Russia attacks Ukraine

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta, Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 9:58 a.m. ET, February 24, 2022
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4:21 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Russia is now "at a state of readiness where they could attack at any time," Pentagon spokesperson says

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

(Andrew Harnik/AP)
(Andrew Harnik/AP)

Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border is now “at a state of readiness where they could attack at any time,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Kirby stressed that if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to fully invade Ukraine, it will be a “war of choice” and “it won’t be bloodless.” 

“There will be suffering,” Kirby added. “There will be sacrifice. And all of that must and should be laid at his feet. Because he’s doing this by choice.”

Kirby said Russia has continued to make no indication that he’s willing to de-escalate the conflict, instead the Pentagon has seen “quite the opposite.”

“We’ve seen sadly and unfortunately no indication that he’s willing to de-escalate, move those troops back home, and actually get to some sort of serious diplomatic solution, every indication rather that we see is quite the opposite,” Kirby said.

Kirby said if Putin chooses war, he’ll be doing so with “diplomacy and options still left on the table.”

4:23 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Kremlin spokesperson: Pro-Moscow separatist regions ask Kremlin for help repelling Ukraine forces

From CNN's Darya Tarasova and Vasco Cotovio in Moscow 

The heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), two separatist regions in Ukraine, recently recognized by Russia as independent, have formally asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help repelling the aggression of Ukrainian Armed Forces, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti on Wednesday.

"The president of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin received letters of appeal from the head of the Luhansk People's Republic Leonid Pasechnik and the head of the Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin,” Peskov said, according to RIA. 

According to Peskov, the appeal said: “Kyiv continues to build up its military presence on the line of contact, while receiving comprehensive support, including military support, from the United States and other Western states. The Kyiv regime is focused on resolving the conflict by force.”

“Given the foregoing, the heads of the two republics, in connection with the current situation, as well as in order to prevent civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe, on the basis of Articles 3 and 4 of the treaties on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between the Russian Federation and the republics, ask the president of Russia to assist in repelling aggression of the armed forces and formations of Ukraine," Peskov added, according to RIA.

The heads of the two separatist regions claimed that citizens were fleeing from the area “due to the aggravation of the situation and threats from Kyiv."

“The actions of the Kyiv regime testify to the unwillingness to end the war in Donbas,” the appeal said, according to Peskov.

Russia's parliament has given consent for the deployment of Russian troops on foreign territory in connection with the Donbas conflict.

4:02 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Pentagon says it believes "additional Russian military forces are moving into" Donetsk and Luhansk regions

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby (Pool)

The Pentagon believes that “additional Russian military forces are moving into” the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, press secretary John Kirby said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

CNN reported earlier that Russian troops have moved into the pro-Moscow eastern region of Ukraine that Russia has now recognized as “independent,” according to the prime minister of NATO member Latvia and sources familiar with US intelligence. 

“According to the information at my disposal, Putin is moving additional forces and tanks into the occupied Donbas territories,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš told CNN on Wednesday. “By any definition that’s a crossing of a sovereign territory into a neighboring country.”

Kirby said the Pentagon could not confirm specifics on the number of Russian troops that have moved into these two regions “what the formations are, what the capabilities are,” but said the Pentagon believes that Russian troops are moving in.

“We can’t confirm with any great specificity the numbers, and what the formations are, what the capabilities are, but we certainly believe that that’s happening,” Kirby said.

Some context: Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions of Ukraine as independent states on Monday.

The move was met with widespread condemnation from NATO countries and the US.

3:32 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

US diplomats continue to commute back and forth between Poland and Lviv, State Department says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The small group of US diplomats who have remained in Ukraine are continuing to sleep in Poland and then commute back to Lviv, Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that “for security reasons, Department of State personnel currently in Lviv will spend the night in Poland” amid fears of Russian military action in Ukraine.

“Our personnel will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services. They will continue to support the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government, coordinating on diplomatic efforts,” Blinken said in a statement.

At the State Department briefing Wednesday, Price said the diplomats “have been spending the night in Poland but they have been regularly, essentially commuting back into Lviv,” a city in the west of Ukraine.

Price said that charge d'affaires Kristina Kvien “has been leading the team back on the ground in Lviv.”

“We have every expectation that they will continue to do so as long as the security environment remains permissive,” he said.

“When they're on the ground in Lviv they're able to undertake emergency consular services to help Americans who may be seeking to leave the country. They are engaging with our Ukrainian partners, and they have important missions that they're able to fulfill in Lviv,” Price continued.

“But regardless of whether they're in Lviv, whether they are in Poland, that in no way changes the commitment we have to our Ukrainian partners, and in no way diminishes the partnership we have with Kyiv,” he said.

3:10 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Ukraine separatist leader suggests best option for Donbas would be if Ukrainian forces withdrew

From CNN’s Darya Tarasova and Vasco Cotovio in Moscow

The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), a pro-Moscow region in eastern Ukraine, suggested on Wednesday that the best option for the Donbas region would be if Ukrainian military forces were to withdraw. 

