The latest on the Ukraine-Russia border crisis

By Tara John, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 5:58 a.m. ET, February 18, 2022
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1:15 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Ukrainian foreign minister accuses Russian-backed separatists of using a tank for shelling in eastern Ukraine

From CNN's Anastasia Graham-Yooll

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Russian-backed separatists of using a tank to carry out artillery fire in eastern Ukraine, adding that authorities had, as of 3 p.m. local time, “tallied 42 instances of gunfire in the area.”

“The enemy fired at the Ukrainian territories with heavy artillery forbidden by the Minsk Agreement,” Kuleba said Thursday, highlighting that a tank was also used for shelling. 

Speaking during a news briefing alongside his British counterpart, Liz Truss, the Ukrainian foreign minister accused Russia of spreading disinformation to blame Ukraine for the incident. 

“These shells came from the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, which are controlled by Russia,” Kuleba told members of the press in Kyiv. 

“Russian propaganda is trying to falsify reality and blame Ukraine for this shelling, but we are confident that they won’t succeed,” he added. 

Both Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine reported renewed shelling in the region early Thursday.

The Ukrainian armed forces said that “Russian occupation troops shelled the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska.” Ukraine’s defense ministry said in a statement Thursday that "Ukrainian Forces fired in response to suppress enemy’s activity, strictly adhering to the Minsk agreements."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said 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.

Video and images confirmed by CNN show that a kindergarten in Ukrainian-controlled territory was hit by a shell Thursday. The kindergarten is less than five kilometers from the front lines that separate Ukrainian troops from the Russian-backed forces of the breakaway regions. CNN has not established who initiated the exchange of fire. 

2:04 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russian official says Ukraine is not adhering to Minsk agreement and attempts to blame Russia are "baseless"

From CNN's Laura Ly

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin addresses the UN Security Council in New York, on February 17.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin addresses the UN Security Council in New York, on February 17. (Justin Lane/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Russia’s deputy minister for foreign affairs said at Thursday’s United Nations Security Council meeting that the Ukrainian government is not adhering to its obligations under the Minsk agreement, and attempts to blame Russia are “futile and baseless.” 

“We are increasingly thinking that the implementation of the Minsk agreement is not something that’s in the plans of our Ukrainian neighbors,” Sergey Vershinin said in translated remarks. “Seven years down the road, it is clear that none of the provisions of the package of measures have been implemented by Ukraine in full, starting with the first one – ceasefire.”

The United States and other countries have said that Russia is to blame for the failure of the Minsk agreement’s full implementation. 

Vershinin refuted claims that Russia was not adhering to its own obligations, saying there is “absolutely no grounds for that,” given there is no mention of Russia in the agreement’s text. 

“Attempts to place blame on Russia are futile and baseless. And this only hides the goal of shifting the blame away from Ukraine. I must say, we are very disappointed by the…position of our Western colleagues who are trying not to see obvious things,” Vershinin said. 

The Russian representative, who was the first country-representative speaker at Thursday’s meeting, told other subsequent speakers to not make the meeting a “circus” and to not present “baseless accusations saying that Russia allegedly was going to attack Ukraine.”

“We have long ago clarified everything and explained everything. And the announced date of this so-called invasion is behind us, so therefore…my advice to you is [to] not present yourself in an awkward situation,” Vershinin said. 

In remarks to the UN, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that intelligence clearly indicates that the buildup of Russian forces signals an attack against Ukraine in "the coming days."

12:34 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

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

From CNN's Tim Lister

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.

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.

2:20 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine "shows no signs of slowing down," UK foreign secretary says 

From CNN’s Scott McLean

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Thursday that despite Russia’s claims, its military buildup around Ukraine “shows no signs of slowing down.” 

“There is currently no evidence that forces are withdrawing. Russia must step back from the brink. The Kremlin has had every offer of diplomacy… Time after time, they have chosen not to engage with these proposals but to obfuscate and object,” Truss said in Kyiv following a meeting with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.  

“Russia claims its being threatened, but what is the real threat? It’s not NATO’s defensive alliance; the real threat is more than 100,000 battle-ready troops massed on the border of this sovereign state,” she said.   

“Russia thinks that NATO should not expand; the truth is that countries want to join NATO. People want insurance and they see safety in numbers, and this is only accelerated by Russia’s belligerence,” the foreign secretary added.  

She went on to say that even if Russia pulls back from its border with Ukraine, the “problem will not have gone away. The free world needs to draw a line under a decade of drift.” 

Truss said she was surprised by seeing “China’s leaders aligning themselves with the Kremlin” as Beijing claims "a policy of non-interference.”  

“If China wants to be seen as a responsible global actor, they should be doing everything possible to ensure that Russia steps back,” she added.  

Truss blamed Russia for “violating its commitments, and probing our weaknesses” for years and urged the West to “wise up.”  

“In dangerous times, we have to take a hard-headed approach. That includes being ready to accept short-term pain for long-term gain, whether through imposing tough sanctions, for cutting strategic dependence by opposing Nord Stream 2,” she added.  

1:29 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

UK prime minister accuses Russia of "false flag" operation on school as pretext to invade Ukraine

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday accused Russia of fabricating a pretext to invade Ukraine by attacking a kindergarten in Donbas. 

