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Russia-Ukraine updates: Biden announces new sanctions on Russia

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(NEW YORK) — The United States continues to warn that Russia could cross into Ukraine “any moment” amid escalating tensions in the region with the White House set to announce new sanctions on Russia Tuesday.

In a fiery address to the Russian public on Monday evening, Putin announced he was recognizing the independence of two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region: the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR) — prompting a set of sanctions from Western countries, including Germany halting approval of a major gas pipeline from Russia.

Biden, in response, issued an executive order banning “new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine,” which “will also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who said the U.S. “will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.”

While the U.S. says some 190,000 Russian troops and separatist forces are estimated to be massed near Ukraine’s borders, Russia has denied any wrongdoing and reiterated its demands that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the military alliance.

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Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 22, 6:19 pm
White House official vows stronger actions if Putin escalates

Daleep Singh, the White House’s top national security official crafting sanctions, spoke to reporters about the administration’s sanctions against Russians and hinted that this is only the beginning of the United States’ plan to defend Ukraine.

“If Putin escalates further, we will escalate further, using financial sanctions and export controls,” Singh said.

Singh claimed the sanctions will only hurt the Russian economy.

“None of our measures are designed to disrupt the flow of energy to global markets. And we are now executing a plan in coordination with major oil producers and major oil consumers to secure the stability of global energy supplies,” he said.

When asked by ABC News’ Cecilia Vega what it will take to target Putin personally, Singh said he wouldn’t say “exactly what it would take” but added that “no option is off the table.”

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Feb 22, 5:39 pm
Zelenskyy calls up some soldiers from military reserves

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a decree calling up some of Ukraine’s military reservists but said a full mobilization of the country’s military is not needed for now.

Zelenskyy announced his plan on state TV, adding that the soldiers were from the “active reserve” and have military experience.

“They must heighten the readiness of the Ukrainian army for all possible changes in the active situation,” Zelenskyy said.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell

Feb 22, 5:02 pm
Blinken calls off meeting with Russian counterpart

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a joint appearance from the State Department with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, announced that he would not attend a meeting with his Russian counterpart on Thursday as planned.

“Now that we see the invasion is beginning, and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time,” Blinken said Tuesday. “I consulted with our allies and partners. All agreed. And today I sent Foreign Minister Lavrov a letter informing him of this.”

Blinken had agreed last week to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, provided there was no invasion of Ukraine, but called Putin’s recent comments “deeply disturbing” and placed aggression in the region squarely on Russia despite the Kremlin’s claims.

“Any further escalatory steps by Russia will be met with further swift and severe measures, coordinated with allies and partners,” Blinken added, echoing remarks from Biden.

After meeting earlier with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and ahead of his appearance with Blinken, Kuleba went to the White House to meet with Biden where the president updated him on the U.S. response, including the new sanctions, and reaffirmed U.S. security and economic assistance will continue, according to the White House.

Feb 22, 4:40 pm
Treasury Department details US sanctions on Russia

The U.S. Treasury Department has released details of the new sanctions that President Joe Biden announced, including the specific elites who are sanctioned and more details about limits on Russian financial institutions.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters on an afternoon call that while “these are severe costs that we’re imposing today,” the U.S. was choosing to hold off with more severe sanctions as leverage to try to deter a wider-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The official also said “none of the sanctions are designed to disrupt the flow of energy to global markets” and noted the administration deliberately tried to make sure the pain was felt by Russia’s economy, not by the U.S.

The Treasury Department release detailed that it was sanctioning five “Kremlin-connected elites” and two Russian state-owned financial institutions, as well as putting more restrictions on Russian sovereign debt.

The administration official said “sanctions are meant to serve a higher purpose,” which they said was to “prevent a large scale invasion of Ukraine that involves the seizure of major cities including Kyiv” as well as “to prevent largescale human suffering” and “to prevent Putin from installing a puppet government that bends to his wishes and denies Ukraine the freedom to set its own course and choose its own destiny.”

Asked by ABC News’ Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl about sanctioning Putin, the official said that “all options remain on the table.”

