(NEW YORK) — To address the crisis at its border after publicly downplaying warnings, Ukraine on Wednesday took steps to brace for a possible Russian invasion, declaring a nationwide state of emergency and calling up 36,000 military reservists.
U.S. President Joe Biden said a day earlier that the world is witnessing “the beginning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine” as he announced new economic sanctions on Russia, after weeks of escalating tensions in the region.
Biden’s remarks followed a fiery address from Russian President Vladimir Putin to the Russian public on Monday evening, when the leader 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 — which prompted a set of sanctions from Western countries, including Germany halting approval of a major gas pipeline from Russia.
While the United States says some 190,000 Russian troops and pro-Russian separatist forces are estimated to be massed near Ukraine’s borders, Russia has denied any wrongdoing and reiterated its demands that Ukraine pledges to never join NATO.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 23, 1:46 pm
Russian forces ‘as ready as they can be’ to invade: US defense official
About 80% of Russian forces amassed around Ukraine are in what the Pentagon calls “forward positions” and are “ready to go” if given the order to invade, a senior defense official said Wednesday.
The official said the U.S. has not seen Russian troops breaking out from the two separatist republics in eastern Ukraine but added that the U.S. is operating under the assumption that Russia has, indeed, sent more troops into the separatist-controlled area of Donbas.
“We have we have been saying any day now, and it is certainly possible that today is that day,” the official said. “They could go at any hour now.”
While the official said it still appears Russia is preparing for a large-scale invasion, they added, “If ever we want to be wrong, we want to be wrong about this.”
-ABC News’ Matt Seyler and Luis Martinez
Feb 23, 12:45 pm
White House threatens other sanctions in US toolkit
Asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega on what the U.S. could do if sanctions imposed Tuesday don’t work, White House press secretary Jen Psaki laid out additional sanctions that the U.S. could still impose.
“Sanctions can take a number of formats, right?” Psaki said at Tuesday’s press briefing. “Export controls is certainly one of them. There’s many more sanctions that we have at our disposal. Swift, the SWIFT system is obviously significant, not in the first tranche, but there’s a range of options that remain on the table for sanctions.”
While the U.S. said Tuesday that cutting Russia off from the international SWIFT financial system was still an option, it’s conceivable the Russians could find a way around SWIFT and move to other less-regulated payments systems.
Psaki also said sanctions are not intended to have “the harshest impact on the first day” but are “designed to have a squeezing impact over the course of time and we have many more escalatory steps that we could take.”
The top White House official crafting U.S. sanctions on Russia, Daleep Singh, also told reporters that the U.S. wasn’t seeking to “max out on sanctions” but that “they’re meant to prevent and deter a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could involve the seizure of major cities, including Kyiv.”
Psaki echoed Biden in saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech to the Russian people on Monday “was rife with historical inaccuracy” and that Putin “made clear that he does not view Ukraine, not just the areas he recognized yesterday, but that the totality of Ukraine as an independent country.”
Notably, Biden did not mention personally targeting Putin on Tuesday, which he had previously said he was considering.
-ABC News’ Ben Gittelson, Zunaira Zaki and Elizabeth Schultze
Feb 23, 12:44 pm
Lawmakers warn Biden to seek authorization before sending troops to Ukraine
While President Joe Biden has made clear he is not considering sending U.S. troops into Ukraine, having said it would lead to war, a group of lawmakers sent him a letter late Tuesday to remind him that he must get authorization from Congress before he decides to engage the military in Ukraine.
The bipartisan oddball group of lawmakers who signed the letter includes Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, and Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., among about three dozen others.
“If the ongoing situation compels you to introduce the brave men and women of our military into Ukraine, their lives would inherently be put at risk of Russia chooses to invade,” read the letter, which Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., shared on Twitter. “Therefore, we ask that your decisions comport with the Constitution and our nation’s laws by consulting with Congress to receive authorization before any such development.”
Lawmakers wrote that the War Powers Resolution of 1973 has been abused by previous presidents, and they noted that the act restricted Biden from not only engaging troops in battle but also from launching a “pre-emptive strike.”
“Congress stands ready to deliberate over the potentially monumental implications of such scenarios,” they said.
-ABC News’ Mariam Khan
Feb 23, 12:15 pm
EU imposes more sanctions on Russia
The European Union imposed Wednesday another slew of tough sanctions on Russia over its recognition of two pro-Russian separatist areas in eastern Ukraine.
The move is an attempt to deter Moscow from proceeding further withs its invasion of Ukraine and follows Tuesday’s decision by Germany to halt the certification of a key natural gas pipeline to Russia.
