Latest Ukraine updates: Several countries urge nationals to leave

Ukraine news from February 11: US, UK among countries advising citizens to leave amid warnings of a potential Russian attack.

Service members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen atop of tanks during military drills at a training ground in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine
Service members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen atop of tanks during military drills at a training ground in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine [File: Ukrainian Armed Forces press service via Reuters]

The United States has escalated its dire warnings about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying it could take place within days.

On Friday White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan instructed Americans in Ukraine to leave within the next 48 hours.

“As we’ve said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it,” Sullivan said.

Speaking earlier from an airbase in Romania, where the US has temporarily deployed soldiers, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned of “a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe” and promised to reinforce its eastern flank.

Fears of war remain heightened as diplomatic efforts to ease tensions falter while Russia keeps more than 100,000 troops stationed near Ukraine and carries out military exercises in Belarus.

Moscow accused NATO of using the crisis as a “pretext” for increasing its military presence near Russia’s borders.

This live blog is now closed, thanks for joining us. Here are the updates for February 11.

European Commission not evacuating staff from Ukraine: Official

The European Commission has said on Friday it has not taken steps to evacuate staff from Ukraine.

“We continue to assess the situation as it develops, in line with the duty of care we have towards our staff and in close consultation and coordination with the EU Member States. We are not evacuating. For the time being, the non-essential staff has been given the opportunity to telework from outside the country,” EU Foreign Affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.

Biden, US allies concerned by Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, urge diplomacy

President Joe Biden has held a call with leaders of US allies where they raised concerns about Russia’s buildup of military forces around Ukraine and expressed a desire for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the White House has said.

The leaders “reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the White House said after the call on Friday.

Participants in the call included Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among others.

Russia says West spreading lies about its plan to invade Ukraine

The Russian foreign ministry has said that Western countries, with help from the media, were spreading false information by suggesting that Moscow may be planning to invade Ukraine.

The ministry said in a statement on its website that Western countries were trying to distract attention from their own aggressive actions.

Russia could invade Ukraine ‘at any time’: UK defence chief

Russia could invade Ukraine “at any time”, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.

Speaking at a news conference at the UK embassy following his meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu in Moscow, he said that Russia’s military actions on the border of Ukraine are “not normal”.

Wallace said he received an assurance from Kremlin that an invasion was not planned, but with 130,000 Russian troops alongside the Ukrainian border, that assurance would be judged by Russian action.

“Currently there’s over 130,000 troops stationed at readiness or exercising; plus warplanes, plus ships into the Black Sea, on the borders of Ukraine and that is an action that is not normal,” Wallace said.

“It is beyond normal exercising therefore we will judge that statement on the evidence,” he said.

Estonia advises nationals to return from Ukraine

Estonia’s foreign ministry has advised nationals to return from Ukraine and avoid non-essential travel to the country, citing in a statement “an increased risk of military action by Russia”.

Ukraine asks Russia to explain its military activities within 48 hours

Ukraine has asked Russia to explain its activities on the borders of Ukraine and “in the temporarily occupied Crimea” within the next 48 hours, the Ukrainian foreign minister has said.

“According to the Vienna Document, Russia needs to provide detailed explanation on the objectives, precise location and dates of completion of its military activities, as well as designation, subordination, number and types of formations, as well as types of equipment involved,” Dmytro Kuleba said.

“Russia has 48 hours to reply. In case of absence of reply or its insufficiency/irrelevance, Ukraine will address Russia, as well as other participating states of the Vienna Document, in order to convene an extraordinary meeting where Russia will have to provide explanations.”

Macron to speak to Putin over Ukraine on Saturday: Paris

France’s President Emmanuel Macron will speak to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday, the French presidency has said.

Western leaders including Macron, US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” during crisis talks on Friday, the French presidency said in a statement.

US to send 3,000 additional troops to Poland, officials say

The US will be sending 3,000 additional troops to Poland in the coming days to try and help reassure NATO allies, four US officials have told the Reuters news agency.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the US troop deployment will come from the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and not from within US forces in Europe.

They will now leave the base in the coming days and are expected to arrive in Poland early next week, a senior defence official said.

Russia now has enough forces for Ukraine invasion: White House

Russia now has enough forces to conduct a major military operation against Ukraine and an assault aimed at seizing large parts of that country could begin “any day now,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said.

