Latest Ukraine updates: Renewed calls for de-escalation | Ukraine-Russia crisis News

Latest Ukraine updates: Renewed calls for de-escalation | Ukraine-Russia crisis News

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is “ready to work further” with the West on security issues to de-escalate tensions over Ukraine, but emphasised the need for the West to heed Russia’s main demands.

He spoke on Tuesday during a news conference following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Moscow.

Scholz said at the briefing that he agrees with Russia’s assessment that there is still a chance to avert war over Ukraine and that “diplomatic options are far from exhausted”.

Meanwhile, some troops in Russia’s military districts adjacent to Ukraine returned to their bases after completing drills, Russia’s defence ministry was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying, a move that could de-escalate friction between Moscow and the West.

But later on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden cast doubt on Moscow’s claims of a partial withdrawal, saying that Russian troops near Ukraine remain in a “threatening position”.

The live blog is now closed; thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for February 15:

There is hope for de-escalation, says ex-US envoy to Ukraine

William B. Taylor, former US ambassador to Ukraine, said there is “hope” that de-escalating the crisis in Eastern Europe is still possible, stressing that a Russian military drawback from the Ukrainian border would be a “good indicator” for diplomacy.

“When we actually see units and tanks and artillery and missiles that are moving away from Ukraine’s border – rather than toward it as they have been for the past two months – when we see these military forces going back to their barracks, back to their home stations, that will be a very good indicator that there can be serious negotiations,” Taylor told Al Jazeera.

Biden and Macron affirm support for ‘diplomatic path forward’

US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron spoke on the phone on Tuesday and “affirmed their continued support for a diplomatic path forward” for the crisis in Ukraine, the White House said in a statement.

“They discussed ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts undertaken in close coordination with Allies and partners in response to Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s borders, including their readiness to impose severe consequences and to reinforce the defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank,” the statement said.

Biden attempting to ‘grease the wheels’ of diplomacy: AJE correspondent

Al Jazeera correspondent Mike Hanna said Biden went “out of his way” during his remarks on Tuesday to stress that diplomacy is still Washington’s preferred option to resolve the Ukraine crisis with Russia.

Hanna underscored Biden’s assertion to Russians that NATO and Ukraine do not pose a threat to their country.

“There had been increasing fears about the level of rhetoric being exposed by both sides,” Hanna said. “However, this [is] an attempt perhaps to begin to damp down that rhetoric, to begin to attempt to grease the wheels of diplomacy.”

US would respond ‘forcefully’ if Russia targets Americans: Biden

US President Joe Biden has stressed that the United States is not seeking a confrontation with Russia, but he warned Moscow against targeting US citizens in Ukraine.

“If Russia targets Americans in Ukraine, we will respond forcefully,” he said. “If Russia attacks the United States or our allies through asymmetric means, like disruptive cyber attacks against our companies or critical infrastructure, we’re prepared to respond.”

Biden added that while he will not send US troops to defend Ukraine, his administration will impose “powerful sanctions” on Russia if it invades its neighbour.

The US president also reiterated US commitment to the security and defence of NATO allies in Europe, calling it “sacrosanct”.

Invading Ukraine would be ‘self-inflicted wound’ for Russia: Biden

Biden has warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would be a “self-inflicted wound”.

“If Russia does invade in the days or weeks ahead, the human cost for Ukraine will be immense. And the strategic cost for Russia will also be immense,” Biden said.

“The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction; invading Ukraine will prove to be a self-inflicted wound,” he added.

Russian troops remain in ‘threatening position’, Biden says

Biden has cast doubt over Russia’s claim that it has partially withdrawn troops from near the Ukrainian border.

“We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases,” Biden said. “Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position.”

The US president added that a Russian invasion of its neighbour remains “distinctly possible”.

Ukrainians starting to think of preparing ‘for the worst’

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv, says that there has been “a very unusual atmosphere” with the mood shifting between pessimism and optimism.

“Up until now, most people have been pretty sanguine about the situation,” Butler said, adding that there has been “a bit of a change in the past few days”.

“Zelenskyy was calming for calm a couple of days ago, to then saying the Ukrainians must be ready to fight, calling for what he’s calling ‘A day of unity’, on Wednesday, February 16, a day that some intelligence officials in the West have said could be a day for an invasion,” Butler said.

