Latest Russia-Ukraine updates: US puts 8,500 troops on alert

Russia-Ukraine tensions news from January 24: US, Europe and NATO present united front after call between leaders.

Ukrainian servicemen from the 25th Air Assault Battalion are seen stationed in Avdiivka, Ukraine
Ukrainian servicemen from the 25th Air Assault Battalion are seen stationed in Avdiivka, Ukraine [Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency]

Roughly 8,500 American troops have been put on heightened alert in the US in case NATO activates its Response Force or if the security situation in Europe deteriorates further, the Pentagon has said.

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sought to calm Western fears over the Ukraine crisis after talks with US top diplomat Antony Blinken.

“We know very well what the degree of threats are and the way in which we must react, and no doubt we must avoid alarmist reactions,” Borrell said on Monday. “You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown.”

NATO allies have put forces on standby and sent ships and fighter jets to bolster Europe’s eastern defences as tensions soar over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

The security alliance’s move, announced on Monday, came as the United Kingdom began withdrawing staff from its embassy in Kyiv as fears persist of an imminent Russian invasion following Russia’s massing of some 100,000 troops near its neighbour. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied planning to make an incursion.

The live blog is now closed; thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 24.

US and allies express ‘shared desire’ for diplomatic resolution

After a virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and European and NATO leaders, the White House said the allies expressed their “shared desire” for a diplomatic resolution to tensions with Moscow, but they also warned Russia of “massive consequences” if it invades Ukraine.

“The leaders also discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” the White House said in a statement on Monday.

US and European allies have ‘total unanimity’: Biden

US President Joe Biden said after a call with European allies on Monday that they have “total” agreement on dealing with Russia’s military threat on the borders of Ukraine.

“I had a very, very, very good meeting – total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters shortly after finishing a video conference with allied leaders from Europe and NATO.

France urges ‘credible warnings’ and ‘stepped-up dialogue’ with Russia

De-escalation of tensions with Russia over Ukraine requires “firm and credible” warnings but also stepped-up dialogue with Moscow, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said on Monday.

After a call between US President Joe Biden and a number of European leaders, the French presidency said Macron would speak “in the coming days” with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“De-escalation requires firm and credible warnings to Russia, which requires constant coordination between European partners and allies, and a stepped-up dialogue with Russia,” Macron’s office said in a statement.

After virtual meeting with Biden, NATO chief warns Russia of ‘severe costs’

US President Joe Biden, European leaders and NATO stand united in their warning to Moscow that a Russian attack on Ukraine will provoke a tough response, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said late on Monday.

“We agree that any further aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have severe costs,” Stoltenberg said on Twitter after an online meeting with Biden, and the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Britain and the European Union.

US diplomat discusses crisis with OSCE secretary general

US deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman held a phone call with Helga Schmid, secretary general of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body that includes dozens of European and North American states, including Russia.

In a statement describing the call between Sherman and Schmid on Monday, the US State Department said the two discussed the “destabilizing buildup of military forces on Ukraine’s borders”.

“They discussed ongoing efforts to urge Russia to pursue the path of diplomacy and de-escalation to end this crisis peacefully,” the State Department said.

Russia invasion would spark migration crisis: Analyst

Global affairs analyst Michael Bociurkiw has warned of a “huge” humanitarian crisis if Russia invades Ukraine that would result in an influx of asylum seekers at the European Union’s borders.

“If there is a major incursion – whether it’s in Kyiv or Kharkiv or other parts of Ukraine – that will spark a massive migration of asylum seekers across EU borders,” Bociurkiw told Al Jazeera on Monday.

“Ukraine borders the EU; they can walk over, they can drive over, and they have visa-free travel. So this is something that the West will feel very, very immediately.”

US shortens extension of GAZ Group general licences

The US Department of the Treasury has shortened the extension of two general licences for Russia’s GAZ Group, a manufacturer of commercial vehicles.

A Treasury official told Reuters the licences, previously extended for a year at a time and set to expire on Wednesday, were being extended for only 90 days.

“These authorisations were extended for a shorter time period given the current situation with Russia; further extension will be informed by Russia’s behaviour,” the official said.

US says ‘no daylight’ with European allies on Ukraine standoff

The United States has said it is in full agreement with European allies on the severity of the response to any Russian invasion of Ukraine, and on the urgency of the threat.

“There is no ambiguity,” US Department of State spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “There is no daylight. We know that, and importantly, the Russian Federation knows that.”

US says Russia has ‘no intention’ of de-escalating

The United States has warned that Russia has “no intention right now of de-escalating”.

“It’s very clear that the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters as he announced the troop alert.

