The latest on tensions at the Ukraine-Russia border

By Aditi Sangal, Melissa Mahtani and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 9:06 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022
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4:44 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

UN chief on potential Russian invasion of Ukraine: "I'm convinced it will not happen"

From CNN's Mirna Alsharif

After United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the UN General Assembly on his priorities for 2022, he was asked if he's concerned about Russia potentially invading Ukraine.

"My message is that there should not be any military intervention in this context, I think that diplomacy is the way to solve problems," Guterres said. "I'm convinced it will not happen and I strongly hope to be right."

4:31 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Ukrainian president spoke to head of the European Commission about border security

From CNN's Katharina Krebs

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky had a telephone conversation with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The head of state informed his interlocutor about the development of the security situation along Ukraine's borders. The president thanked the head of the European Commission for consistent support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country, as well as a clear position on the need to strengthen EU sanctions against Russia. The leaders agreed on the need to continue a joint coordinated effort to prevent the conflict from escalating.

Zelensky and von der Leyen discussed current challenges to European energy security. They also discussed preparations for an international energy business forum in Ukraine, which was agreed upon during a meeting in November. The head of state drew attention to the threats to Ukraine and the whole of Europe a possible launch of Nord Stream-2 will create.

Ukraine's president thanked von der Leyen for the financial support provided by the European Union. The directions of expanding further financial assistance to Ukraine from the EU were also discussed.

2:22 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Ukrainian president thanks Biden for "unprecedented diplomatic and military assistance"

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks in Kyiv on January 14.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks in Kyiv on January 14. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked US President Biden for his “unprecedented diplomatic and military assistance for Ukraine,” in a tweet on Friday.

It comes after Biden promised on Thursday that any movement of Russian forces across the Ukrainian border would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response” from the United States.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also tweeted on Friday, “In another good call, @SecBlinken informed me on results of his meetings in Berlin and Geneva. Grateful for our continued close coordination. Discussed further strengthening of Ukraine’s defense capacities. Good to know that diplomatic track of contacts with Russia remains active.”

Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday for talks in Geneva where they discussed Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border.

1:02 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Pentagon is preparing options to bolster US military presence in eastern Europe

From CNN's Barbara Starr

The US Defense Department is working on a series of military options for President Biden’s approval that could be activated to beef up US military presence in eastern Europe to provide reassurance to allies and a deterrence factor if Russian invades Ukraine, according to two defense officials.

The options could include “movement of assets and forces already in Europe and also assets and forces available outside of Europe,” the first official said. A Russian invasion “certainly would be one trigger,” for US troops and assets to move. But some forces might be used in exercises and other training scenarios as well. And any arms sales would be considered somewhat a separate matter from troop movements.

These options would also likely be supported by sanctions.

Broadly, the US military goal would be to “meet the capability” that NATO allies in the region are asking for, the official said.

US forces could operate, as they already do, unilaterally in Europe, but could also operate under existing NATO command structures.

Additionally, US special forces continue to assist in the training of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces inside Ukraine.

“Our ongoing training mission in Ukraine plays a large role in the development of Ukrainian Special Operations Forces through regular validation training exercises,” a spokesperson for US Special Operations Command Europe told CNN.

1:33 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Biden discusses Ukraine with Japan's prime minister

From CNN’s Kyle Blaine and Kevin Liptak

President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida discussed a range of issues, including Ukraine, during their virtual meeting on Friday, according to the White House.

"The leaders committed to work closely together to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine, and Prime Minister Kishida pledged to continue close coordination with the United States, other allies and partners, and the international community on taking strong action in response to any attack."

The prime minister indicated Japan was behind the United States in working to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine — though a senior administration official said the matter of sanctions, and whether Japan was prepared to issue them in response to a potential incursion, did not arise.

In addition to discussing Ukraine, Biden accepted an invitation to visit Japan in the late spring.

12:56 p.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Biden will meet his national security team this weekend to discuss Ukraine, White House press secretary says

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on January 21 in Washington, DC.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki talks to reporters in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on January 21 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden will meet with his national security team at Camp David this weekend to discuss the situation so far on tensions at the Ukraine-Russia border and whether it might be useful to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

"It may or may not be the next step. I can't give you a prediction on if and when it will happen. But if that is a step that is recommended, and that we think would be effective, at this point in the discussion, of course, the President is always open to leader-to-leader engagement," Psaki told reporters at the press briefing on Friday.