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson

Feb 22, 3:45 pm
Mix of infantry troops and offensive aircrafts heading to Baltics

Following President Joe Biden’s announcement from the White House of additional Russian sanctions and deployments to the region, a senior defense official offered details on U.S. forces headed to the Baltics.

The official said 800 troops from an infantry battalion task force based in Italy will move to the Baltic region, as well as up to eight F-35 fighters from Germany to “several operating locations along NATO’s eastern flank.”

Additionally, 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters from Germany will head to the Baltic region and 12 AH-64 Apache helicopters from Greece will head to Poland, the official said.

“These additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces,” the senior defense official said in a statement. “These moves are temporary in nature, and are part of the more than 90,000 U.S. troops already in Europe on rotational and permanent orders.”

-ABC News’ Matt Seyler

Feb 22, 3:12 pm
Biden authorizes more US forces to region

President Joe Biden said Tuesday, “in response to Russia’s admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus,” he has authorized “the additional movements of U.S. forces and equipment already stationed in Europe, to strengthen our Baltic allies, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.”

Biden did not provide more details other than calling the deployments “totally defensive moves on our part.”

He noted “we have no intention of fighting Russia” and said it was, instead, about sending “an unmistakable message” the U.S. “will defend every inch of NATO territory.”

Echoing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reporting that the U.S. has seen Russians “stocking up their blood support supplies,” Biden also used that as an example of Russia’s intended purpose to invade, adding, “You don’t need blood unless you plan on starting a war.”

Pushing back on Russian President Vladimir Putin after Putin essentially negated the idea that Ukraine was a sovereign state, Biden said Tuesday, “the world heard clearly the full extent of Vladimir Putin’s twisted rewrite of history.”

Feb 22, 2:59 pm
Biden addresses impact of Russian sanctions at home

Announcing new economic sanctions on Russia, and calling Russian movements Tuesday “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine,” President Joe Biden also addressed how Russian sanctions might be felt in the U.S.

In a similar move to sanctions the European Union just announced, Biden said the new sanctions would target two large Russian banks, Russia’s sovereign debt, and, starting Wednesday, the Russian elite and their relatives.

“None of us — none of us should be fooled,” Biden said. “None of us will be fooled. There is no justification. Further Russian assault in Ukraine remains a severe threat in the days ahead.”

Biden said that the sanctions were just the “first tranche” of sanctions in response to their actions and have been coordinated with allies and partners, including with Germany on halting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, and warned that imposing these sanctions against Russia could come at a cost to Americans as well.

“As I said last week, defending freedom will have costs for us as well and here at home. We need to be honest about that,” Biden said. “But as we do this, I’m going to take robust action to make sure the pain of our sanctions is targeted at the Russian economy, not ours.”

“I want to limit the pain to the American people, fueling at the gas pump. This is critical to me,” he added.

Notably, Biden did not mention personally targeting Putin, which he had previously said he was considering. The president did not take questions from reporters.

-ABC News’ Ben Gittleson and Justin Gomez

Feb 22, 2:29 pm
Biden announces new sanctions on Russia

President Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Russia on Tuesday following Russian President Vladimir Putin signaling he would send “military assistance” to the two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine whose independence Moscow has recognized.

“This is the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, as he indicated and asked permission to be able to do from his Duma,” Biden said in remarks from the White House. “So I’m going to begin to impose sanctions in response — far beyond the steps we and our allies and partners implemented in 2014.”

“If Russia goes further with this invasion, we stand prepared to go further as with sanctions,” Biden continued.

In his first public remarks since Friday on Ukraine, the president said Putin is “setting up a rationale to take more territory by force” — and “to go much further.”

“Who in the Lord’s name does Putin think gives him the right to declare new so-called countries on territory that belonged to his neighbors? This is a flagrant violation of international law and demands a firm response from the international community,” he added.

