo, Kola Peninsula, Russia, onApril 13, 2021.
Vadim Savitsky | Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Russia will conduct sweeping military exercises involving its nuclear forces on Saturday, Russian state media reported Friday. It began engaging in large-scale military drills in recent weeks in both Russia and Belarus, which also shares a border with Ukraine.

Moscow claimed this week that some of its soldiers had begun to withdraw from their temporary posts at the border with Ukraine after completing their exercises.

But Western officials have disputed those claims, with the U.S. estimating there are now up to 90,000 more Russian troops near Ukraine than there were at the end of January.

— Chloe Taylor

‘This is a moment of peril,’ Blinken warns

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on the situation between Russia and Ukraine, at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., February 17, 2022.
Carlo Allegri | Reuters

Speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that "this is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people."

He added that U.S. information clearly indicated that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days, emphasizing that Moscow "plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack."

"This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian government," he said, noting that a staged military strike against civilians could be one of the methods the Kremlin uses to achieve this end.

Blinken also said that if Russia launched an invasion, its tanks and soldiers would be likely to advance on key targets including the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has a population of 2.8 million people.  

— Chloe Taylor

Russia ‘intent on creating a pretext to justify an invasion,’ U.S. official says

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends an extended meeting of the Russian Interior Ministry Board on performance of Russian law enforcement agencies in 2021.
Alexei Nikolsky | TASS | Getty Images

Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said on Friday that the U.S. estimated Russia had amassed between 169,000 to 190,000 military personnel near Ukraine — up from 100,000 on Jan. 30.

"We are aware that Russia is intent on creating a pretext to justify an invasion into Ukraine," Carpenter told the OSCE's Forum for Security Co‑operation in Vienna.

"We have reports from multiple sources that provide detail on Russia's efforts to fabricate supposed 'Ukrainian provocations' and shape a public narrative that would justify a Russian invasion."

He added that over the past several weeks, the U.S. had acquired information that suggests Moscow is planning to stage an attack by Ukrainian forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian-speaking people in separatist-controlled territory, to justify military action against Ukraine.

— Chloe Taylor