Ukraine Crisis News Highlights: The Ukraine-Russia tension is rising with every passing minute, say Western intelligence reports even as Moscow maintains that the massive military build-up and nuclear drills are just business as usual. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has went on record to state that the rebel-held regions have witnessed sharp escalation in terms of ceasefire violations since Friday evening. Though situation has never remained entirely peaceful since 2014, the shelling and explosions have risen significantly.
This along with huge presence of the Russian Army across the border has ratcheted up the tension in Europe. In Munich, where top leaders are meeting for the key security meet, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the Russian plan of destabilising Ukraine has ‘already begun in some sense’. In an interview to the BBC, Johnson said that Russia is planning the biggest war Europe has seen since 1945. This statement comes a day after US President Joe Biden and other American security officials said that Russia will invade Ukraine ‘any time now. Situation remains tense along with Ukrainian borders. Russia on Saturday launched hypersonic missiles as part of the nuclear drills.
Here are the latest news, views and other updates on the Ukraine-Russia crisis:
India on Sunday asked the family members of its embassy staff in Ukraine to return home and advised its citizens whose stay is not essential to leave that country temporarily in view of “high levels” of tensions and uncertainties.
Official sources said families of Indian Embassy officials in Ukraine have been asked to return to India.
The move comes amid apprehensions by Western leaders that Russia was set to invade Ukraine soon as it deployed over 130,000 soldiers, heavy weapons and fighter jets along the Ukrainian border.
As tensions escalated between the NATO countries and Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the Indian embassy in Kyiv issued a fresh advisory in which it also asked all the Indian students to leave that country temporarily.
“In view of the continued high levels of tensions and uncertainties with respect to the situation in Ukraine, all Indian nationals whose stay is not deemed essential and all Indian students are advised to leave Ukraine temporarily,” the embassy said.
It said available commercial flights and charter flights may be availed for travel, for “orderly and timely departure” from Ukraine.
“Indian students are advised to also get in touch with respective student contractors for updates on charter flights, and also continue to follow Embassy Facebook, website and Twitter for any update,” the embassy said.
It is learnt that the government does not have any plan as of now to send a special aircraft to bring back the family members of the Indian embassy staff as Air India is operating flight from that country on February 22, 24 and 26.
According to an official document in 2020, Ukraine had a small but vibrant Indian community and there were about 18,000 Indian students studying in that country.
In the midst of the escalating tension, Russia and Belarus have extended military drills near the border with Ukraine. The exercise was scheduled to end on Sunday.
Several Western countries have warned that Russia was poised to attack Ukraine soon.
The US and its Western allies have been severely critical of Russia over its build-up of forces near the Ukraine border.
The US has already sent extra troops to Europe to support its allies in the backdrop of fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has positioned troops near its border with Ukraine besides sending warships into the Black Sea for naval exercises, triggering concerns among the NATO countries about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has been demanding a guarantee that Ukraine should never be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). (PTI)
President Joe Biden is prepared to engage with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in any format at any place and time to prevent a war, top US diplomat said on Sunday as he asserted that everything leading up to the actual invasion of Ukraine appears to be taking place.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's comments came amid heightened tensions between Russia and the US, fuelled by fears that Moscow plans to invade Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied that it has plans to attack Ukraine.
“As we have 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. All of that is already in train,” Blinken told CNN in an interview.
“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 dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” he said.
“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 (Sergey) Lavrov, to urge that we meet next week in Europe. The plan is still to do that, unless Russia invades in the meantime,” Blinken said in response to a question.
President Biden said on Friday that based on the latest American intelligence, he was “convinced” that Putin has decided to invade Ukraine in coming days.
The top American diplomat alleged that Russia is trying to create a series of provocations as justifications for aggression against Ukraine going forward.
“We have seen that over the last few days. Now they're justifying the continuation of exercises, and exercises in quotation marks, that they said would end now, the continuation indefinitely of those “exercises,” on the situation in Eastern Ukraine, a situation that they have created by continuing to ramp up tensions,” Blinken said.
Meanwhile, they have been escalating the forces they have across Ukraine's borders over the last months from 50,000 forces to 100,000 to now more than 150,000, he said.
“So, all of this, along with the false flag operations we have seen unfold over the weekend, tells us that the playbook that we laid out is moving forward,” he said.
Blinken said that the US, with its European partners and allies, have prepared a massive package of sanctions against Russia in case of an invasion of Ukraine.
“The G7 countries in Munich came together, reiterated that there would be massive consequences for Russia if it pursues this aggression,” he said.