Feb 22, 1:31 pm
Bipartisan call for harsher sanctions on Russia

Ahead of an update from President Joe Biden on the situation at Ukraine’s border, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling on the president to impose harder sanctions on Russia following criticism that sanctions announced Monday were limited.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in Kentucky this afternoon he hopes Biden will say that the U.S. is “going to impose the toughest possible sanctions.”

He also said any path forward should ensure that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline not be allowed to ever proceed.

“So as all of this unfolds let me be perfectly clear: The toughest possible sanctions plus no Nord Stream 2. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever,” McConnell said.

In an earlier statement, he also called on the U.S. and NATO allies to send support to Ukraine, “including arms,” and warned, “The world is watching.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat, has also called on the Biden Administration to impose “severe sanctions,” telling CNN Tuesday that it’s time to “stop equivocating” on whether or not there has been an invasion.

He also said he believes, though he said he couldn’t disclose intelligence, that more Russian troops have arrived in Ukraine overnight.

-ABC News’ Allison Pecorin

Feb 22, 1:04 pm
Russia says it will evacuate its embassy staff from Ukraine

Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday it will begin evacuating its personnel from its embassy in Ukraine in “the very nearest time,” according to Russian state news agencies.

RIA Novosti reported that the foreign ministry has claimed its staff received threats and that Ukraine has not reacted to them, while Ukrainian officials have maintained that Russia is the aggressor on the ground.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell

Feb 22, 12:19 pm
Russian forces have moved into Ukraine: NATO Secretary-General

In a press briefing at NATO headquarters in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to “choose the path of diplomacy,” as he said that Russia’s aggressive behavior towards Ukraine marks “the most dangerous moment in European security in a generation.”

Stoltenberg said that there is evidence that Russia has already entered Ukraine, going as far as saying that Russia has been in Donbas since 2014 in what he considers “covert” operations. He said Russia has now moved from “covert attempts to destabilize Ukraine to overt military action.”

Russia has deployed over 150,000 troops, fighter jets and attack helicopters in Ukraine and Belarus and along the Russia-Ukraine border, with troops “in the field and ready to attack,” according to Stoltenberg, while NATO allies have deployed more troops in Romania, Estonia, and Lithuania, and more than 120 ships and over 100 jets are on “high alert.” The NATO response force is on “high readiness,” but has not been deployed.

Stoltenberg said that it is “never too late not to attack,” and that options for diplomacy are still available to Russia, even despite Putin’s “threatening rhetoric” in his address to the public Monday. “We are ready to talk,” said Stoltenberg, as NATO continues to look for a “political path forward.”

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Feb 22, 12:07 pm
Putin recognizes separatists’ larger borders, signals ‘military assistance’ coming

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a press conference on the situation around Ukraine following the Russian Parliament granting him permission to use military force outside of the country Tuesday.

Putin warned Russia was ready to provide “military assistance” to the two separatist self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine and send troops there “in the case of necessity,” claiming that a “conflict” was continuing on the ground, while Ukrainian officials have said Russia is the aggressor there.

“As a conflict is happening there, in the case of necessity we are determined to carry out of our obligations we have taken on,” Putin said.

In a significant statement, Putin said that Russia recognizes the separatists’ larger territorial claims, which would include the whole of Ukraine’s Donbas region, not just the area they currently hold — declaring the Minsk agreements to no longer exist.

Putin said right now it is “impossible” to resolve the issue around the borders by negotiations “but in the future it will be,” he said.

He added that Western countries should now agree to the “demilitarization” of Ukraine and repeated it would be best if Ukraine publicly renounced its ambitions now to join NATO.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell

Feb 22, 11:57 am
Putin granted permission to deploy military force outside Russia

Russia’s upper house of parliament voted unanimously on Tuesday to grant Russian President Vladimir Putin permission to deploy military force outside of the country — in a move that could signal military forces being deployed beyond the Russian-backed separatist regions.

The vote comes after Putin recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine on Monday, escalating fears the Russian leader is paving the way for a larger invasion.

The Russian leader is currently speaking following the Federal Council granting him permission.