“So people are starting to now think, ‘maybe I need to now prepare for the worst’.”

US offers support to Ukraine over cyberattack: White House

The White House has said it is aware of reports of cyberattacks in Ukraine and is offering support to Kyiv in the investigation of and response to the denial-of-service incidents.

Ukraine said its defence ministry and two banks had been subject to a cyberattack, appearing to point the finger at Russia.

Blinken tells Lavrov US needs to see credible de-escalation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov the US has ongoing concerns about Russia’s ability to launch an invasion of Ukraine and needs to see “verifiable, credible, meaningful de-escalation”.

“While further Russian aggression against Ukraine would result in a swift, severe, and united Transatlantic response, we remain committed to the diplomatic path and believe that a window remains to resolve the crisis peacefully,” Blinken told Lavrov, according to the statement.

Russia recognition of separatist regions would be ‘attack without weapons’: France

Any recognition by Russia of two eastern Ukrainian separatist regions would represent the equivalent of an attack on the country’s sovereignty only without weapons, France has said.

“It would be an impossible situation, representing an attack without weapons and dismantling of the unity and integrity of Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after the Russian parliament asked Putin to recognise the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

“It would be an attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine,” he told the French parliament.

Correspondent: Scepticism over Russia’s announcement

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv, said when Russia announced it was pulling out some troops back from the border, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he saw this as proof that diplomacy was working and a sign of de-escalation.

“Later though, it became apparent during the day that there was no actual proof of this pullback, and we’ve heard various Western officials and leaders say they are still waiting for proof,” Butler said.

“Kuleba has now said ‘we will believe it when we see it’. The Russian Federation, he said, is often saying that it does things, but then it does exactly the opposite. There is a lot of scepticism here about that.”

Biden will address situation, no new policies: Psaki

US President Joe Biden will not make any new policy announcements during his update on Ukraine, the White House has said.

“He will speak about the situation on the ground, the steps we have taken, the actions we are prepared to take, what’s at stake for the US and the world and how this may impact us at home,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Macron, Biden agree verification needed of Russian pullback: France

French President Emmanuel Macron and American counterpart Joe Biden have agreed over the need to verify Russian claims that it was beginning to pull troops back, the French presidency has said.

In a phone conversation that lasted around an hour, the two presidents also underlined the importance of remaining “perfectly coordinated” in policy towards Russia under Putin, the Elysee said.

Biden to give remarks on Russia, Ukraine at 20:30 GMT

US President Joe Biden will provide an update on the situation in Russia and Ukraine at 20:30 GMT (3:30 pm).

Biden will “reiterate that the United States remains open to high-level diplomacy in close coordination with our allies,” the White house said.

“The United States continues to believe diplomacy and de-escalation are the best path forward, but is prepared for every scenario,” it added.

Ukraine demands talks after Russian parliament calls for recognition of rebels

Ukraine has demanded an urgent meeting with Russia and the OSCE security body, after Russia’s parliament called for Moscow to recognise the independence of rebel-held areas in Ukraine, the Interfax Ukraine news agency has reported.

Interfax said Ukraine had called for an urgent meeting of the so-called trilateral contact group, comprising Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE, the Vienna-based body that has acted as an observer in the eastern Ukraine conflict since 2014.

Ukraine reports cyber attack on defence ministry website, banks: TASS

Ukraine’s cybersecurity centre has said that websites of the Ukrainian defence ministry and banks Privatbank and Oshadbank were under a cyber attack, Russia’s TASS news agency has reported.

The Ukrainian cybersecurity centre said Russia could be to blame for the attack, TASS reported. A message on the home page of the Ukrainian defence ministry website said it was under maintenance.

Scholz says Putin wrong to use word “genocide” in reference to Donbass

Scholz has said that Putin’s use of the word “genocide” to describe the situation in east Ukraine’s breakaway Donbass region was wrong.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Putin, Scholz said the word genocide, used by Putin at an earlier joint news conference, was strong. “It is wrong,” he said.

UK’s Johnson urges stronger coordination with EU on Russia

The UK and the European Union should do more to strengthen coordinated measures to punish Russia if it breaches Ukraine’s sovereignty, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“The pair discussed the grave situation on the Ukrainian border, and agreed that the world needed to remain vigilant in the coming hours and days,” a spokeswoman for Johnson’s office said.