US places 8,500 troops on heightened alert: Pentagon

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby says 8,500 troops have been placed on heightened readiness for possible deployment to bolster NATO forces.

“It’s really important to keep remembering that no deployment orders have been set, and no missions have been assigned. This is really about getting folks ready to go in case they’re needed,” Kirby said.

“These would be additional Brigade Combat Teams, logistics personnel, medical support, aviation support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as transportation, and maybe even some additional capabilities after that,” Kirby said.

NATO flag is seen during NATO enhanced Forward Presence battle group military exercise Silver Arrow in Adazi, Latvia October 5, 2019.
Americans troops have been put on heightened alert in the US in case NATO activates its Response Force [File: Ints Kalnins/Reuters]

Russian, Ukrainian officials to meet in Paris: Macron aide

Officials from Russia and Ukraine are set to meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks with their counterparts from France and Germany in a bid to defuse tensions, an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron has said.

The meeting – a revival of four-way talks between the nations known as the Normandy Format – is part of efforts to avert war, with France seeing “a path to de-escalation” that would include steps from Ukraine and Russia, the aide told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Kyiv says four countries withdrawing some staff from embassies in Ukraine

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has said the embassies of Germany and Australia had told it of plans to withdraw some staff and dependents, following similar decisions by the UK and the US.

Ukraine described such evacuation measures as “premature”.

The Ukrainian ministry said in a statement that there are 129 foreign embassies and consulates in Ukraine and all others had ensured they were not planning evacuation.

US refining its military plans for all scenarios: White House

The US is refining its military plans for all scenarios and “has never ruled out” the option of providing assistance to eastern flank countries, the White House has said.

“We have a sacred obligation to support the security of our eastern flank countries. I think it’s important to remember who the aggressor is here and it’s not the United States. It is not these eastern flank countries,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

“It is Russia, who has tens of thousands of troops on the border of Ukraine. They have the power to de-escalate. We would certainly welcome that.”

Belarusian group claims hack on railway system

A Belarusian opposition hacker group has said it has encrypted some of the state railway company’s computer systems to disrupt its operations after it helped transport Russian troops into Belarus.

The self-styled Belarusian Cyber-Partisans, which has claimed responsibility for a number of previous cyberattacks, tweeted that it had encrypted some of the railway service’s servers, databases and workstations.

It said it would be ready to hand over encryption keys on condition that 50 political prisoners were released and the presence of Russian troops in Belarus was “prevented”. The group said it had deliberately not disrupted the railway’s automation and security systems.

Ukrainian envoy urges Germany to reconsider opposition to supplying weapons

Amid criticism of Germany’s cautious policy towards Russia, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey has said this policy needs to be “reconsidered”.

Bodnar’s remarks came after Germany’s navy chief had to resign after controversial comments on Ukraine. Meanwhile, the German defence minister said the government will do everything possible to de-escalate the crisis with Russia but arms transfers to Ukraine are not an option.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Vasyl Bodnar pointed to the close cooperation between his country and Germany.

“So objectively speaking, we do not understand their behaviour,” he said, adding that if Berlin “would like to prevent a war and to strengthen Ukraine’s defence capabilities” then it should change its policy on Ukraine.

Start Here: Will Russia invade Ukraine?

Russia has massed thousands of soldiers along Ukraine’s border and it’s got people talking about a possible war. What’s President Putin’s strategy? And where does NATO fit in?

Al Jazeera explains five things you need to know to understand this story.

Lufthansa reschedules some Ukraine flights

Germany’s Lufthansa has rescheduled at least two flights to Ukraine this week, in one of the first changes to air traffic.

A Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Kyiv on Sunday afternoon was moved to Monday morning, with Lufthansa service centre staff saying this was because crew could no longer stay in Kyiv overnight due to the current “problems”, a Reuters reporter who witnessed the announcement said.

Lufthansa’s Frankfurt-Kyiv flight scheduled for Monday afternoon was moved to Tuesday morning, Frankfurt airport’s online departure board showed, while no such flight featured on Wednesday.

EU top diplomat warns against ‘nervous breakdown’ over Ukraine

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has sought to calm Western fears over the Ukraine crisis after talks with US top diplomat Antony Blinken.

“We know very well what the degree of threats are and the way in which we must react, and no doubt we must avoid alarmist reactions,” Borrell said.

“You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown.”

Russian Duma takes its time over call for east Ukraine ‘independence’

A proposal to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognise two breakaway east Ukraine regions as independent will not be ready for discussion by the relevant parliamentary committee until next week, the committee’s head has told Reuters.

A source in the Duma, parliament’s lower house, said its speaker would hold consultations with party leaders this week on the motion.

