Trains carrying vulnerable children evacuated from eastern Ukraine will arrive in Lviv on Friday
From Sofiya Harbuziuk
Trains carrying vulnerable children evacuated from eastern Ukraine will arrive in the Lviv region on Friday, a spokesperson for the Lviv State Regional Administration told CNN.
A train from the Luhansk oblast region will carry 41 children age 4 and under, many of them orphans.
Another train is on its way from Donetsk oblast carrying 106 children, and a third is carrying 18 children with disabilities and special needs from Lysychansk in the Luhansk oblast.
12:59 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Biden: US and G7 leaders agreed to move forward on "devastating" sanctions against Russia
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
In a Twitter message, US President Joe Biden says he agreed with fellow G7 leaders "to move forward on devastating packages of sanctions and other economic measures to hold Russia to account."
"We stand with the brave people of Ukraine," he added.
Biden met with the leaders earlier today and is set to speak at 1:30 p.m. ET from the White House on the situation unfolding in Ukraine.
He attached a photo from the Situation Room of the meeting.
See the President's tweet:
12:54 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Russian riot police tell protesters to disperse in Moscow
From CNN's Anna Chernova and Nic Robertson
Russian riot police are urging protesters to leave Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow, saying over loudspeakers that the “[protest] action is unauthorized.”
CNN’s Nic Robertson and team on the ground have witnessed people being detained by police. Some are carrying signs with messages, including multiple signs saying “no to war.”
Russian authorities on Thursday warned citizens that participating in anti-war protests could lead to prosecution and criminal charges.
12:53 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Ukrainian ambassador to US: All Ukrainians will fight to protect their homes
From CNN's Phil Mattingly
Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova said Thursday that “all Ukrainians” will fight to protect their country in the face of a Russian invasion.
“The combat spirit of Ukrainian military is high,” Markarova said at a press conference in Washington, DC.
“We are fighting. We will be fighting. We, not only our brave and motivated military, but all Ukrainians, we are protecting our homes and we will not stop,” she said.
Markarova expressed thanks to US President Joe Biden “for the immediate statement which came minutes after (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s decision to go on this offensive,” as well as other allies “who issued statements in support of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“We value all the support. We hear all the support. It's very important for us,” she said. “But it's also time to act. And we call on the international community to act immediately.”
Asked by CNN whether she believed Russian President Vladimir Putin would have been deterred if the US had imposed stronger sanctions earlier, Markarova said, “we are where we are ... so let's focus on the sanctions that the United States and other countries will impose right now.”
“This is what matters,” she said. “The actual deeds that we all together will do now is what matters.”
12:41 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Putin tells business leaders there will be "restrictions" on Russian economy
From CNN's Nathan Hodge in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the country's business leaders that he expected "restrictions" on Russia's economy, but said Russia had taken a "necessary measure" by launching a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine.
In remarks aired Thursday on state television, Putin said:
"What I wanted to say first – the most important thing, so you all understand – what is going on was a necessary measure. They didn’t leave us any chance to act otherwise. They created such risks in the sphere of security that it was impossible to react in a different way. All our efforts came out to zero. […] They created such risks that it’s difficult to comprehend how our country could have continued to exist."
US and Western leaders have pledged harsh sanctions, with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urging the West to ban Russia from the SWIFT international payments system. Putin noted that Russia remained part of the global economic system, but warned of further "restrictions" to the Russian economy and called for business to work "in solidarity" with the government.
“It seems to me that our partners should understand this and not set themselves the task of pushing us out of this system," Putin said. "Nevertheless, for political reasons, these restrictions will happen."
US President Joe Biden is set to announce further sanctions on Russia in the next hour.
12:37 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
US agriculture secretary: It's "a little early" to predict how attack on Ukraine will impact wheat prices
From CNN's Liz Stark
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday it is “a little early” to predict what impact Russia’s attack on Ukraine will have on the agricultural industry and food prices for American consumers.
“I think it's a little early to make projections and to hypothesize about circumstances,” he said.
“If I were a commissioner or an [agriculture] secretary in a European country, I would probably have a much different feeling about this,” he added. “I think we in the US are fortunate. We have tremendous capacity; we have tremendous production capacity.”
He later noted that while it’s still “too early” to predict the impact on Europe, “I don't foresee a circumstance where American consumers on the food side are necessarily going to … see the kind of impact and effect” that European consumers might experience.