“The question is what to do with the accumulation of the military equipment, personnel, weapons that are on the other side of the line of contact, the armed formation of Ukraine. What to do with it? Do they have to voluntarily leave?” Denis Pushilin questioned in an interview on “Soloviev Live,” a Russian propaganda show broadcast on Youtube.
"The best option for them to leave the territory voluntarily and take their weapons with them,” Pushilin concluded.

The leader of the so-called DPR laid the blame on the government in Kyiv for the failure of the Minsk agreements.

“It was possible to end the situation in a completely different way, but Ukraine refused to do so,” he said. "Now there are no Minsk agreements, the Donetsk and Luhansk republics are recognized.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into two separatist pro-Moscow regions in eastern Ukraine after recognizing their independence on Monday.

About two-thirds of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions remain under the control of the Ukrainian government. 

2:42 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Ukrainian foreign minister says US officials pledged solidarity with Ukraine and more Russian sanctions

From CNN's Laura Ly

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York on Wednesday. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

After he gave remarks at the United Nations, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin all assured him that the “United States will stand by Ukraine, whatever happens.”

Biden, Blinken, Austin, and Kuleba all met in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, and the Ukrainian foreign minister spoke to reporters outside the General Assembly chamber after his remarks at the UN in New York City today.

Kuleba said the American leaders also assured him that the United States will continue to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons to build out their military capacity and that they would place more sanctions on Russia. 

“I would like to assure you that we would be happy if we never have to pick up those weapons and use them in the battlefield. We want peace. But if Russia attacks, we have to be equipped to fight back,” Kuleba said. "We appreciate for example, the sanctions which were already imposed … but this is not enough. And our partners should not wait for Russian rockets to hit Ukrainian soil or Russian planes to cross into our airspace.”

He added that he “cannot fully be satisfied” until “the last Russian soldier withdraws from Ukrainian territory.” 

Kuleba also called Russian criticism of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ statements on the conflict “unprecedented” and asserted that in doing so, Russia wants the United Nations to “become obsolete.” 

"Today, Russia openly attacked the secretary-general of the United Nations, and by doing so, it demonstrated that it attacks the United Nations at a whole. And I believe that all member states who share the principles of this organization in good faith, should stand by Ukraine, and should stand by secretary-general,” Kuleba said. “If the United Nations tolerates such an attack, it will be only the United Nations who will suffer the most and…who will end up discredited and un-respected." 

The Ukrainian ambassador said he believes Guterres should continue to lead and that members of the United Nations should consider their “entire toolkit,” particularly those actions that do not require approval of the United Nations Security Council — of which Russia is a permanent member. Kuleba said actions such as increasing humanitarian efforts in the Donbas region could be among the tools the UN utilizes. 

 

CNN’s Laura Studley contributed reporting to this post.

4:49 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Biden announces Nord Stream 2 pipeline sanctions

From CNN's DJ Judd

The receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Lubmin, Germany, on February 2. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
The receiving station of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Lubmin, Germany, on February 2. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images) (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

US President Biden formally announced new sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, a registered Swiss firm whose parent company is the Russian gas giant Gazprom, and its corporate officers.

“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate," the President wrote in a statement.

The President also applauded Germany’s decision Tuesday to halt certification of the pipeline, writing, “Through his actions, President Putin has provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy. I want to thank Chancellor Scholz for his close partnership and continued dedication to holding Russia accountable for its actions.”

Earlier today, CNN reported that Biden administration was expected to announce that it would allow sanctions to move forward on the company in charge of building Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, after blocking such sanctions last year using a national security waiver.

1:52 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

Switzerland will not be used to circumnavigate EU sanctions on Russia, government says 

From CNN's Chris Liakos

The Swiss government said on Wednesday that it will ensure the country is not used to get around the sanctions the European Union imposed on Russia. 

“Switzerland will not be used as a platform to circumnavigate sanctions imposed by the EU. It will therefore examine the sanctions and then come to a decision. The Swiss authorities are in constant contact with several countries to exchange intelligence on the current situation,” the government said in a statement. 

Switzerland may adopt compulsory measures to enforce sanctions adopted by the United Nations, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe or the country's main trading partners in order to ensure compliance with international law, in particular respect for human rights, the statement added. 

1:51 p.m. ET, February 23, 2022

US secretary of state discusses Ukraine-Russia developments with UK foreign secretary

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss take part in a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the G7 Nations during the Munich Security Conference on February 19.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss take part in a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the G7 Nations during the Munich Security Conference on February 19. (Ina Fassbender/Pool/AFP/Getty Images/File)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday, and the two “condemned the Russian Federation’s decision to recognize the so-called ‘independence’ of the purported republics controlled by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine and send Russian troops to these areas as a ‘peacekeeping’ force,” according to a State Department readout.

Russian troops have moved into the eastern region of Ukraine that Russia has now recognized as “independent,” according the prime minister of Latvia — a NATO member — and sources familiar with US intelligence. 

According to the readout, Blinken and Truss also “discussed the extensive bilateral coordination on developing and executing swift and severe economic measures against Russia.”

Multiple countries, including the US and UK, have imposed sanctions on Russia.

US sanctions included the family members of those in Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.The Biden administration is expected to announce on Wednesday that it will allow sanctions to move forward on the company in charge of building Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, after blocking such sanctions last year using a national security waiver.