Western leaders have condemned Putin’s decision and warned of imposing more economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Feb 22, 11:23 am
1st EU package of Russian sanctions to target decision-makers, banks

The European Union has published the proposals of targeted measures that will be formally tabled Tuesday afternoon in response to Moscow’s recognition of the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine — and adds that they have prepared and stand ready to adopt additional measures if needed.

In a statement from the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council on Russian aggression against Ukraine, the group labeled Russia’s actions as “illegal and unacceptable.”

“It violates international law, Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, Russia’s own international commitments and it further escalates the crisis. Both Presidents welcome the steadfast unity of Member States and their determination to react with robustness and speed to the illegal actions of Russia in close coordination with international partners,” they said.

The package contains proposals to target individuals involved with the decision to recognize Russian-backed separatist regions, banks financing the move, Russian access to EU markets and trade from the two breakaway regions.

An informal meeting of EU Foreign Affairs Ministers chaired by the High Representative is scheduled for 4 p.m. where the first package of sanctions will be formally tabled later this afternoon. Appropriate bodies will then meet to finalize the package.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Feb 22, 11:20 am
Biden to deliver afternoon remarks on Russia, Ukraine

President Joe Biden will provide an update on Russia and Ukraine from the White House at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, according to an updated official schedule.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in an earlier tweet pledged that more U.S. measures would come “today” but did not give any further details on when or how severe they will be.

Feb 22, 10:02 am
US to impose tougher sanctions on Russia, UK, EU tease same

As Ukraine calls on allies to impose harsher sanctions on Russia in response to Moscow’s recognition of the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, several Western countries have announced some sanctions to start — and warned more are coming.

The White House is expected to announce tougher sanctions on Russia Tuesday following criticism from some lawmakers that sanctions President Joe Biden announced Monday were limited.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson labeled Russia’s actions this morning as a “renewed invasion” and announced the U.K. was sanctioning five Russian banks and three oligarchs, while the European Union weighs another set of sanctions that would ban trading in Russian state bonds and target imports and exports with separatist entities.

Top Russian officials have dismissed the new western sanctions, with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in a state TV interview saying Russia was already “used to” sanctions and that it considers more sanctions would be imposed on Moscow regardless of what it does.

But in what may amount to a huge blow to Russia, Germany announced earlier that it would halt Nordstrom 2, a key gas pipeline, as NATO allies aim to pressure Putin into a pathway to diplomacy. White House press secretary Jen Psaki applauded the move and teased more U.S. measures would be coming “today.”

Feb 22, 8:33 am
Putin denies wanting to recreate Russian empire

Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Tuesday that he is seeking to rebuild the Russian empire.

In remarks ahead of his meeting with Azerbaijan’s president, Putin said he knew his recognition of two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine would spark such “speculation.”

“I have seen speculation that Russia wants to rebuild the Russian empire in its imperial boundaries. That absolutely does not correspond to reality,” Putin said.

The Russian leader insisted that his country recognizes the sovereignty of all former Soviet countries but said the situation with Ukraine is “different” because he claimed foreign countries are using Ukrainian territory to threaten Russia.

“Unfortunately the territory of that country is being used by third countries to create a threat to Russia itself. The issues is only in that,” Putin said, adding that Russia’s cooperation with Ukriane has disappeared due to the conflict that began between the Ukrainian military and Russia-backed separatist forces in 2014, which he described as a “coup.”

Feb 22, 8:28 am
US embassy staff to stay in Lviv each day, in Poland at night

U.S. embassy staff who remained in Ukraine will be in the western city of Lviv during the daytime and stay in Poland each night for security reasons, amid fears of a Russian invasion, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien told ABC News.

The embassy’s skeleton staff had relocated operations to Lviv from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. They returned to Lviv on Tuesday after staying in Poland overnight, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

Feb 22, 7:40 am
Germany halts approval of pipeline as part of sanctions against Russia

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Tuesday that his country will halt its approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Germany to Russia, in response to Russia’s recognition of two separatist areas in eastern Ukraine and amid fear of further possible aggression.

“The situation today is fundamentally different,” Scholz said at a press conference in Berlin.