Sullivan, speaking at a White House briefing, said US intelligence suggests that a rapid assault on the Ukraine capital Kyiv is a possibility.

It remains unclear, Sullivan said, whether Putin has definitively given an order to start an invasion.

“We have not seen anything come to us that says a final decision has been taken, the go-order has been given,” he said.

White House says can ‘expect’ Biden-Putin phone call on Ukraine

US President Joe Biden could speak by phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the White House has said.

“I would expect that President Biden will engage by telephone with President Putin, but I don’t have anything to announce for you on that right now,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

Russian invasion possible before Winter Olympics end: White House

A Russian invasion of Ukraine is possible before the Winter Olympic Games in China end on February 20, the White House has warned.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said this does not mean Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade, but counselled caution.

He said the US sees a “significant risk” of military action in Ukraine and said the US is pressing for calm.

‘It is the time to leave now’: White House

The risk is “high enough” for Americans to leave Ukraine immediately, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said at the White House.

“The risk is now high enough and the threat is immediate enough that prudence demands that it is the time to leave now,” Sullivan said.

“While commercial options and commercial rail and air service exist while the roads are open, the President will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could have left now but chose not to. So, we were asking people to make the responsible choice.

“We are not saying that a decision has been taken – that a final decision has been taken by President Putin. What we are saying is that we have a sufficient level of concern based on what we are seeing on the ground,” Sullivan said.

Russia attack on Ukraine would likely start with air assault: White House

A Russian attack on Ukraine could begin any day now and would likely start with an air assault, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has said.

Sullivan, speaking at a White House briefing, said any American still in Ukraine should leave in the next 24-48 hours because a Russian air assault would make departures difficult.

White House urges Americans to leave Ukraine in next ’24 to 48 hours’

White House has urged Americans to leave Ukraine in the next “24 to 48 hours” and warned the US won’t rescue civilians if Russia invades.

UK advises nationals to leave Ukraine

The United Kingdom has advised British nationals to leave Ukraine now while commercial means are available. It also advised against all further travel to the country.

The build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders since January had increased the threat of military action, the UK government said.

UK’s Johnson tells allies he fears for security of Europe

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told allies that he fears for the security of Europe due to the situation in Ukraine, his office has said.

He held a virtual meeting with the leaders of the US, Italy, Poland, Romania, France, Germany, the European Council, the European Commission and NATO to discuss the situation.

“He impressed the need for NATO Allies to make it absolutely clear that there will be a heavy package of economic sanctions ready to go, should Russia make the devastating and destructive decision to invade Ukraine,” his office said.

EU sanctions on Russia would hit financial, energy sectors: Von der Leyen

Any EU sanctions on Russia in response to an invasion of Ukraine by Moscow would target the financial and energy sectors, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen has warned.

“She reaffirmed the fact that all options were on the table and that sanctions would concern the financial and energy sectors, as well as exports of high-tech products,” the European Commission said in a statement, quoting von der Leyen.

Latvia urges nationals to leave Ukraine

Latvia has urged its nationals to leave Ukraine, citing in a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement what it called “a serious threat to security posed by Russia near the Ukrainian border and a credible threat of escalation”.

It said the Latvian embassy in Ukraine was working to the full extent and in an emergency mode.

Official: Russia has increased cyberattacks on Ukraine

The deputy head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council has said the number of cyberattacks on the country from Russia has increased “three-fold” since last November.

“They’re now more dangerous because they target critical infrastructure, including in the financial and energy sectors,” Ruslan Demchenko told The Associated Press.

He said the council had found Russia was trying to hide traces of its attacks in friendly European countries and in the US – possibly in an attempt to drive wedges between allies.

Norway asks citizens to leave Ukraine, refrain from travel

Norway has advised all of its citizens to leave Ukraine and to refrain from traveling into nearby regions of Russia and Belarus, citing the tense security situation and military buildup in the region.

“Because of the serious and unpredictable security situation in Ukraine, the foreign ministry is advising against all travel to Ukraine and encourages Norwegian citizens to leave the country,” the ministry said in a statement.

It also advised against any travel or stays to Russia closer than 250km (155 miles) from the Ukrainian border and all travel to Belarus with the exemption of the capital Minsk, it added.