But Leonid Kalashnikov, head of the Duma’s committee on relations with the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States, said it would take until next week to gather submissions from all the parliamentary parties.

EU will be ready to respond to any Russian cyberattacks: Borrell

The European Union is prepared to defend against any possible Russian cyberattacks if Russia invades Ukraine, the EU’s top diplomat has said, also offering expertise to Kyiv.

Josep Borrell, who chaired a meeting of EU foreign ministers, said the bloc wanted to send a strong message that it was united against any Russian aggression.

“We will be ready to respond … We are also looking to help Ukraine on cyber and hybrid threats,” Borrell told a news conference.

Biden to speak with European leaders: White House

US President Joe Biden will speak with European leaders on Monday to discuss the continuing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, including Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders, the White House has said.

Biden will speak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a video call, the White House said.

President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington
President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington on January 24, 2022, after spending the weekend at Camp David, Maryland [Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]

Canadian diplomats, families staying in Ukraine for time being: PM Trudeau

Canadian diplomats and their families are staying in Ukraine for the time being but Ottawa is constantly reviewing their safety, which is of paramount importance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated.

Trudeau sidestepped questions about whether he would order an evacuation and also did not answer when pressed on the possibility of Canada sending troops to Ukraine as a way of countering Russia’s military build-up along the border.

Asked whether Canada would follow suit, Trudeau said: “There are many contingency plans in place. The safety of Canadian diplomats and their families is, of course, paramount … we will make determinations based on safety on the ground.”

NATO could deploy additional battlegroups in eastern Europe: Stoltenberg

NATO could deploy additional combat units in Eastern Europe, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

“We are considering to further enhance our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, this could include the deployment of additional NATO battlegroups,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

So far, NATO has based about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference
‘We are considering to further enhance our presence in the eastern part of the alliance,’ NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said [Hannibal Hanschke/AP Photo]

Ukraine leader urges EU to stay united against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the EU to stay united in the face of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, his office has said.

Zelenskyy told European Council President Charles Michel that it was “important to preserve the unity of all EU member states in protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Ukraine.

Ukrainian servicemen from the 25th Air Assault Battalion are seen stationed in Avdiivka, Ukraine
Ukrainian servicemen from the 25th Air Assault Battalion are seen stationed in Avdiivka, Ukraine on January 24, 2022 [Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency]

No question of sending Polish troops to Ukraine: Official

Poland is yet to make a decision on military help for Ukraine, but will definitely not send troops to the country, the head of the country’s National Security Bureau has said.

“We are talking about military help but there is no decision on this matter. There is no question of our army being present on the territory of Ukraine,” Pawel Soloch told reporters.

Waiting for war in Ukraine while caught in the fighting

While fears rise over a potential new Russian incursion into Ukraine, swaths of territory in the latter’s east are already beset by conflict.

In the following podcast, Al Jazeera correspondent Charles Stratford travels to the Donbas to document the impact of war, and the threat of yet more conflict, on the people there.

UK will call out Russian attempts to ‘subvert Ukraine’, FM says

The United Kingdom’s foreign minister has said London will continue to call out Russian attempts to “subvert Ukraine” after her department accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Moscow leader in Kyiv.

“The reason we put that out into the public domain is we are going to call out every instance of Russia trying to influence democracy, trying to subvert Ukraine, false flag operations and sabotage,” Liz Truss told reporters in Brussels.

In a Ukrainian city near Russia, a civilian army prepares for war

In Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine, reserve forces are busily preparing for a possible conflict with Russia.

They are part of the so-called “Territorial Defence Force” – a volunteer unit within the country’s official Armed Forces – which is being readied for engagement.

Read more here.

Zelenskyy thanks EU for solidarity

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has thanked European Council President Charles Michel and the leaders of the European Union’s 27 member states for their solidarity and support during his country’s standoff with Russia.

“I’m grateful to you, Mr President of the European Council, and to the leaders of the EU countries, whose diplomats remain in our state and support us, doing their job,” Zelenskyy told Michel in a telephone conversation, according to a readout published by the Ukrainian leader’s office.

Zelenskyy also said Ukraine would not respond to provocations from Moscow.

US weighing troop deployments: Reports

US Joe Biden is reportedly considering deploying thousands of troops to NATO member states in the Baltics and Eastern Europe as tensions with Russia persist.

Read more here.

Ukraine-Russia standoff: In pictures

As tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to soar, photographers have captured images of armed forces in training and convoys of Russian military units on the move. Have a look here.

‘Russians not standing by watching events unfold’

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, has said there is a “lot of concern” in Russia about NATO’s moves to bolster the alliance’s eastern flanks.