Scholz said he has asked Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action to take a step that blocks certification of the Nord Stream 2. That means the pipeline, which is already built, cannot go into operation for now.

The Nord Stream 2 linking Russia to Europe by circumventing Ukraine has been highly controversial, with Germany accused of allowing Russia to construct a geopolitical weapon enabling Moscow to pressure Europe using gas supplies. Last year, Ukraine and the United States were pushing to stop the project but Germany refused.

The decision to halt the pipeline’s certification serves as a major sanction against Russia amid growing fears of an invasion of neighboring Ukraine and immense pressure on Germany to act. Earlier Tuesday, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called on Germany to include the Nord Stream 2 in Europe’s sanctions on Russia.

“At this stage, in addition to initial sanctions, it is now important to prevent further escalation and thus another catastrophe,” Scholz said. “That is what all our diplomatic efforts are aimed at.”

The move may amount to a huge blow to Russia, which has already stoked a gas crunch in Europe by having its state-owned energy company Gazprom deliver the bare minimum of gas despite severe shortages. Gazprom has continued to do that in recent weeks and could go further, and Germany is particularly vulnerable. During a press conference last week, Scholz repeatedly refused to explicitly say if he would be willing to halt the Nord Stream 2.

However, by suspending the pipeline’s certification, Germany dangles the possibility it could be resumed if Russia doesn’t make further aggressions against Ukraine. It’s unclear how Russia will respond to a continent that it knows is overly reliant on Russian energy.

Feb 22, 7:12 am
Ukraine doesn’t believe Russia will mount ‘large-scale’ invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he won’t introduce martial law for now because his government doesn’t believe that Russia will mount a “large-scale” invasion.

“We believe that there won’t be a war, a powerful one, against Ukraine and there won’t be a large-scale escalation from Russia,” Zelenskyy said during a joint press conference in Kyiv with his Estonian counterpart. “If there will be, we will impose martial law.”

Zelenskyy also revealed that he’s considering breaking off diplomatic relations with Russia over its recognition of two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. He said a proposal to do so has been put forward by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he said he’s looking at it but has not yet made a decision.

The Ukrainian president also called for Western countries to impose sanctions fast against Russia, saying the situation is developing “very quickly” and that the “first steps” of Moscow’s aggression have already been made. Zelenskyy said sanctions should include fully stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany.

“The reaction must as quick,” he noted. “Sanctions policy is more a powerful policy which can really have an effect on the probable escalation from Russia. Don’t wait for it to happen, because already the first steps of this aggression are done. We believe that legally the aggression has already been done.”

Feb 22, 7:01 am
Kremlin calls Western reaction ‘predictable’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that the reaction of Western countries to Russia’s recognition of two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine is “predictable.”

“As for the reaction, it was predictable, foreseeable,” Peskov told reporters during a daily call. “We will continue to work and to patiently put across our arguments.”

Peskov also claimed not to know anything about possible deployments of Russian “peacekeepers” into the areas overnight and made a comment that suggested the Kremlin may consider the legitimate territory of the separatists to include large parts of eastern Ukraine currently not in their control.

Separatists in the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk only hold about a third of the territory they claim in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. The fear is Russia might now back those claims and use it as a pretext to make a larger land grab and destroy Ukrainian forces.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Peskov said the Kremlin recognizes the separatist areas “in those borders which they have declared for themselves, when these two republics were declared.”

But when asked to clarify, Peskov added: “In those borders, in which they exist and were declared. And were declared and exist.”

When pressed if that meant within the “present borders” of the separatist areas, Peskov refused to answer, saying he had nothing more to add.

Peskov also said that Russia’s recognition of the areas means the issue of the Minsk agreement is “now off the agenda.” He said any negotiations going forward will focus only on Russia’s demands for security guarantees that Ukraine not join NATO.

Peskov noted that the United States has not contacted the Kremlin since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday his recognition of the two separatist areas as independent, but that Moscow was “open to diplomatic contacts.”

What happens next, he said, is “up to our opponents.”