According to the Ukrainian armed forces, in a shelling by “Russian occupation troops” on the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, the kindergarten in the Ukrainian-controlled territory was hit by Thursday.  

Video and images confirmed by CNN show that it was hit by a shell in the attack on the community.

While Johnson told reporters the attack was a “false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action,” this particular incident should not be conclusively termed a false flag operation by Russia intended to blame Ukraine for an attack on its own community.  

However, world leaders including US President Biden, have accused Russia of carrying out “false flag” operations in recent days designed to blunt the impact of any pretext Russia may use to invade Ukraine.  

Ukrainian armed forces and separatists controlling parts of eastern Ukraine have said there has been renewed shelling in the Donbas region, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling the kindergarten shelling "a big provocation." 

“We fear very much that that is the kind of thing we'll see more of over the next few days,” Johnson warned, adding that if Russia was “so mad as to invade,” it would result in a bloody and protracted conflict.” 

Johnson reiterated that that the UK will apply heavy economic sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine, but continued: “I do think there is still time for the Putin regime to step back.”

“There's still time to avoid a catastrophe, a catastrophe for Russia, a catastrophe for Ukraine and for the world," Johnson added.  

“If Russia was so mad as to invade, I don't think people should imagine that this will be a brief business. This will be a bloody and protracted conflict in which I'm afraid that there will be many casualties, including many Russian casualties and I just hope that people in Russia can see that for what it is,” Johnson said.

 

12:01 p.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US secretary of state says he proposed meeting with Russia's foreign minister next week in Europe in a letter

From CNN's Michael Conte

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he proposed meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Europe next week in a letter to continue the diplomatic path to resolving the crisis created by Russia massing troops near Ukraine’s borders, as well as meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

“These meetings can pave the way for a summit of key leaders in the context of de-escalation, to reach understandings on our mutual security concerns,” Blinken said at an address to the United Nations Security Council.

Blinken said these meetings present “every opportunity” for Russia to demonstrate its commitment to a diplomatic resolution.

 

11:49 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

US secretary of state to United Nations: "I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one"

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the UN in New York on February 17.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the UN in New York on February 17. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was speaking to the United Nations about Russia and Ukraine "not to start a war, but to prevent one."

"I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one. The information I presented here is validated by what we've seen unfolding in plain sight before our eyes for months. And remember that while Russia has repeatedly derided our warnings and alarms as melodrama and nonsense, they've been steadily amassing more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine's borders as well as the capabilities to conduct a massive military assault. It isn't just us seeing this. Allies and partners see the same thing," Blinken said.

He urged Russia to use diplomacy as a solution to the crisis.

"And Russia isn't only hearing from us. The international chorus has grown louder and louder," the US official said. "If Russia doesn't invade Ukraine, then we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong. That would be a far better outcome than the course we're currently on, and we'll gladly accept any criticism that anyone directs at us."

Blinken said he sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposing they meet next week in Europe. He is also proposing meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

"These meetings can pave the way for a summit of key leaders in the context of deescalation to reach understandings on our mutual security concerns. As lead diplomats for our nations, we have a responsibility to make every effort for diplomacy to succeed, to leave no diplomatic stone unturned," he said.

He said Russia will likely respond with dismissals that the US is "stoking hysteria."

"The Russian government can announce today with no qualifications, equivocation or deflection that Russia will not invade Ukraine, stated clearly, stated plainly to the world — and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes, back to hangars and sending diplomats to the negotiating table. In the coming days, the world will remember that commitment. Or the refusal to make it," he concluded.

11:46 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Blinken outlines ways Russia may target Ukraine, including "plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack"

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed misinformation that he said Russia continues to spread as it targets Ukraine and possible ways Moscow may attack, saying he hoped to “influence Russia to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there's still time.”

"We don't know precisely how things will play out. But here's what the world can expect to see unfold," Blinken said.

"First, Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack. ... We don't know exactly the form it will take. It could be a fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia. The invented discovery of the mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians or a fake, even a real attack using chemical weapons," he said.

"Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide, making a mockery of a concept that we in this chamber do not take lightly, nor do I take lightly based on my family history. In the past few days, Russian media has already begun to spread some of these false alarms and claims to maximize public outrage, to lay the groundwork for an inventive justification for war. Today, that only intensified in Russia's state controlled media. We've heard the allegations from Russian backed speakers here today," Blinken continued.  

Then, he said, "the highest levels of the Russian government may theatrically convene crisis and Russia must respond to defend citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine."

There may be conventional attacks, or they could take the form of cyberattacks and could target specific groups of Ukrainians, he said.

He also warned that Russia is planning to “target specific groups of Ukrainians.”

CNN's Michael Conte, Jennifer Hansler and Christin Sierra contributed reporting to this post.

11:18 a.m. ET, February 17, 2022

Russia-Ukraine crisis is a "moment of peril," US secretary of state says in UNSC address

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Ukraine-Russia crisis a "moment of peril" while addressing the United Nations Security Council in New York Thursday.

"The most immediate threat to peace and security is Russia's looming aggression against Ukraine. The stakes go far beyond Ukraine. This is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people as well as for the foundation of the United Nations charter and the rules-based international order that preserves stability worldwide," Blinken said.

"We must address what Russia is doing right now to Ukraine," he said.

Blinken said that intelligence clearly indicates that the buildup of Russian forces signals an attack against Ukraine in "the coming days."