Some participants at the meeting at Camp David will be virtual and some will be there in-person, Psaki added.

11:10 a.m. ET, January 21, 2022

A look back at the US diplomats Lavrov has met with during his 18-year tenure as Russia's foreign minister

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to discuss escalating tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border.

Blinken is the latest in a long line of US diplomats to meet with Lavrov, a highly experienced diplomat who has served as Russian foreign minister since 2004. Before that, he was Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York from 1994 to 2004.

Here's a look back some of the US secretaries of State Lavrov has met with over the past 18 years:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shakes hands with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in May 2004 after their meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York. 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shakes hands with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in May 2004 after their meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York. 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov meet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, in Septembre 2008 in New York.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov meet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel, in Septembre 2008 in New York.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov exchange documents formally bringing into force the landmark nuclear arms reduction pact START during the second day of the 47th Munich Security Conference in February 2011 in Munich, Germany.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov exchange documents formally bringing into force the landmark nuclear arms reduction pact START during the second day of the 47th Munich Security Conference in February 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speak during a press conference in September 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speak during a press conference in September 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. (Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talk to reporters in the Treaty Room before heading into meetings at the State Department in May 2017 in Washington, DC.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talk to reporters in the Treaty Room before heading into meetings at the State Department in May 2017 in Washington, DC.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the Franklin Room at the State Department in December 2019.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shake hands at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the Franklin Room at the State Department in December 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting, Friday, January 21 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov before their meeting, Friday, January 21 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. Alex Brandon/Pool/AP

11:06 a.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Here is a timeline of notable developments that led to escalated Ukraine border tensions

While tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border have been simmering for a long time, here's a timeline of notable developments over the last decade that culminated into the current escalation in tensions at the Ukraine-Russia border.

2013: Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych was under severe economic pressure from Russia to not join the European Union. And he pulled out of talks with the EU last minute, after a year of insisting that it was intent on signing a historic political and trade agreement that was aimed at creating closer political and economic ties and fostering economic growth among the nations of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, including Ukraine. This sparked weeks of violent protests in Kyiv.

2014: In March 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, an autonomous peninsula in southern Ukraine with strong Russian loyalties, on the pretext that it was defending its interests and those of Russian-speaking citizens.

2015: Shortly afterwards, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions declared their independence from Kyiv, prompting months of heavy fighting. Despite Kyiv and Moscow signing a peace deal in Minsk in 2015, brokered by France and Germany, there have been repeated ceasefire violations.

According to UN figures, there have been more than 3,000 conflict-related civilian deaths in eastern Ukraine since March 2014.

The European Union and US have imposed a series of measures in response to Russia's actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, including economic sanctions targeting individuals, entities and specific sectors of the Russian economy.

The Kremlin accuses Ukraine of stirring up tensions in the country's east and of violating the Minsk ceasefire agreement.

What's happening now: The US and NATO have described the movements and concentrations of troops in and around Ukraine as "unusual."

As many as 100,000 Russian troops have remained amassed at the Ukrainian border. US intelligence findings in December estimated that Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine "as soon as early 2022."

10:55 a.m. ET, January 21, 2022

Blinken will brief EU foreign ministers on Lavrov meeting

From CNN’s James Frater

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will brief European Union foreign ministers on Monday about his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. 

A senior EU official said in a briefing with journalists on Friday:

“The aim of this connection is to share with the European Union Foreign Ministers the latest on the dialogue between Russia and the United States. And, on the side of the EU, to share with Secretary Blinken, how we are advancing in our internal reflections.”

The EU foreign ministers will be meeting in Brussels in person and Blinken will join them virtually. 

When asked about the EU and its member states’ reaction should Russia further invade Ukraine, the official was adamant:

“Reaction will be very quick. The reaction will be extremely clear.”

“The implementation of the sanctions depends on what kind of sanctions we agree. Some of them take more attention, some of them can be implemented instantly,” the senior EU official added. “Normally, most of the sanctions are enforced the very day of the publication. But again, we are talking about contingency planning. We are talking about something - that cross our fingers - will not be necessary to take.”

The official reiterated the bloc’s call for Russia to de-escalate.