Feb 22, 6:09 am
Russian parliament ratifies friendship treaty with separatists areas of eastern Ukraine

Russia’s parliament voted Tuesday to ratify a friendship treaty with two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.

Lawmakers also added an amendment that brings the Treaty of Friendship into force immediately. The treaty includes a mutual defense pact, which establishes that Russian troops will jointly guard the borders of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, in a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine known as Donbas.

Lawmakers were still discussing the decrees that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed on Monday night recognizing the two areas as independent. Both the upper and lower chambers of Russia’s parliament are expected to vote soon on whether to ratify the orders.

It remains unclear exactly what borders Russia will recognize for the areas. Separatist leaders of the self-declared People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk want to control all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in Donbas. But they currently only have about a third, with the rest controlled by Ukraine.

Some Russian officials have suggested Moscow may adopt the position that the separatist areas should include the entire Donetsk and Luhansk regions, thus raising fears that Russian troops will use force to expand the borders.

Feb 22, 5:49 am
Top Russian officials dismiss the West’s sanctions

Top Russian officials on Tuesday morning dismissed new sanctions being imposed by Western countries for Moscow’s recognition of the separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.

In an interview with state-owned television channel Russia-24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the country was already “used to” sanctions and that more would be imposed regardless of what Moscow does.

“That our [Western] colleagues are trying to push the blame on Russia for the failure of the Minsk agreements, we also understand,” Lavrov said. “Our European, American, British colleagues won’t stop and won’t calm down as long as they haven’t exhausted their possibilities for the so-called punishment of Russia.”

“They already threaten all possible sanctions. Hellish, or as they say there, ‘the mother of all sanctions,'” he added. “Well, we’re used to this. The president already noted our position, we know that sanctions will be introduced all the same, in any case. With a basis, without a basis.”

Meanwhile, the speaker of Russia’s parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, echoed Lavrov’s sentiments during an ongoing session of the lower house, known as the State Duma.

“Yes, sanctions hinder our development. But they would happen anyway. They would happen anyway even if that decision hadn’t been taken,” Volodin told lawmakers, adding that there are “more important problems.”

“Yesterday, our president stopped a war,” he said. “It’s not a question of territory — it’s a question of the lives of millions of citizens.”

Feb 22, 5:10 am
US embassy staff return to Ukraine after spending night in Poland

U.S. embassy staff who remained in Ukraine will return to the country on Tuesday after spending the night in Poland amid fears of a Russian invasion, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

Personnel will return to the city of Lviv in western Ukraine, where they had relocated operations from the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. But they are poised to move back to Poland at any point, the official said.

Feb 22, 4:58 am
Russia-backed separatists claim Ukraine is still staging attacks

Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have continued to accuse Ukrainian government forces of attacks.

The separatists in a breakaway region known as Donbas made another unverified claim Tuesday morning that three civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.

Separatist leaders posted photographs of a burned-out minivan on a road in their territory that they alleged was the vehicle blown up by a Ukrainian “diversionary group.” The claim is unverified and resembles other allegations that have been rapidly debunked.

Meanwhile, a top separatist military commander accused Ukrainian government forces of continuing to shell the area.

The latest claims raise the possibility that Russia is still building a pretext to launch an attack on Ukrainian government troops, even after recognizing the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent.

Feb 22, 4:33 am
‘World cannot be silent,’ Ukrainian defense minister warns

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov took to Twitter early Tuesday to dismiss Moscow’s recognition of the Russian-controlled breakaway areas in eastern Ukraine, saying the move amounts only to a recognition of the Kremlin’s “own aggression.”

“We remain confident and calm,” Reznikov tweeted. “We are ready and able to defend ourselves and our sovereignty.”

But he also issued a warning: “World cannot be silent.”

“Sanctions?” he tweeted. “Another brick in the wall? New Berlin Wall?”

Feb 22, 2:54 am
Putin’s recognition of separatists’ independence is ‘shameful act,’ Blinken says

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken early Tuesday called Russia’s move to recognize separatist regions in Ukraine as independent a “predictable” act.