“[Johnson] welcomed the unity of allies, but said more could be done to strengthen coordinated measures at pace,” the spokeswoman said.

Russia’s Lavrov calls for pragmatic dialogue in phone call with Blinken

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has stressed the need to continue working together and called for pragmatic dialogue on security, in a phone call with US Secretary of State Blinken, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said.

Lavrov also told Blinken during the call that “aggressive rhetoric” inflated by Washington was unacceptable, the ministry added in a statement.

No evidence of Russian pullback but would be welcome: US ambassador to UN

The US has not seen evidence yet of any Russian troop pullback near Ukraine, but any such action would be welcome, Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations has said.

“It would be welcome news if it is legitimate. We have not seen evidence of that yet,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement provided by her spokesperson.

Biden, Macron to speak on Tuesday: US official

US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron will speak on Tuesday, a US official has said.

Ukraine says it and NATO should determine membership

Only Ukraine and NATO should determine Kyiv’s bid to join the alliance, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said after meeting his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Kyiv.

“No one but Ukraine and NATO members should have a say in the discussions about Ukraine’s future NATO membership,” Kuleba said.

INTERACTIVE- NATO members in Europe expand eastwards

Blinken, Lavrov holding new call: State Department

US Secretary of State Blinken held another phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the State Department has said.

After their last call on Saturday, “they agreed to stay in touch”, a senior State Department official said.

NATO and Ukraine-Russia crisis: Five key things to know

The future of NATO, the transatlantic security alliance, is at the centre of the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

Moscow wants guarantees that its neighbour, a former Soviet state, will be permanently barred from joining the United States-led alliance. It has also called for NATO to cease all military activity in Eastern Europe, blaming it for undermining security in the region.

Amid the deadlock, click here for five things you need to know about NATO.

NATO flag is seenUkraine has repeatedly stated its intention to become a NATO member state – an objective that is written into the country’s constitution [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

‘Words good, acts even better,’ France tells Russia

France has welcomed a signal from Russia that it was pulling back some forces from close to the border with Ukraine but urged Moscow to translate the undertaking into actions on the ground.

“Words are good. We are waiting for acts. If the acts are there then that would be even better,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament, saying he had taken note of some recent “inflections” by Russian officials indicating openness to dialogue.

Russia’s defence chief arrives in Syria to review naval drills

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has reached Syria to inspect naval drills involving 15 warships and 30 aircraft in the Eastern Mediterranean, the RIA news agency has cited his ministry as saying.

The drills are part of a surge of Russian military activity amid a standoff with the West over security in Europe. Russia said earlier it had deployed fighter jets with hypersonic missiles to its Syrian airbase for the naval exercises.

London marine insurers add Russian, Ukrainian waters to high-risk list: Circular

London’s marine insurance market has added the Ukrainian and Russian waters around the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to its list of areas deemed high risk, a circular shows.

Their guidance is watched closely and influences underwriters’ considerations over insurance premiums.

‘NATO on our doorstep’, Putin says

Putin has said at a news conference that a negotiation process should be held over the question of Ukraine’s NATO membership.

“They say that in the coming years, Ukraine will not be in NATO. What does that mean? … For 30 years, we have been told that there won’t be any kind of NATO expansion, not one inch eastwards. And today, we see the infrastructure of NATO on our doorstep,” Putin said.

“The whole question of Ukraine joining NATO is raised and they say it won’t be tomorrow. What about the day after tomorrow? What does that actually change for us historically speaking? Absolutely nothing.

“We hear that Ukraine is not ready to join NATO; we know that. At the same time, they say it’s not going to join tomorrow. But by the time they get ready for it, it may be too late for us. So we have to decide this question now, right now, in the very near future; we have to have a negotiation process for this,” Putin said.

Read more here.

Russian President Vladimir PutinRussia is campaigning for security guarantees from the West including that its neighbour will be prevented from ever joining NATO’s ranks [File: Thibault Camus/Pool via Reuters]

Scholz says some points in Russia’s demands are worth discussing

German Chancellor Scholz has said after a meeting with President Putin that some aspects of Moscow’s demands are worth considering.