His comments comes as concerns have grown about what a Russian invasion of Ukraine could mean for agricultural products worldwide.
Russia is the world's top exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is also a significant exporter of both wheat and corn.
Vilsack said Thursday “it will take some time” for the potential impact on various agricultural products to be felt and urged companies not to take “unfair advantage” of the situation.
“I sincerely hope that no company out there — whether it's fertilizer or any other supply that may be impacted by this — will take unfair advantage of this circumstance and situation,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack further pledged to “do everything we possibly can to provide the level of assistance and help that will enable folks who may be negatively impacted by this to be able to get through as best as possible.”
Follow live coverage of how global markets are reacting to the attack here.
12:21 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
Russian markets finish the day 33% lower
From CNN’s Julia Horowitz and Chris Liakos
Russia’s main MOEX index ended Thursday’s session 33% lower following Russia’s military action in Ukraine. It crashed as much as 45% earlier today.
Big Russian energy companies and banks were hit the hardest amid expectations the West would announce tougher sanctions. Gazprom plunged 38% and Rosneft fell 40%, while banks VTB and Sberbank also dropped more than 40%.
The Russian ruble remains at record lows, down 7% against the US dollar.
Ukraine's president says Russian forces are attempting to seize control of Chernobyl nuclear power plant
From CNN’s Anastasia Graham-Yooll in London and Gul Tuysuz in Kyiv
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that Russian forces are attempting to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
“Russian occupation forces are trying to seize the Chernobyl [Nuclear Power Plant]. Our defenders are sacrificing their lives so that the tragedy of 1986 will not be repeated,” Zelensky tweeted.
“This is a declaration of war against the whole of Europe,” he added.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry echoed Zelensky's warning, tweeting that a Russian attack on Ukraine could “cause another ecological disaster.”
“In 1986, the world saw the biggest technological disaster in Chernobyl,” the ministry tweeted. “If Russia continues the war, Chernobyl can happen again in 2022.”
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, echoed Zelensky's earlier remarks that Russian forces had attempted to seize control of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, adding that the Ukrainian National Guard is working to protect the nuclear plant from attack.
“They made an attempt to seize the Chernobyl nuclear power station, and the fight is going right there with the Ukrainian National Guard protecting the Chernobyl station from the attack,” Markarova said during a press briefing.
“For the first time since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster — after which Ukraine has been protecting, together with our European and American friends and allies, the world from another nuclear disaster — we have to defend it again from the Russian forces,” she added.
12:08 p.m. ET, February 24, 2022
European Union wants to target Moscow leadership with further sanctions
From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in London and James Frater in Lviv
The European Union wants to "hit" the Moscow leadership with its package of further sanctions regardless of whether SWIFT is included, according to a senior EU diplomat.
Earlier on Thursday, CNN reported that the bloc was undecided as to whether to cut Russia off from SWIFT, a high-security payment network that connects thousands of financial institutions around the world.
The diplomat told journalists in a briefing that the combination of Tuesday's package alongside the fresh package due to come into effect from Friday, will be "really concentrated to hit the leadership in Moscow and those around Mr. Putin and profiting from this war.”
EU leaders are expected to discuss these sanctions during an emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday evening.
The diplomat told CNN that they expected "leaders to focus on sharing their thoughts and political positions on the big things and not on discussing in details certain measures.”
"We want the biggest possible package targeting industrial sectors, export controls, financials, maybe a visa policy. SWIFT is one element, but it's not the focus of attention," the diplomat told reporters.
The diplomat stressed that SWIFT is “on the table" and will still be considered regardless of whether it's included in the new package.
"The first priority is now this very maximalist EU sanction package," they said.
SWIFT may be needed "for things which are very relevant for some EU member states," the diplomat said, adding that it doesn't necessarily "mean it's excluded."
Earlier today, the foreign ministers of Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania called for Russia to be cut off from SWIFT.
“We want this war to stop here and now. And we are not going to close front doors and back doors, which make it difficult to stop this war started by Mr. Putin as soon as possible," the diplomat cautioned.
The diplomat stressed the need to keep "some doors open" enabling the dialogue required "to stop a war."
Despite being asked several times, the diplomat did not address why Russian President Vladimir Putin is not being directly targeted by the sanctions.
EU member states that are "closest to Ukraine" also deserve empathy, the diplomat said, remarking that they are "now faced, in the 21st century, with something we thought we had left behind in the previous century."