The package of measures adopted by the Council of the EU were published online Wednesday and include a ban on the Russian state and its central bank from accessing the EU’s capital and finance markets; sanctions against three Russian state banks; blacklisting all 351 members of the Russian parliament that voted earlier this week to ratify the decision to recgonize the separatist regions as independent; sanctions against 27 “high profile individuals and entities, including the Russian defense minister, top Kremlin officials and propagandists; and an import ban and restrictions on trade and investment, as well as a partial export ban on the two separatist areas.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell
Feb 23, 11:46 am
Ukraine FM calls on UN to act or face ‘the darkest times of the 20th Century’
The United Nations General Assembly — which includes all U.N. recognized governments — is meeting Wednesday in its main hall to address the crisis created by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, fresh from his meetings Tuesday with President Joe Biden and other top U.S. officials, addressed the hall as the first country, speaking after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. In a firm speech, Kuleba blasted Russia’s recognition of its separatist areas as “independent” and deployment of troops there as an “attack on the United Nations” itself — a “grim scenario which will throw us back to the darkest times of the 20th century.”
“I warn every nation in this distinguished chamber: No one will be able to sit out this crisis,” he said. “Your governments and your people will face painful consequences together with our government and our people,” Kuleba told the chamber.
“The beginning of a large-scale war in Ukraine will be the end of the world order as we know it. If Russia does not get a severe, swift, and decisive response now, this will mean a total bankruptcy of the international security system and international institutions which are tasked with maintaining the global security order,” he added.
He warned other actors will be “inspired” by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions and follow his lead — turning the United Nations into the League of Nations, the early 20th-century international organization that was seen as feckless in stopping the Axis Powers in the lead up to World War II — a history Kuleba directly referenced.
“We all read history books. We all watch movies about the mistakes politicians made in the run-up to 1914 and 1939, about the feats of our grandparents and the catastrophic price at which a revanchist ruler in Europe was defeated. There is no more important task today than to not repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said.
To prevent that, Kuleba called for “decisive, immediate, and proportional action” by the international community — not just condemnations and statements, but actions.
“These days, we have probably the last window of opportunity to do what Russia does not expect the United Nations and its member states to do — demonstrate unprecedented ability and readiness to act in order to stop aggression,” he said — finishing by calling on members, regardless of their relations with one another individually, to do “your ultimate duty, to defend the charter of the United Nations.”
-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
Feb 23, 10:56 am
Another cyberattack hits Ukraine government websites
Ukraine’s government said Wednesday a new cyberattack has hit several of its government ministries, knocking their websites offline, amid warnings of attacks from Russia both on the ground and on the web.
Mikhail Fedorov, minister for digital transformation in Ukraine, announced that a “massive DDoS” attack hit around 4 p.m. local time. He said the websites of Ukraine’s cabinet, parliament and foreign ministry were down and that a number of banks were also having problems.
“It is connected with traffic switching on other provider for minimization of damage from the attack,” he said.
RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency, also reported the cyberattack.
It comes one week after a similar cyberattack in Ukraine.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell
Feb 23, 10:10 am
Russian attack may come in next 2 days: Ukraine’s military to lawmakers
Ukraine’s military has briefed key members of parliament that it now believes the situation in eastern Ukraine with Russia may sharply deteriorate in the next two days, according to four sources with knowledge of what was said during the briefing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was present at the Wednesday night briefing, sources said, where the military said they now believe Russia may launch a major attack that would go beyond Eastern Ukraine, targeting at least two major cities. Sources said they told the members of parliament that Kyiv might also be a target — in line with U.S. officials warning that Russia is preparing a full-scale invasion that will go beyond eastern Ukraine and target Kyiv.
According to two sources, the military believes Russia may target Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is located around 20 miles from the border with Russia in the east, and also Kherson, a city in the south close to Crimea.
In a shift of tone Thursday, Ukraine has been taking new steps to brace for a possible attack, declaring a nationwide state of emergency and calling up 36,000 reservists. But publicly Zelenskyy’s administration has continued to say it is not certain whether Russia will attack. It has said, for now, a full-scale mobilization is not necessary, and it has not declared martial law.
-ABC News’ Yulia Drozd and Patrick Reevell
Feb 23, 9:22 am
US sanctions to be met with ‘strong response,’ Russia warns
Russia warned Wednesday that the latest sanctions imposed by the United States “will be met with a strong response.”
“The round of sanctions announced by the United States Administration [already the 101st in a row] affecting the financial sector with the expansion of the list of persons against whom personal restrictions are imposed is in line with Washington’s ongoing attempts to change Russia’s course,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “There should be no doubt that the sanctions will be met with a strong response, not necessarily symmetrical, but well-grounded and sensitive for the American side.”
U.S. President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the latest sanctions, which he said would target two Russian banks, Russia’s sovereign debt and, starting Wednesday, the Russian elite and their relatives.
Feb 23, 9:06 am
Russia marks Defender of the Fatherland Day
Russia marked Defender of the Fatherland Day on Wednesday.
In a video message, Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his fellow Russians on the public holiday and noted the importance of ensuring the country’s defense capability.
“Dear comrades, today ensuring the defense capability of our country remains the most important state task, and the armed forces serve as a reliable guarantee of national security, the peaceful and calm life of our citizens, and the stable, progressive development of Russia,” Putin said.