“It was right that NATO and the European Union responded to the letters from Russia, and while Russia does not agree with the response, it is a good sign that it says there are a few good points in it,” Scholz said at a joint news conference.

“Likewise, NATO, the EU, and we do not agree with the demands of Russia, but we believe there are some points in there that are worth discussing,” he said, adding that an eastward expansion of NATO was not currently on the agenda.

Scholz commits to ensuring gas transit works via Ukraine

Scholz has said he is committed to making sure that the transit of gas through Ukraine functions.

“We are committed to ensuring gas transit in Europe works through Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Nord Stream 1 according to the agreements we have. And we also want to ensure peaceful development in Europe,” Scholz said at a joint news conference.

Asked about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Scholz reiterated that while he was intent on ensuring that a confrontation did not occur in Ukraine and if that were to happen, there would be consequences.

INTERACTIVE- Oil and Gas pipelines across Russia and Ukraine

Ukraine’s possible NATO membership must be resolved now: Putin

Putin says that Russia had been told that Ukraine would not join NATO in the near future, but that Moscow did not think that was a good enough assurance and wanted to resolve the matter in its entirety now.

Navalny prosecution ‘incompatible’ with rule of law: Scholz

Scholz has condemned legal proceedings against Putin’s main political opponent, Alexey Navalny, as a new trial against him from inside prison began.

“My position on the Navalny case is very clear: his judgement is incompatible with the principles of the rule of law and I have expressed this view on many occasions,” he said.

Scholz on Nord Stream 2: ‘We all understand what’s wrong’

Scholz has said “we all understand what’s wrong” when it comes to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is finished but has not yet been approved by Germany to go into operation.

“Peaceful development” in Europe was key, Scholz said, adding that if this is not the case, there would be “wide consequences”.

Scholz has in the past refused to say, as allies including the US have done, that the pipeline project should be halted in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

EU warns against Russian recognition of Ukraine’s breakaway regions

The EU has “strongly” condemned the Russian parliament’s vote on recognising the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as independent.

“The EU strongly condemns the Russian State Duma’s decision to submit a call to President Putin to recognise the non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine as independent entities,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Twitter.

He said the decision is “a clear violation” of the Minsk protocol – an agreement that Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded in 2014 to establish peace in eastern Ukraine.

“EU support and commitment to Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders remains unwavering,” he said.

Putin describes situation in Donbas as ‘genocide’

Putin has said Russia does not want a war in Europe, but described the situation in east Ukraine’s breakaway regions as “genocide” and called for the conflict there to be resolved through the Minsk peace progress.

At a joint news conference, Putin said Russia had decided to partially withdraw troops from near Ukraine and saw some room for further discussion with the West on Moscow’s security demands.

He said, however, there had not been a constructive response to Russia’s demands.

‘Lasting security’ in Europe only possible with Russia: Scholz

Scholz has said Russia is a crucial player in maintaining security in Europe.

“For Europeans, it is clear that lasting security cannot be achieved against Russia but only with Russia,” he told reporters.

Putin says Russia ‘of course’ does not want war

Putin has said Russia does not want war.

“Do we want this or not? Of course, not. That is exactly why we put forward proposals for a process of negotiations,” Putin told a news conference.

Putin calls for Nord Stream 2 launch

Putin has called for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to begin operating following talks with Scholz.

The pipeline secures the energy security of Europe, Putin argued, referring to it as a purely economic and environmentally friendly project without “political overtones”.

Diplomatic bid to avert Ukraine war ‘far from exhausted’: Scholz

Scholz has said he agreed with Russia’s assessment that there is still a chance to avert war over Ukraine through diplomatic negotiations.

“I expressly agree that the diplomatic options are far from exhausted,” he said after talks with Putin.

“It should be possible to find a solution. No matter how difficult and serious the situation seems to be, I refuse to say it is hopeless.”

Russian troop withdrawal announcement a ‘good sign’: Scholz

Scholz has welcomed Russia’s announcement that some troops deployed near Ukraine would be pulled back as a “good sign” towards easing tensions.

“That we are now hearing that some troops are being withdrawn is in any case a good sign,” he told reporters after talks with Putin. “We hope that more follow.”

INTERACTIVE- Where are Russian troops stationed?

