(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 United Nations 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 have said. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin claim that some troops have begun to withdraw, Biden told reporters that 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 any plans to invade and reiterated its demands that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the military alliance.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 21, 5:27 am
Talk of Biden-Putin summit ‘premature,’ Kremlin says
The Kremlin has said it is still “premature” to talk about a summit between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin, though it didn’t rule out that one could take place.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday said Biden and Putin have agreed “in principle” to meet, provided Russia did not invade Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron announced the possibility of a meeting after speaking with both leaders on Sunday, amid intense diplomatic efforts to try to dissuade Putin from launching an invasion the U.S. fears could come this week.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that for now there’s only an agreement for Russia and the U.S. to speak at a lower level, between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. That meeting is scheduled for this week.
Peskov seemed to suggest that an agreement on a meeting between Biden and Putin would depend on the outcome of those talks.
“I can say that an understanding has been reached that we need to continue the dialogue at the level of ministers,” Peskov told reporters on Monday. “But to talk about some kind of concrete plans about organizing any summits is for now premature.”
Contacts between Biden and Putin can be arranged quickly, if necessary, he said.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell
Feb 20, 10:28 pm
US alleges Russia making list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’
The United States has obtained information of potential Russian operations against Ukrainian targets as part of a potential invasion, including targeted killings, kidnappings, detentions and torture, the U.S. alleged in a letter to the United Nations obtained by ABC News.
“We have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” U.S. Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker wrote to Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
That includes the “likely use” of lethal measures to “disperse peaceful protesters or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations,” Crocker wrote.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken alluded to this during his remarks to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, telling his fellow diplomats, “Conventional attacks are not all that Russia plans to inflict upon the people of Ukraine. We have information that indicates Russia will target specific groups of Ukrainians.”
In addition, sources told ABC News last Tuesday that the U.S. believed Russia aimed to move into Kyiv to decapitate the Ukrainian government and install their own.
But this new letter goes further, saying Russia “would likely target those who opposes Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons.”
Ambassador Michele Sison, the top U.S. diplomat for international organizations, is headed to Geneva this week to meet Bachelet at the U.N. headquarters there, the State Department announced Sunday.
“The United States is gravely concerned that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering. In light of OHCHR’s important mandate and its reporting presence in Ukraine, we wish to share this information with you as an early warning that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine may create a human rights catastrophe,” Crocker added in the letter.
-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
Feb 20, 8:46 pm
Biden, Putin agree to summit
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to hold a summit proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. The leaders both accepted the summit “in principle,” with one major condition: that Russia does not invade Ukraine.
“As the president has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Sunday evening.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov are set to meet Thursday. During their meeting, they will prepare “the substance” of the summit, according to a statement from the French government. Macron “will work with all stakeholders to prepare the content of these discussions” as well.
Macron spoke with Putin twice Sunday, both before and after he called Biden for a brief 15-minute phone call.
“We are always ready for diplomacy,” Psaki said. “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
Feb 20, 7:49 pm
US State Department gives more info on Moscow safety alert
A State Department spokesperson said the alert published Sunday warning Americans to avoid crowds and stay alert in places frequented by tourists and Westerners was issued “out of an abundance of caution,” stopping short of tying it directly to the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
“In recent days a number of Russian media outlets have reported on a spate of bomb threats being made against Russian public buildings, including metro stations, in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and elsewhere,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“The U.S. Department of State has no greater responsibility than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas,” they said. “Out of an abundance of caution, and in line with our commitment to providing U.S. citizens with clear and timely information so they can make informed travel decisions, we published this alert.”
-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
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