(NEW YORK) — The United States continues to warn that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day” amid escalating tensions in the region, with President Joe Biden telling reporters Thursday that the threat is now “very high.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, making urgent remarks to the U.N. Security Council, challenged Moscow to commit to no invasion.
More than 150,000 Russian troops are estimated to be massed near Ukraine’s borders, U.S. officials said, and while Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin claim that some Russian forces have begun to withdraw, Biden said more Russian troops have moved in, contrary to Moscow’s claims.
It remains unclear whether Putin has made a decision to attack his ex-Soviet neighbor.
Russia has denied it plans to invade and issued new demands Thursday that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the military alliance.
-Austin says Russia forces near Ukraine border stocking up on blood supplies
-Blinken says Moscow will ‘manufacture a pretext’ for invasion as US blames Russia for Donbas shelling
-Blinken calls on Moscow to commit to not invading, meet next week
-Blinken to UN Security Council: ‘I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one’
-Russia’s response to the US teases ‘military-technical measures’
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern.
Feb 17, 9:28 pm
Biden to host meeting of allied leaders Friday: Canada PM’s office
President Joe Biden will host a closed-door meeting on Ukraine Friday with several U.S. allies, according to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.
The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the UK, the EU and NATO will participate in the meeting, Trudeau’s office said while sharing the prime minister’s Friday iterinary.
A White House official confirmed to ABC News that Biden will have a phone call Friday afternoon with transatlantic leaders “about Russia’s buildup of military troops on the border of Ukraine and our continued efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy.”
Also on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and hold a meeting with the leaders of the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as she travels to Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference, the White House said.
Feb 17, 9:22 pm
Senate passes non-binding resolution in support of Ukraine
The U.S. Senate passed a resolution Thursday affirming its support for Ukraine.
The resolution denounced Russian troop buildups on the border and urged President Joe Biden to act if Russia were to invade Ukraine. “[The] United States Government should use the tools at its disposal to impose significant costs on the Russian Federation to restore peace in Europe,” it stated.
The non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution conveys the sentiment of senators, but it does not mandate any action.
The resolution, which passed by voice vote with bipartisan support, follows a bipartisan statement from Senate leaders Tuesday that said “Russia must be made to pay a severe price” in the event of invasion.
The Senate departed for a weeklong recess Thursday night without approving a Russian sanctions package, which was the initial aim of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Menendez and Ranking Member Jim Risch.
ABC News’ Allison Pecorin
Feb 17, 7:35 pm
Reports of more shelling in eastern Ukraine overnight
Tensions around the Russian-controlled separatist areas in eastern Ukraine on Thursday remained high, with reports of shelling. Sporadic firing from the separatist side continued to hit the village Stanytsia Luhanska, setting two homes on fire, local police told ABC News. Earlier Thursday, separatist shelling struck a kindergarten in the village, injuring two teachers.
The escalation comes amid concerns from Western officials that Russia and its separatist proxies may be laying the groundwork for a pretext for a possible Russian intervention by accusing Ukraine of preparing to launch an offensive.
Valery Zaluzhny, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, warned in a statement Thursday night that the military has information the separatist forces are planning to evacuate several villages near the front line, possibly ahead of a planned escalation in firing.
Zaluzhny also accused the Russian-controlled forces of firing deliberately onto civilian infrastructure and accused Russia and the separatists of using propaganda and disinformation to claim Ukraine is shelling civilians.
He said Ukraine is not planning any offensive operations and is observing a ceasefire.
There was dramatically more shelling Thursday than usual, according to monitoring by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Ukraine accused the separatists of violating the ceasefire 47 times, including mainly using large-caliber weapons banned from the front line.
Russian officials continued to claim Thursday that some Russian forces are returning to their home bases and accused the U.S., along with the U.K., Canada and the Baltic nations, of using claims of Russian aggression as a pretext to arm Ukraine.
ABC News’ Patrick Reevell and Fidel Pavlenko
Feb 17, 1:03 pm
Austin says Russia forces near Ukraine border stocking up on blood supplies
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, at NATO headquarters in Brussels Thursday, said the U.S. has evidence of Russia stocking up on blood supplies and military forces nearing the border as officials believe Russia will launch an invasion of Ukraine within days.
“We see some of those troops inch closer to that border. We see them fly in more combat and support aircraft. We see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea. We even see them stocking up their blood support supplies,” Austin told world leaders.
“You know, I was a soldier myself not that long ago, and I know firsthand that you don’t do these sorts of things, for no reason. And you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home,” he added.
President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned Thursday that, despite claims of pulling back, Russia appears to be ready to invade at any moment.
ABC News’ Matt Seyler
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