Russia ready to continue talks with West on missiles: Putin

Putin has said Russia is prepared to continue dialogue on missiles and other security issues with the West, speaking in Moscow with Scholz.

Putin says ‘ready to work further’ with West on security

Putin has said he is ready to continue working with the West on security issues to de-escalate tensions over Ukraine.

“We are ready to work further together. We are ready to go down the negotiations track,” Putin told a news conference following talks with Scholz in Moscow.

Putin says Nord Stream 2 would cement Europe’s energy security

Putin has said after meeting Scholz in Moscow that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is awaiting regulatory clearance, is a purely commercial project which will strengthen Europe’s energy security.

Putin also reiterated that Russia is ready to continue gas exports to Europe via Ukraine after 2024 when the current transit deal expires.

Putin: Russia ready to discuss confidence-building measures

Putin has said Moscow is ready for talks with the US and NATO on limits for missile deployments and military transparency.

Speaking after talks with Scholz, Putin said the US and NATO rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe.

Putin said Russia is ready to engage in talks on limits on the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe, transparency of drills and other confidence-building measures, but emphasised the need for the West to heed Russia’s main demands.

Russia plans navy drills in Mediterranean: Reports

Russia plans navy drills in the Mediterranean and has moved bombers and hypersonic missile-equipped jets to its base in Syria, Russia’s RIA and TASS news agencies have reported.

The drills will involve several Russian fleets and take part in the eastern part of the Mediterranean, they cited Russia’s defence ministry as saying.

Russia ready to discuss confidence-building measures with US, NATO: Putin

Putin has said Russia is ready to discuss confidence-building measures with the US and NATO.

UK threatens to block Russian companies raising money in London

The United Kingdom has threatened to block Russian companies from raising capital in London and to expose property and company ownership if Russia invades Ukraine, saying the West must remain united on the cost to Moscow of any conflict.

“We’re … making sure that we take steps, or take even more steps, to unpeel the facade of Russian property holdings whether in this city or elsewhere … unpeel the facade of Russian ownership of companies,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“And also take steps to stop Russian companies from raising capital on London financial markets. So that is a very, very tough package.”

London has been a popular destination for Russian firms raising capital.

Slovakia gets offer of Czech troops, defence minister says

Slovakia has got an offer from the Czech Republic to send troops to the country as part of possible deployments of NATO alliance units, Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad has been quoted as saying.

“We are at the start of discussions,” daily Dennik N cited him as saying on its website.

At the end of January, Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said the transatlantic alliance was considering deploying some troops to Slovakia along with other countries on its eastern flank in response to the Russian military build-up near Ukraine.

France cautiously welcomes Russia’s announcement

The French government has reacted positively to Russia’s announcement of some troops leaving their stations, but said it is assessing the information closely.

If the withdrawal is confirmed, this would be a good thing and a positive sign of the de-escalation that President Macron wants to achieve, spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

Another exchange between the heads of state involved in diplomatic efforts is planned in the next few hours, he said. Macron has cancelled his participation in another appointment in Paris.

German foreign minister demands actions, not words, from Russia

Russia’s announcement that some troops deployed near Ukraine were returning to bases “must be followed by action”, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said.

“Every real step of de-escalation would be a reason for hope. For now, there are only announcements and these must now be followed by action,” she said at a news conference following talks with her Spanish counterpart in Madrid.

“It is now up to Russia to embark on the path of de-escalation and underpin it with very concrete steps such as troop withdrawal,” she said.

Partial withdrawal of Russian troops would be ‘excellent news’, Spain says

A partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the Ukrainian border would be “excellent news” if confirmed, Spain’s foreign minister has said.

A diplomatic solution is still the way to de-escalate the crisis and there was no defensive reason for Russia to have troops on the border, Minister Jose Manuel Albares told a news conference with his German counterpart Baerbock.

Japan offers Ukraine $100m in loans in show of support

Japan is ready to extend at least $100m in emergency loans to Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Japanese government has said in a summary of their phone call.

Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the offer, according to the written summary of the two leaders’ exchange.

Kishida also told reporters Japan planned to take appropriate steps, including possible sanctions, if Russia invades Ukraine, echoing what his foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, had said earlier.