“Russia’s move to recognize the ‘independence’ of so-called republics controlled by its own proxies is a predictable, shameful act,” he said on Twitter.

Blinken is scheduled to meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Washington on Tuesday.

Feb 22, 2:03 am
Blinken speaks with Ukraine’s Kuleba ahead of Tuesday meeting

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone on Monday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, noting the Biden administration’s “swift response” to Russia’s decision to recognize Ukraine’s separatists’ regions as independent.

“They discussed the strong measures we announced today in response and reiterated that additional steps would be forthcoming,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement late Monday.

Blinken and Kuleba are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Washington.

Kuleba earlier said he spoke with Blinken about sanctions.

“I underscored the need to impose tough sanctions on Russia in response to its illegal actions,” Kuleba said on Twitter.

Feb 21, 11:58 pm
Ukrainian envoy says UN is infected with ‘virus’ spread by Kremlin

After the Russian envoy spoke at the U.N. Security Council’s emergency meeting Tuesday night, Ukraine’s envoy began his remarks by saying he was afraid to take off his mask not because of COVID-19 but “because of the virus that has so far no vaccine — the virus that hates the United Nations and the virus that is spread by the Kremlin.”

That “virus” has infected the U.N. and threatens to kill it, Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya said in a stark warning.

“The United Nations is sick, that’s a matter of fact,” he said. “It’s been hit by the virus spread by the Kremlin. Will it succumb to this virus? It is in the hands of the membership.”

Kyslytsya warned it’s not just the U.N. that he believes is under threat. During his remarks, he held up a paper that had a copy of the Kremlin’s decree recognizing Russian-backed “breakaway” provinces from Georgia in 2008 and the decree issued Monday recognizing the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk, showing how they’re almost the exact same.

“Copy, paste. Copy, paste. No creativity whatsoever. The copying machine in the Kremlin works very well. Who is next among the members of the United Nations? The question is open,” he said.

Kyslytsya demanded that Russia “cancel” and remove “additional Russian occupation troops” in Ukrainian territory, and he insisted, “The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine have been and will remain unchangeable regardless of any statements and actions by the Russian Federation.”

“We are committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path, and we will stay firmly on it. We are on our land. We are not afraid of anything or anyone. We owe nothing to anyone, and we will not give away anything to anyone,” he said.

Feb 21, 11:48 pm
Ukraine highlights importance of global response to Russia

Ukraine called for “painful sanctions” against Russia in a statement released by its foreign ministry, noting that how the world responds may greatly influence Russia’s next move.

“Further decisions and steps of the Russian Federation largely depend on the world’s reaction to today’s events,” the statement read. “Therefore, we insist on imposing painful sanctions against Russia in order to send a clear signal of the inadmissibility of further escalation. It is time to act to end Russia’s aggression and restore peace and stability in Europe.”

The country reiterated that it is ready to defend itself, stating that it “understands Russia’s intentions and its desire to provoke Ukraine. We take into account all risks and do not succumb to provocations.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is currently in Washington and meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.

Feb 21, 11:21 pm
Russian envoy dismisses criticisms, blames Ukraine in Security Council meeting

In remarks during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Tuesday, Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia dismissed “highly emotional” criticisms of Russia and said nothing has changed on the ground, while also blaming Ukraine for the decisions President Vladimir Putin’s decisions made earlier in the day.

Nebenzia dismissed “unfounded panic about an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine” — as Russian troops prepare to come across the border — and painted Russia as a pacifist hero that welcomed refugees who were forced onto buses by Russian-led separatists.

“We’ve just heard a number of highly emotional statements, categorical assessments, and far-reaching conclusions,” he said during the emergency meeting. “I’ll leave the direct verbal assaults against us unanswered. Now it’s important to focus on how to avoid war and how to force Ukraine to stop the shelling and provocations against Donetsk and Luhansk.”

Russian-controlled separatists are responsible for the shelling and for staging the provocations, but Nebenzia worked to portray Ukraine as the aggressor and Russia as the force preventing war, despite it essentially seizing Ukrainian territory.

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