“The purpose of the sanctions in the first instance is to try to deter Russia from going to war. As soon as you trigger them, that deterrent is gone. And until the last minute, as long as we can try to bring a deterrent effect to this, we're going to try to do that,” he said.
Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday categorically ruled out deployment of American troops in Ukraine and warned Moscow of punitive sanctions if its troops crossed over the border.
“President Biden has been very clear about the fact that we're not going to employ forces in Ukraine. And we will make sure that we do everything possible to protect our troops and our Polish partners so that there isn't a spillover cross-boundary,” Austin told ABC News in a separate interview.
“This is something that we'll be on lookout for and we'll be thoughtful about making sure that we've taken the right steps to try to prevent that,” he said.
Responding to questions, Austin said that the Russian President has been very deliberate in terms of assembling the right kind of combat and combat support capabilities, in the border region, and so he has a number of options available to him there. “And he could attack in short order… I think he's assembled the right kind – the kinds of things that you would need to conduct a successful invasion,” he added.
Referring to the nature of deployment of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, he said there is a significant amount of combat power moving very quickly now to take Kyiv.
“We see a lot of tanks and armoured vehicles there. We see a lot of artillery. We see rocket forces. If he employs that kind of combat power, it will certainly create enormous casualties within the civilian population and so this could create a – tragedy, quite frankly, in terms of refugee flow and displaced people. So this is potentially a very, very dangerous (situation),” he added.
Austin also warned that Russia will face tough sanctions from the US and the international community.
“The sanctions that we talked about, we're very serious about, and these are sanctions that will have effects that Mr. Putin has not realised before. You know, the sad part about this, is that it may not affect Mr. Putin to the degree that it's going to affect the average Russian. And, you know, the decisions that he's making now will bring about a lot of pain and suffering on his comrades in Russia,” he said. (PTI)
Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed the need to step up the search for diplomatic solutions to the escalating crisis in eastern Ukraine in a phone call on Sunday, the Kremlin said in a statement.
“In view of the urgency of the situation, the Presidents acknowledged the need to intensify the search for solutions through diplomatic means via the foreign ministries and political advisers to the leaders of the Normandy format,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
“These contacts should facilitate the restoration of the ceasefire regime and ensure progress in the settlement of the conflict in Donbass,” the Kremlin added.In a separate call earlier on Sunday, Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy discussed possible ways to secure immediate de-escalation. (Reuters)
Families of Indian Embassy officials in Ukraine have been asked to move back to India: Sources
All signs suggest Russia is on the brink of invading Ukraine, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, but still vowed that Washington would use every opportunity until the last minute to see if diplomacy would dissuade Moscow from going ahead.
Speaking on broadcaster CNN's “State of the Union” show, Blinken maintained Washington's position that the deterrent impact of sanctions would be lost if they are triggered before an invasion despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's passionate plea on Saturday to unleash them.
“Everything we are seeing suggests that this is dead serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion. We will do everything we can to try to prevent it before it happens,” Blinken said, adding that the West was equally prepared if Moscow invades.
“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 dissuade President (Vladimir) Putin from carrying this forward,” he said.
Blinken said his planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei avrov was still set to proceed next week as long as Moscow did not go ahead with the invasion.
President Joe Biden was also prepared to engage with Putin “at any time, in any format if that can help prevent a war,” Blinken added.Western leaders have been warning of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, estimating that more than 150,000 Russian troops have encircled the country. (Reuters)
Acknowledging “the real possibility of war,” Vice President Kamala Harris wrapped up a weekend of outreach to European allies with a push to bolster the West’s resolve in confronting Moscow with crippling sanctions as increasingly dire signs suggest Russia’s Vladimir Putin plans to order an invasion of Ukraine.
In a burst of diplomacy at the annual Munich Security Conference, Harris tried to make the case to American allies that rapidly escalating tensions on the Ukraine-Russian border meant European security was under “direct threat” and there should be unified support for economic penalties if the Kremlin invades its neighbour. | Read More
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 Halacinskie, Poland's permanent representative to the OSCE. (Reuters)
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 decision to extend the drills was taken because of military activity near the borders of Russia and Belarus and an escalation of the situation in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, the Belarusian defence ministry said in a statement.
NATO says Russia has up to 30,000 troops in Belarus and could use them as part of an invasion force to attack Ukraine, which lies to the south of Belarus. Moscow denies any such intention.
The Kremlin did not comment on the Belarus drills.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the repeated warnings by the West that Russia was about to invade Ukraine were provocative and could have adverse consequences, without giving details.
Russia and its allies say Ukraine and the West are whipping up tensions by sending NATO reinforcements to eastern Europe.
Belarus Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said the focus of the extended exercises was “to ensure an adequate response and de-escalation of military preparations of ill-wishers near our common borders.”
Western countries are preparing sanctions they say would be wide-reaching against Russian companies and individuals in case of an invasion.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a BBC interview broadcast on Sunday that such sanctions would “hit very very hard,” and could include restrictions on Russian businesses' access to the dollar and the pound.
However, he acknowledged such threats may not deter Moscow.
“We have to accept at the moment that (Russian President) Vladimir Putin is possibly thinking illogically about this and doesn't see the disaster ahead,” Johnson said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the West should impose some of the sanctions now, rather than waiting for an invasion.
“Russia has to be stopped right now. We see how events are unfolding,” Kuleba said.
The focus of tensions in recent days has been on the swathe of eastern Ukraine that Russian-backed rebels seized in 2014, the same year Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the east.
Incidents of shelling across the line dividing government forces and separatists – which were sporadic in the past – increased sharply last week.
On Sunday, a Reuters reporter heard explosions in the centre of Donetsk city in the eastern Donbass region controlled by separatists. Heavy shelling was heard elsewhere in the region.
SMS messages sent to residents of Donetsk urged men to report for military duty.
More than 30,000 people from Donetsk and nearby Luhansk have crossed the Russian border in the past 24 hours, TASS news agency said, quoting authorities in Russia's Rostov region. The separatists began evacuating residents on Friday saying that Ukraine was planning to attack – which Kyiv denied.
Kyiv's Western allies are concerned Russia might use the escalation as a pretext for wider conflict. (Reuters)
Western countries repeatedly predicting dates for a Russian invasion of Ukraine is provocative and can have adverse consequences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes no notice of such Western statements, Peskov said, adding that Moscow appeals to Western partners' reason. (Reuters)
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday said 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. (Reuters)
In a fresh advisory, the Indian embassy in Ukraine on Sunday asked Indian nationals to leave the eastern European nation temporarily if their stay is not essential. The advisory came following rising tensions between the NATO countries and Russia over the Ukraine crisis. “In view of the continued high levels of tensions and uncertainties with respect to the situation in Ukraine, all Indian nationals whose stay is not deemed essential and all Indian students, are advised to leave Ukraine temporarily,” the embassy said. It said available commercial flights, and charter flights may be availed for travel, for an “orderly and timely departure” from Ukraine. – PTI
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. – Reuters
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. – Reuters
Ukraine on Sunday 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. Kyiv'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 Kyiv 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. – Reuters
Ukraine has received a plane load of machine guns, surveillance gear and rifles as part of a Canadian military assistance package, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Saturday.Ukraine has received plane loads of arms and military gear from NATO allies as the country braces for a possible military attack by Russia.”We received military aid in the form of rifles, machine guns with optical sights, night vision & surveillance devices & military equipment. Thank you for this important & timely decision,” Reznikov wrote in a tweet. – Reuters
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday he had an “urgent” phone conversation with the French President Emmanuel Macron and discussed possible ways of immediate de-escalation and political-diplomatic settlement in eastern Ukraine.Ukraine has reported an increase in ceasefire violations by Russia-backed separatists recently, and Kyiv's Western allies are concerned that Russia is poised to launch a military offensive against Ukraine. Russia denies any plans to attack its neighbour.”(I)Informed about the aggravation on the frontline, our losses, the shelling,” Zelenskiy wrote in a tweet. – Reuters
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, facing a sharp spike in violence in and around territory held by Russia-backed rebels and increasingly dire warnings that Russia plans to invade, on Saturday called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet him and seek resolution to the crisis. AP
Almost 2,000 ceasefire violations were registered in eastern Ukraine by monitors for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Saturday, a diplomatic source told Reuters on Sunday.Ukrainian government and separatist forces have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014. An upsurge in shelling has thrust the region to the centre of tensions between Moscow and the West over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine. – Reuters
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday said Ukraine would not respond to provocations in the eastern Donbass region and would strive to establish peace through diplomacy.Zelenskiy flew to Germany to attend a security conference as his country is bracing for a possible military attack from Russia, which has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders. Russia denies plans to attack.”We do not respond to provocations and strive to establish peace exclusively through diplomacy,” Zelenskiy wrote on his Instagram. Reuters