NATO chief says ‘cautious optimism’ over Ukraine crisis

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said indications from Russia it was willing to pursue diplomacy over the Ukraine crisis were positive, but there had been no sign of Moscow pulling back troops from the border.

“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue, this gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far, we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground,” Stoltenberg told journalists.

NATO calls on Russia to prove will to de-escalate with actions on the ground

NATO’s chief welcomed signals that Russia may be looking for a diplomatic solution amid a military build-up on Ukraine’s border but urged Moscow to demonstrate its will to act.

“There are signs from Moscow that diplomacy should continue. This gives grounds for cautious optimism. But so far we have not seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side”, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters before a two-day meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers in Brussels.

“Russia has amassed a fighting force in and around Ukraine unprecedented since the Cold War. Everything is now in place for a new attack.

“But Russia still has time to step back from the brink, stop preparing for war and start working for a peaceful solution”, Stoltenberg said, calling the current situation the “most serious security crisis we have faced in Europe for decades”.

Russia starts navy drills in Barents Sea

More than 20 ships from Russia’s Northern Fleet have started drills in the Barents Sea, the Interfax news agency cited the fleet as saying.

The exercises in the Arctic waters between Russia and Norway are part of broader drills which have prompted fears that Moscow may invade Ukraine. Russia denies such plans.

A Russian army service member is seen dismounting an armoured personnel carrier during drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, RussiaA Russian army service member gets off an armoured personnel carrier BTR-82 during drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, Russia [File: Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters]

Russia’s parliament asks Putin to recognise breakaway east Ukrainian regions

Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament voted to appeal to President Putin to recognise two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, the speaker of the house said.

Recognition of the two regions could kill off the existing Minsk peace process for east Ukraine to which Russia has said it is committed.

OSCE talks will not replace dialogue with US, NATO, says Russia

Discussing Russia’s security demands within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would be interesting but are not a substitute for talks with the US and NATO, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Without any progress in the latter, OSCE discussions would be pointless, Lavrov said after a meeting with Polish foreign minister and OSCE chairman-in-office Zbigniew Rau in Moscow.

Israel rejects Ukraine’s request to buy Iron Dome, says Israeli journalist

Israel has refused to sell its Iron Dome missile defence system to Ukraine, according to renowned Israeli journalist and author Nadav Eyal.

In a column written for Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Eyal said Israel’s refusal to supply Ukraine with the technology is to avoid upsetting Russia.

“In an effort to avoid at all cost, Israeli involvement in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, Israel refused to sell the Iron Dome missile defense system to Kyiv in order not to annoy the Russians,” said the article.

Russia confirms planned pullback of some troops after drills

Russia’s Southern Military District said that its forces have started withdrawing from Crimea and returning to their bases after completing drills on the peninsula which Russia seized from Ukraine, Interfax reported.

Interfax cited the district command as saying that some of the troops were moving to bases in Russia’s southern regions of Dagestan and North Ossetia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Armor and artillery loaded on flatcars and railyard in Yelnya, Russia.A satellite image shows the armour and artillery loaded on flatcars and a railyard in Yelnya, Russia, about 300km north of the border with Ukraine [File: Maxar Technologies/AP]

Norway adds up to 60 troops to NATO force in Lithuania

Norway will increase its contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence forces in Lithuania by between 50 and 60 troops due to the tense security situation in and around Ukraine, the Norwegian defence minister said.

A satellite image shows an overview of a helicopter deployments near Lake Donuzlav, Crimea.A satellite image shows an overview of helicopter deployments near Lake Donuzlav, Crimea [File: Maxar Technologies/Reuters]

US announces closure of its embassy in Ukraine

The US State Department announced it will close its embassy in Kyiv and move all remaining staff there to a city near the Polish border.

The scene was calm outside the US Embassy in Ukraine after the announcement, despite fears of a potential Russian invasion intensifying.

UK’s Truss says full-scale removal of Russian troops needed

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said a full-scale removal of Russian troops from the border with Ukraine was needed after a report that some units were returning to their bases.

Asked about the Interfax report, Truss told LBC Radio she had not seen it and would need to see more details, but added: “The Russians have claimed that they have no plans for an invasion, but we will need to see a full-scale removal of troops to show that is true.”

EU says ready to discuss Russian security concerns

The EU is ready to discuss Russia’s security concerns, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has said, as tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to heighten.

“In order to fulfil the concerns of everybody, the only way is speaking on the table and discuss,” Borrell told BBC Radio 4. “If there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 would not become operational”, he added.

An instructor shows a woman how to use a Kalashnikov.Russia denies it intends to invade but has massed well over 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border [File: Efrem Lukatsky/AP]

Germany’s Scholz lands in Moscow

German Chancellor Scholz has landed in Moscow for talks with Russian President Putin.

Instead of taking a Russian coronavirus test, Scholz decided to have a doctor from the German embassy carry out the PCR test – a requirement before entering the Kremlin.

Russian health officials have been invited to be present for the test, according to sources from the German delegation.

Germany urges Russia to withdraw troops from Ukrainian border

Germany urged Russia to withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border and engage in diplomacy for a peaceful solution.

“We believe that it’s clearly Russia’s responsibility to de-escalate the situation,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement, ahead of her visit to NATO ally Spain.

“The government in Moscow should withdraw its troops and provide full transparency about its actions,” she stressed, adding that this is Russia’s obligation as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Baerbock expressed concern over the recent escalation, and reiterated that Germany will continue its diplomatic efforts, together with its EU partners and NATO allies, for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Some Russian forces near Ukraine returning to bases

Some troops in Russia’s military districts adjacent to Ukraine are returning to their bases after completing drills, Russia’s defence ministry was quoted as saying, a move that could de-escalate frictions between Moscow and the West.

Russia’s Interfax news agency cited the ministry as saying that while large-scale drills across the country continued, some units of the southern and western military districts have completed their exercises and started returning to base.

“Units of the southern and western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and today they will begin moving to their military garrisons,” a defence ministry spokesman said.

satellite image shows Russian fighter deployment. A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a closer view of a new Su-34 fighter deployment south of the Russian border with Ukraine [File: AP]

European stocks steady on easing Ukraine fears

European stock markets steadied on hopes that Ukraine and Russia will avoid a full-blown conflict.

London’s benchmark FTSE 100 Index edged up 0.1 percent to 7,539.83 points.

In the eurozone, Frankfurt’s DAX index was flat at 15,110.75 points, as was the Paris CAC 40 at 6,853.69.

“There is a certain relief in the Ukraine-Russia crisis as the two sides seem willing to continue their diplomatic efforts to avoid a military action,” noted Swissquote senior analyst Ipek Ozkardeskaya.

Images show new Russian military activity near Ukraine

New commercial satellite images show a flurry of Russian military activity at several locations near Ukraine, the private US company that released the pictures said.

US-based Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the build-up of Russian forces for weeks, said that images taken on Sunday and Monday captured significant new activity in Belarus, annexed Crimea and western Russia.

The images could not be independently verified.

Maxar pointed to the arrival of several large deployments of troops and attack helicopters as well new deployments of ground attack aircraft and fighter bomber jets to forward locations.

The images also captured the departure of multiple ground forces units from existing garrisons along with other combat units seen in convoy formation, Maxar said.

Satellite image shows shows a battle group departed from a vehicle park in Russia.A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a battle group departing from a vehicle park in Yelnya, Russia, north of the border with Ukraine [File: AP]

UK’s Truss says Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent

A Russian invasion of Ukraine is highly likely, could be imminent and would pose a threat to Europe’s wider stability that emboldens aggressors around the world, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Tuesday.

Truss said an invasion could be imminent, and Russian troops could reach Kyiv “very, very quickly”.

“This is … about the wider stability of Europe,” she told Sky News. “And it’s about wider global stability, and the message that we give to aggressors and we have to give the message to Vladimir Putin that there can be no reward for aggression.”

Truss echoed politicians in the US who have warned that a so-called “false flag” operation could be used by Moscow to trigger a conflict.

“It is still the case that an invasion could be imminent, and it is highly likely,” she said.

People take part in a march supporting Ukraine.People take part in the Unity March to demonstrate Ukrainians’ patriotic spirit amid growing tensions with Russia [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Russians scoff at Western fears of Ukraine invasion

While the US warns that Russia could invade Ukraine any day, the drumbeat of war is all but unheard in Moscow, where pundits and ordinary people alike do not expect President Putin to launch an attack on Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbour.