“But the Russians … are not standing by watching events unfold … they have said they will continue to move their military hardware and troops to their borders, wherever they see fit,” she said.

No combat troops being sent to Ukraine: UK PM’s spokesman

The UK has no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine to help it defend itself against any Russian aggression, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman has said.

The spokesman’s remarks were made in response to a question from reporters about comments made by Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, who said that he would welcome the deployment of British soldiers in the event of an incursion.

The UK has already sent a small number of infantry troops to Ukraine to help with the training of forces there.

A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces uses periscopes while observing the area at fighting positions on the line of separation near the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine
After Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula in early 2014, it moved to back a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine which saw rebel forces take control of swaths of territory – areas they continue to hold today [File: Serhiy Takhmazov/Reuters]

Ukrainian president thanks EU for ‘timely’ financial aid package

Zelenskyy has thanked the EU for what he said was a “timely” decision to provide Kyiv with a financial aid package worth 1.2 billion euros ($1.35bn).

“Strong Ukraine is key for European security,” Zelenskyy tweeted.

UK’s Johnson warns against ‘disastrous’ invasion

Johnson has said that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a “disastrous step” by Moscow.

“We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step,” he told broadcasters, adding an incursion would be a “painful, violent and bloody business”.

Asked whether he thought an invasion was now imminent, Johnson said intelligence was “pretty gloomy on this point”.

“I don’t think it’s by any means inevitable now, I think that sense can still prevail,” he said.

Moscow accuses the West of ‘hysteria’

Moscow has accused the US and its allies of escalating East-West tensions by announcing plans to boost NATO forces in Eastern Europe and evacuate the families of diplomats from the US embassy in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West of spreading information filled with “hysteria” and “laced with lies” and said the probability of military conflict in eastern Ukraine being initiated by the Ukrainian side was higher than ever.

He claimed Kyiv has deployed a large number of troops near the borders of breakaway regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists, indicating it is preparing to attack them. Ukraine has repeatedly denied having any plans to do so.

Latvia calls for more NATO forces on alliance’s eastern flank

Latvia has called for more NATO forces to be deployed on the alliance’s eastern flank as “measures of defence and deterrence”.

“We are reaching the point where a continuous Russian and Belarusian military buildup in Europe needs to be addressed by appropriate NATO countermeasures,” Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics wrote on Facebook.

Latvia and its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania are all members of NATO.

EU readies 1.2-billion-euro financial aid package for Ukraine

The EU is drawing up an emergency 1.2-billion-euro ($1.35bn) financial aid package for Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said.

“The Commission proposes a new emergency macro-financial assistance package of 1.2 billion euros,” von der Leyen told reporters in Brussels, adding the package would be made up of both emergency loans and grants.

“This package will help Ukraine now to address its rapid escalation in financing needs due to the conflict,” she said, noting that she counted on the European Council, representing the member states, and EU lawmakers to approve the emergency support as soon as possible.

‘We don’t want a new Cold War’

Hungary’s foreign minister has warned of the threat of a new Cold War and called for a diplomatic resolution to the standoff over Ukraine.

“We don’t want a new Cold War. The Cold War period had tragic consequences in Central Eastern Europe, we wasted several decades,” Peter Szijjarto said, adding that Hungary supported all diplomatic efforts and talks to resolve the situation.

Latvia warns its citizens not to travel to Ukraine

Latvia has advised its citizens against travelling to Ukraine and also has plans to evacuate its Kyiv embassy staff if necessary.

“If it is necessary to visit Ukraine, we invite you to register in the consular register of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said on Facebook.

Rinkevics said officials were “constantly evaluating the security situation and will act accordingly” with regards to the potential withdrawal of any embassy staff.

NATO sends ships, fighter jets to Eastern Europe

NATO has said that it is putting extra forces on standby and sending more ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe amid the ongoing tensions.

Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and deploying F-16 warplanes to Lithuania, the military alliance said in a statement, while Spain is deploying ships to join NATO’s naval force and considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria.

The Netherlands is sending two F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria from April onwards to support NATO’s air-policing activities in the region, it added, and France has expressed its readiness to send troops to Romania.

Ireland says Russian war games off its coast ‘not welcome’

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said that Russia plans to holds war games off his country’s coast, a move that he described as “not welcome”.

Coveney told reporters that the exercises are due to take place 240km (150 miles) off Ireland’s southwest coast, in international waters but also within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“We don’t have a power to prevent this happening but certainly I’ve made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome,” Coveney said, as he arrived for talks focused on Russia and Ukraine with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies