(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.”
U.S. 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. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin claim that some troops have begun to withdraw, Biden said more Russian forces 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.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 18, 6:21 am
Kremlin expresses concern about escalation in Donbas
Russia is concerned about the ongoing escalation of tensions in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and believes the events unfolding there post a major potential threat, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
“What is happening in Donbas is very disquieting news, which provokes concern,” Peskov told reporters during a daily call. “It is potentially very dangerous.”
When asked how Putin has been sleeping amid the rising tensions, Peskov said: “Equally well.” He then added after a brief pause: “But with one eye open.”
-ABC News’ Anastasia Bagaeva
Feb 18, 5:56 am
Putin to oversee massive nuclear drills on Saturday
Russian President Vladimir Putin will personally oversee massive drills of his country’s strategic nuclear forces on Saturday, including test launches of ballistic and cruise missiles, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Friday.
The defense ministry said in a statement that the drills were “planned” as part of large-scale military exercises currently taking place across Russia. Saturday’s drills are meant to check “the preparedness of military commands and crews of missile systems, warships and strategic bombers to accomplish their missions and at verifying the reliability of weapons of strategic nuclear and conventional forces,” according to the defense ministry.
“The exercise will involve forces and hardware belonging to the Aerospace Forces, the Southern Military District, the Strategic Missile Forces, the Northern Fleet, and the Black Sea Fleet,” the defense ministry said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin will be at the defense ministry’s Situational Center during the drills Saturday and that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko might join him.
“Even test launches of this type are impossible without the head of state,” Peskov told reporters during a daily call Friday. “You all know about his famed ‘black briefcase,’ ‘the red button’ and so on.”
Peskov said the drills shouldn’t cause concern among other countries because they were notified of the upcoming exercises in advance.
When asked whether such drills could exacerbate tensions, Peskov replied: “Exercises and training launches of ballistic missiles are quite a regular training process. It is preceded by a whole series of notifications forwarded to different countries via various channels. All this is precisely regulated and no one has any questions or concerns.”
The drills will also coincide with the finale of the major joint military exercises in neighboring Belarus.
U.S. military officials have previously warned that Russia could conduct these drills now, saying the timing might be in order to signal to the West not to interfere in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It’s also another opportunity for posturing as Putin has done many times before, placing himself at the end of demonstrations of military might. In recent years he has repeatedly hailed a range of new Russian nuclear super weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and hypersonic weapons.
-ABC News’ Anastasia Bagaeva and Patrick Reevell
Feb 18, 4:25 am
Lukashenko to meet Putin in Moscow
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Friday, as their countries continue to hold massive joint military exercises that Western countries fear could be used to cover up preparations for a possible invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
While Russia and Belarus have said that Russian troops will leave after the drills conclude Sunday, the United States remains concerned they may stay.
Earlier this week, Lukashenko indicated that he and Putin would decide at their meeting Friday how long Russian troops would stay in Belarus. Video released by Belarusian state media showed the authoritarian leader arriving at Moscow’s airport Friday morning.
Russia has moved an unprecedented number of troops into Belarus as part of its wider military build-up near Ukraine. There is an estimated 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus, which is only a few hours drive north of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
Concerns have been heightened because Russia has moved most of the troops from its Eastern Military District in Russia’s Far East, some 6,000 miles away. Among them are many units required for an offensive, including long range artillery, fighter bombers, attack helicopters and airborne troops.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell
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.
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