The Kremlin has cast the US warnings of an imminent attack as “hysteria” and “absurdity,” and many Russians believe that Washington is deliberately stoking panic and fomenting tensions to trigger a conflict for domestic reasons.

Speaking to reporters after President Biden’s call with Putin on Saturday, Kremlin foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov bemoaned what he described as US “hysteria” about an allegedly imminent invasion, saying that the situation has “reached the point of absurdity”.

Russian officials have angrily denied any plans to attack Ukraine and dismissed Western concerns about the build-up near the country, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy its troops wherever it likes on its national territory.

India advises citizens to leave Ukraine

The Indian embassy in Ukraine issued an advisory, calling on its nationals, “particularly students whose stay is not essential, to temporarily leave Ukraine” amid fears of an imminent war with Russia.

The embassy also advised Indian nationals against travelling to and within Ukraine.

Russia to respond if citizens are killed in eastern Ukraine

Russia will “respond” if Russian citizens start being killed anywhere, including in Ukraine’s rebel Donbas region, Russia’s RIA news agency cited Russian envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, as saying.

“We will not invade Ukraine unless we are provoked to do that,” Chizhov said. “If the Ukrainians launch an attack against Russia, you shouldn’t be surprised if we counterattack. Or, if they start blatantly killing Russian citizens anywhere – Donbas or wherever.”

Soldiers practice at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground during the Union CourageSoldiers practise at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground during military drills in Belarus [File: AP]

Americans advised to leave Belarus immediately

American citizens should leave Belarus immediately due to the build-up of Russian troops along Belarus’s border with Ukraine, said the US State Department.

Aviation fears grow over Russia fallout from Ukraine crisis

Airlines and the leasing companies that control billions of dollars worth of passenger jets are drawing up contingency plans for a freeze in business with Russia if the standoff on Ukraine’s border boils over into a military conflict.

Aviation bosses are worried about the effect of dealings with Russian companies. Sanctions could disrupt payments to leasing firms, and any retaliatory move by Moscow to restrict access to Russian airspace might throw East-West trade into chaos.

“We are expecting an asymmetrical Russian response,” said a Western source involved in drawing up scenarios, adding the West was unlikely to restrict its own airspace first.

INTERACTIVE- Kyiv Ukraine Russia flights(Al Jazeera)

Scholz flies to Moscow in bid to avert war

German Chancellor Scholz heads to Moscow to meet President Putin in a high-stakes mission to avert war, with Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe warning of far-reaching sanctions if it attacks Ukraine.

The chancellor has said he will hammer home the message from the West that they are open to dialogue about Russia’s security concerns but will impose sanctions if it invades Ukraine.

“We are ready for very far-reaching and effective sanctions in coordination with our allies,” he said in Kyiv on Monday before returning to Berlin.

Warnings of sanctions could hit home harder coming from Germany, Russia’s number one trade partner in Europe and the biggest consumer of Russian natural gas – although that could also limit Scholz’s room for manoeuvre.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and German chancellor Olaf ScholzGerman Chancellor Scholz visited Ukraine as part of a flurry of Western diplomacy aimed at heading off a feared Russian invasion [File: AP]

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to call Zelenskyy

Japanese media is reporting that Prime Minister Kishida will speak to President Zelenskyy on the phone later today.

There has been no official confirmation of the call, which the media said would take place in the evening Japanese time.

Kishida has that Japan is “watching the situation with grave concern”.

US offers Ukraine $1bn loan guarantee

The US is offering Ukraine a sovereign loan guarantee of up to $1bn to help its economy amid pressure from Russia’s military build-up.

Secretary of State Blinken says the offer ”will bolster Ukraine’s ability to ensure economic stability, growth, and prosperity for its people in the face of Russia’s destabilizing behaviour”.

The US issued three separate $1bn sovereign loan guarantees to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016m and has also provided more than $2bn in development assistance to Ukraine since 2014.

Japan warns of sanctions if Russia attacks

Japan could impose sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a regular press conference that while Japan is “strongly seeking” a diplomatic resolution it would take “appropriate steps, including possible sanctions, in response to what has actually happened, and in coordination with the G7 and international community”.

Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Ukraine crisis.

You can read all the updates from Monday, February 14 here