(NEW YORK) — Russia’s military launched a long-feared invasion of Ukraine early Thursday, attacking its ex-Soviet neighbor from multiple directions despite warnings of dire consequences from the United States and the international community.
Thursday’s attacks followed weeks of escalating tensions in the region. In a fiery, hourlong speech on Monday, Russian President Vladimir 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.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for stoking the crisis and reiterated its demands to NATO that Ukraine pledges to never join the transatlantic defense alliance.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 28, 12:13 pm
State Department: Reports of human rights abuses ‘widespread’
The State Department said in a statement Monday that “reports of human rights abuses have been widespread” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pointing to attacks that killed civilians, including children, and destroyed schools, hospitals and homes.
The allegation of human rights abuses has also gone further to accusations of war crimes by Russia’s military. Amnesty International reported Sunday that Russia used cluster munitions in an attack against a kindergarten that killed three civilians, including one child, which “could constitute a war crime,” the human rights group said. The use of cluster munitions against civilians is a violation of international law.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing war crimes, tweeting on Friday that Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office is collecting reports and will send them to The Hague, adding, “responsibility is inevitable.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will address the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was set to address the same chamber but his trip was canceled “due to an unprecedented ban on his flight in the airspace of a number of EU countries,” Russia’s mission to the U.N. offices in Geneva said.
Feb 28, 11:59 am
Talks between Ukraine, Russia end after six hours
Talks between a Ukrainian delegation and Russian officials at the Belarus-Ukraine border have ended after six hours. Both sides will return to their capital cities for consultation ahead of a second round of talks.
Ukraine said it wanted a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal, while the Kremlin said it would not announce its position. Russia’s negotiators have talked of striking a deal that’s in the interests of both sides.
Feb 28, 11:47 am
Russian advance frustrated by resistance: US official
Russian forces are frustrated by their slow advance, but that could lead them “to be more aggressive and more overt in both the size and scale of their targeting of Kyiv,” a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, implying less discriminate attacks with more danger to civilian populations.
The Russians heading south to Kyiv continue to be slowed by fuel shortages and stiff Ukrainian resistance and have only moved about three miles since Sunday, leaving them about 16 miles away from the capital city, the official said.
“We believe they want to encircle Kyiv and it’s possible that they could adopt siege tactics there,” the official warned.
On Sunday the same official said there were indications Russian forces were adopting siege tactics around the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.
So far, the Russians have fired more than 380 missiles, the official said.
Putin has committed about 75% of the more than 150,000 forces he had arrayed at the border to the invasion inside Ukraine, according to the official.
There’s no indication Belarusian forces are involved or are preparing to join Russia in the invasion, and Russia has not placed nuclear weapons in Belarus, according to the official.
Feb 28, 10:53 am
Putin tells Macron he’ll stop strikes against civilian targets
According to the Elysée, Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday that he’ll stop strikes against civilian targets.
Putin also told Macron he’ll preserve civilian infrastructure to secure main roads, including the road south of Kyiv, according to the French government.
Macron and Putin will speak again this week, the Elysée said.
Feb 28, 10:18 am
IOC recommends no participation of athletes from Russia, Belarus
The International Olympic Committee said its executive board is recommending prohibiting athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus in international competitions.
The recommendation is “to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants,” the IOC said.
Feb 28, 9:57 am
Neutral Switzerland adopts EU sanctions targeting Russia
Switzerland is breaking from its longstanding policy of neutrality by adopting the packages of sanctions imposed by the European Union citing Russia’s continuing military invasion of Ukraine.
Switzerland, which has long been a safe haven for Russian assets, announced on Monday that it’s imposing financial sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov, and is targeting the assets of certain people and companies.
Switzerland also is imposing entry bans against individuals who have a connection to Switzerland and are linked to Putin and will be closing Swiss airspace to flights from Russia, with the exception of flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes, officials said.
Switzerland will also extend a ban on imports, exports and investments concerning Crimea and Sevastopol, which has been in place since 2014, to the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Swiss officials said they are partially suspending the 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, and those with diplomatic passports will continue to be allowed entry without a visa in an effort to continue diplomatic talks.