Russia hit sea and land-based targets with ballistic and cruise missiles on Saturday as part of strategic nuclear exercises overseen by President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart, the Kremlin said.The annual exercises featured launches of Kinzhal and Tsirkon hypersonic missiles and a number of other weapons, the Kremlin said in a statement. Reuters
Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Saturday ordered the start of strategic nuclear exercises involving launches of ballistic missiles, the RIA news agency cited the Kremlin as saying.The exercises are Moscow's latest show of strength at a time of acute tension with the West over Ukraine.”Yes,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying when asked if the drills had begun.Separately, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin, took part in military exercises alongside Putin from a situation centre in the Kremlin, Belarusian state media reported.The drills follow a huge series of manoeuvres by Russia's armed forces in the past four months that have included a build-up of troops — estimated by the West to number 150,000 or more — to the north, east and south of Ukraine. Russia denies planning to attack Ukraine. Reuters
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that Russia's military was “poised to strike” Ukraine, even as he voiced hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin would step back from the brink of war.Austin vowed Washington would stand with its Baltic allies during a visit to Lithuania on Saturday, as the region anxiously weighed the risks of a possible invasion. Russia denies planning any attacks.”I want everyone in Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia to know — and I want President (Vladimir) Putin in the Kremlin to know — that the United States stands with our allies,” Austin told a news conference in Vilnius, after talks with Lithuanian leaders. Reuters
Moscow is confronting NATO with demands it knows the alliance cannot meet, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Saturday.”The danger is now the combination of this massive military build-up with the very threatening rhetoric, putting forward demands they know we cannot meet and say: If we don't meet them, there will be military consequences,” Stoltenberg told the Munich Security Conference.”This is a new normal, that we have a Russia which is openly contesting core values for European security and then demonstrating their will to use force or the threat of force to get their will,” he added. – Reuters
Russia's President Vladimir Putin was set to oversee exercises by strategic nuclear missile forces on Saturday as Western leaders gathered in Munich, fearful that he could order troops massed on Ukraine's border to invade at any time.Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine declared a full military mobilisation, a day after ordering women and children to evacuate to Russia, citing the threat of an imminent attack by Ukrainian forces. Kyiv flatly denied the accusation and Washington said it was part of Russia's plan to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.Multiple explosions could be heard on Saturday morning in the north of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters witness said. The origin was not immediately clear. Ukraine said earlier that one of its soldiers had been killed. – Reuters
Multiple explosions could be heard on Saturday morning in the north of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters witness said.The origin of the explosions was not clear. – Reuters
Less than 7,000 people had been evacuated from Donetsk as of Saturday morning, the local emergencies ministry said. – Reuters
Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine declared a full military mobilisation on Saturday, a day after ordering women and children to evacuate to southern Russia because of what they said was the threat of conflict.Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said in a video statement that he had signed a decree on mobilisation and called on men “able to hold a weapon in their hands” to come to military commissariats. – Reuters
The Ukrainian military said it had recorded 12 ceasefire violations by pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine on Saturday morning after 66 cases over the previous 24 hours.Separatists opened fire on more than 20 settlements, using heavy artillery, which have been prohibited by Minsk agreements, the military said on its Facebook page.Incidents of shelling across the line dividing government forces and separatists increased sharply this week, in what the Ukrainian government called a provocation. It strongly denied suggestions by Russia that Kyiv could launch an offensive in eastern Ukraine. – Reuters
The United States and its European partners are keeping on with their strategy of diplomacy and deterrence, offering to keep talking with the Kremlin while threatening heavy sanctions if an invasion happens. – AP
The cyberattacks, undated videos and photos, all seem to be part of Russia's information war. A Report by HuffPost say that the latest video of a rebel leader asking pro-Russian masses to evacuate a region in eastern Ukraine is actually two-days-old. The dated video is part of Moscow's information plan, says the report that came to the conclusion based on the metadata of those video clips.
If Friday was about false flag ops and sporadic explosions, Saturday is about 'general mobilisation.' Latest ground reports from Donetsk suggest that a rebel leader has announced 'general mobilisation' in the region.
The US has said that on contrary to the reports of Russia withdrawing forces from border areas, the latest estimate by the American intelligence suggest that near 2 lakh Russian soldiers have amassed near the Ukraine borders.
US President Joe Biden said Friday he's 'convinced' that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to launch a further invasion in Ukraine, including an assault on its capital, Kyiv, as tensions spiked along the militarized border with attacks that the West called 'false-flag' operations meant to establish a pretext for invasion. On Friday, a humanitarian convoy was hit by shelling and pro-Russian rebels evacuated civilians from the conflict zone. A car bombing hit the eastern city of Donetsk, but no casualties were reported. AP