The Russian leader was seen taking part in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in Moscow.
Feb 23, 6:24 am
Ukrainian military begins calling up 36,000 reservists
Ukraine’s military said Wednesday it has begun calling up some reservists in response to an order from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The military general staff said they will be calling up reservists aged 18 to 60 starting Wednesday.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said Wednesday that the number of reservists being called up was 36,000, most of whom he said already have combat experience.
On Tuesday, while signing a decree to call up some of Ukraine’s military reservists, Zelenskyy emphasized that it was not yet a full mobilization but just the “active reserve,” or troops with combat training.
Zelenskyy said the order was necessary because Ukraine’s military now needs to be at “heightened readiness” for any changes in the situation on the ground with Russia.
Feb 23, 6:17 am
Ukraine to declare nationwide state of emergency
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, announced Wednesday that a nationwide state of emergency will be declared due to the threat of a Russian invasion.
The declaration must be approved by the Ukrainian parliament before the state of emergency can go into effect for an initial 30 days. The move, which differs from the introduction of martial law, would allow local authorities across the country of 41 million people to put restrictions and heightened security measures in place, such as curfews and limits on movement.
Danilov said the state of emergency would be a “preventative” measure “so that the country preserves its calm, so that our economy works and our country works.” Any restrictions imposed under the declaration would likely vary from region to region, according to Danilov.
“Depending on situation on the ground in a particular area, the local bodies can impose various measures including curfews, only if needed,” Danilov said at a press conference Wednesday. “We won’t make people suffer unnecessarily but we must insure people’s safety.”
He then gave examples of what those restrictions could be: “It can the reinforcing of security around public order and critical infrastructure facilities. It can be certain limits imposed of the movement of transport. It can mean additional vigilance. It can be the checking of various documents for people.”
Danilov noted that the state of emergency would be imposed on all of Ukraine’s territory except for the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk because a special emergency status has been in place there since 2014, when pro-Russian separatists took control of some areas.
Feb 23, 5:33 am
Ukrainian right-wing volunteer battalion mobilizes
One of Ukraine’s far-right volunteer battalions announced Wednesday it is mobilizing to prepare to fight, amid fears of an imminent Russian invasion.
During Russia’s first invasion in 2014, the Ukrainian army was in disarray, prompting civilians to form volunteer battalions — many of them with right-wing ideologies. These highly motivated private armies — some funded by oligarchs — helped stem the fall of eastern Ukraine to Russia-backed separatists.
But once large-scale fighting had ended, the Ukrainian government moved the volunteer battalions back from the front line because they were seen as potentially provocative and problematic.
The so-called Right Sector is one of Ukraine’s most famous volunteer battalions. It’s made up of radical nationalists who played a crucial role in the 2014 revolution. In Russia, the group was made into a propaganda boogeyman.
The Right Sector’s return to the front line in eastern Ukraine will be used heavily by Russian propaganda. But it also shows how worried Ukrainians are getting, especially if more volunteer battalions start mobilizing.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, Right Sector said it is mobilizing its “assault brigade” due to the “high probability of the start of a full-scale invasion by the Russian army.”
“Our unit has already defended Ukrainian independence for 8 years from the occupiers,” the group said. “In the case of a full scale invasion we, as always, will be at the front of the fight.”
Feb 23, 4:29 am
Russia claims 100,000 refugees have fled eastern Ukraine
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed Wednesday that 100,000 refugees from two Russia-backed separatist areas in eastern Ukraine have arrived across the border in Russia.
The claim was unverified and highly improbable, as it appeared to be part of Russia’s intensifying efforts to spin an image of a major humanitarian crisis in the region to build a pretext for a possible invasion.
Russia-backed separatists have forced civilians living in the areas to evacuate despite the fact that there is no increased threat from the Ukrainian military. While thousands of people have been bused out of the region to Russia, the alleged figure of 100,000 appeared vastly exaggerated.
Russia’s claims have been accompanied by a barrage of false stories and staged videos of alleged attacks by Ukrainian forces, all of which have been blaring across Russian state media in recent days.
Feb 23, 12:03 am
Russia-backed separatists make ‘terror attacks’ claim as Russia continues to build pretext
Russian-controlled separatists are claiming two large “terrorist attacks” took place in their territory Tuesday night, as the separatists and Russia continue to intensify their efforts to create a pretext for a possible Russian attack.
The separatists claimed explosions went off at a TV tower and near a trolley bus depot, and they released video afterward they claim shows emergency workers looking at damage.
The claims are highly suspect, and they came amid a barrage of fake reports of supposed Ukrainian attacks that are being swiftly debunked.
The claims also came as Ukraine released video showing heavy artillery fire from separatists hitting a village called Chastiya — which means “happiness” — on the Ukrainian side of the frontline. The video appears to show rockets striking a house.
Artillery fire also hit a power station nearby yesterday.
It appears the Russian-controlled separatists have intensified their fire onto Ukrainian positions in the hope of stoking return fire and creating an impression of a general escalation.
Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.