-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou
Feb 28, 9:01 am
US banning Russia’s central bank from accessing reserves in US
Senior administration officials on Monday provided more specifics on the sanctions against Russia announced over the weekend and emphasized the drastic nature of these steps, saying the “actions represent the most significant actions the U.S. Treasury has taken against an economy of this size, and assets of this size,” noting the Russian central bank is multiple times larger than Iran’s or Venezuela’s.
The U.S. has put into effect sanctions on Russia’s central bank that keep Moscow from accessing any of their more than $600 billion in reserves in the U.S., or in U.S. dollars in foreign countries. The sanctions also target Russia’s National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.
Officials said it was clear from the beginning of the invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning to use central bank assets to mitigate any sanctions.
“Today’s announcement that prohibit transactions with the Central Bank of Russia in the national wealth fund will significantly hinder their ability to do that, and inhibit their access to hundreds of billions of dollars in assets from our actions alone, they will not be able to access assets that are either in United States or in US dollars,” officials said.
“What we’ve done today is not only preventing them from using those dollars in the United States, but preventing them from being able to use those dollars in other places like Europe or Japan to defend their currency and prop up their institutions. And our goal was to make sure that not only would they not have access to dollars, but also not have access to other currencies,” officials said.
“Our strategy — to put it simply — is to make sure that the Russian economy goes backwards, as long as President Putin decides to go forward with his invasion of Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky, Justin Gomez
Feb 28, 8:39 am
White House: ‘No reason to change’ US alert levels
After Russian President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on a state of heightened alert this weekend, a White House official confirms the U.S. has not changed its own alert level.
“We are assessing President Putin’s directive and at this time see no reason to change our own alert levels,” a White House official confirmed to ABC News.
“We think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided, and we will not indulge in it,” the official added.
The official also noted that, as recently as June, when President Joe Biden met Putin face-to-face in Geneva, the two leaders affirmed nuclear war is tantamount to mutually assured destruction.
The leaders said in a joint statement in June, “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Feb 28, 8:21 am
US shutters embassy in Belarus, draws down embassy in Russia
The U.S. is suspending operations at the embassy in Belarus, where just half a dozen U.S. diplomats had been based, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.
The U.S. is also drawing down its embassy in Moscow, authorizing the departure of non-emergency staff and diplomats’ families, Blinken said in a statement.
He didn’t cite any specific threat but said the department took these steps “due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”
-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
Feb 28, 6:47 am
Russia hikes key rate to 20% as ruble tumbles
Russia’s central bank on Monday raised its key interest rate to 20% from 9.5% in an apparent effort to slow the fallout from severe international sanctions.
The rate hike came as the Russian ruble tumbled, trading down as much as 30% against the U.S. dollar on Monday, according to Bloomberg. The currency traded about 17% lower midday in Moscow.
The Russian stock market reportedly closed for the day.
-ABC News’ Zunaira Zaki
Feb 28, 6:23 am
500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, UN says
More than 500,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Thursday, the U.N. Refugee Agency said on Monday.
More than half have crossed the border into Poland, the agency said. Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, had said on Sunday that 368,000 people had fled to neighboring countries.
-ABC News’ Zoe Magee
Feb 28, 5:00 am
Ukraine delegation arrives for talks with Russia
The Ukrainian delegation sent for talks with Russia arrived Monday morning at the Belarus-Ukraine border, where the meeting will be held.
Ukraine has said the key issue for the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Russia has signalled it wants to discuss Ukraine adopting “neutral status.”
The head of Russia’s delegation has said the two sides will meet within about an hour. They are meeting on the Pripyat River, north of Chernobyl.
The Ukrainian delegation includes the Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov, the head of Zelenskyy’s parliamentary party, as well as advisors to the president and MPs.
Russia’s delegation includes officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries, and the presidential administration.
The talks were agreed to on Sunday in a call between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Fighting continued throughout the night, as Russia attempted to advance and bombarded Ukrainian forces.
-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell and Julia Drozd
Feb 28, 3:29 am
Russian advance slows north of Kyiv, UK military says
The U.K. Ministry of Defence said on Monday that the advance of Russian ground forces had been slowed by Ukraine’s defense of an airport in Hostomel, about 19 miles north of Kyiv.
“Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate the Russian advance,” the ministry said on Twitter.
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