Ukraine imposes sanctions on TV channel linked to allegations of Kremlin-backed coup plot

Ukraine has imposed sanctions on the Nash TV channel owned by the father of the politician Yevhen Murayev, Ukraine’s top security official Oleksiy Danilov has told a briefing after a security council meeting.

Murayev was named by the UK in January as a possible candidate picked by Moscow to lead a new government in the event that Russia launches a new military offensive against Ukraine and installs a puppet leader.

Murayev has mocked the allegation as “stupid” while Russia said the claims were disinformation. Murayev’s spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment and it was not clear what the nature of the sanctions on Nash would be.

US moves F-16 squadron from Germany to Romania

The US military has said it is repositioning a squadron of F-16 warplanes from Germany to Romania, “to reinforce regional security”.

Without specifying how many F-16s were being moved, the command of the US Air Forces in Europe said the planes would arrive Friday at the Romanian air base of Fetesti, less than 100km (60 miles) from the Black Sea, where they will join Italian combat aircraft that are already deployed there.

The aircraft and crews will “work closely with allies in the Black Sea region to reinforce regional security during the current tensions caused by Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine,” the US command, which is based in Germany, said in a statement.

Germany sending self-propelled howitzers to Lithuania

Six advanced artillery systems will be sent to Lithuania on Monday to strengthen a German-led NATO battalion in the country, the defence ministry in Berlin has said.

The self-propelled howitzers, known as PzH 2000s, will be loaded onto heavy-duty transporters and transported to the Baltic country, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said.

Germany is also sending about 350 additional Bundeswehr personnel and about 100 vehicles to Lithuania as part of a redeployment.

Austria resists including Nord Stream 2 in EU package of Russia sanctions

Austria is sticking with its opposition to including the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in a package of sanctions against Moscow that the EU is preparing in the event Russia invades Ukraine, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has said.

“I once compared it to a car without an engine. It is not even operational,” Schallenberg told Reuters in a brief telephone interview.

“To discuss it publicly in Europe as if it were a central element of a credible package of sanctions against Russia makes no sense to me logically,” he said.

Israel evacuating relatives of embassy staff in Ukraine

Israel has said it is evacuating relatives of staff at its embassy in Kyiv, citing “an aggravation of the situation”.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement further urged Israelis to avoid travelling to Ukraine and those there “to avoid areas of tension”.

Ukraine says shipping through Azov sea is now open again

Russia has withdrawn previously announced restrictions for ships in the Sea of Azov linked to naval drills in the area, Ukraine’s Sea Ports Authority has said.

“The movement of ships by recommended routes to the seaports of Ukraine in the Sea of Azov is open,” the agency said in a report.

Ukrainian officials have criticised Russian drills near Ukraine’s coast, saying the presence of warships was part of a “hybrid war” that had made navigation in the Black Sea and Azov Sea virtually impossible.


US and Russian chiefs of staff held phone talks: Ifax

Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley have held phone talks, Interfax news agency reported citing a Russian defence ministry statement.

The agency said they discussed international security.

Wallace: Russian invasion would have ‘tragic consequences’

Speaking to reporters after talks in Moscow with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said that the anti-tank missiles that the UK sent to Ukraine were defensive tactical weapons that do not pose a threat to any neighbour unless it invades.

He said a number of British troops were deployed to Ukraine to help train its military to use the British weapons and will leave fairly soon after they accomplish that mission.

Wallace warned again that a Russian invasion would have “tragic consequences” and emphasised the need to maintain contacts between military forces to prevent incidents.

US senators at impasse on bill to boost Ukraine sanctions, defence

Democratic and Republican US senators who have been negotiating for weeks on a bipartisan bill to punish Russia for its troop buildup near Ukraine have said they have reached an impasse, although aides have said they continue to look for a way forward.

Senators from both parties had said for weeks they wanted to act quickly to boost Ukraine with sanctions on Russia and more military assistance for Kyiv, in what seemed to be a rare incidence of bipartisan cooperation in a bitterly divided Congress.

A group of about five Democrats and five Republican Senators had been involved in talks, but left Washington for the weekend without an agreement.

Biden met national security advisers: Source

US President Joe Biden met his national security advisers in the White House Situation Room Thursday night to discuss Russia’s continuing military buildup around Ukraine, a source familiar with the meeting has said.

The source said the rhetoric from Moscow is hardening, Russia sailed six warships into the Black Sea and added more military equipment to Belarus, leading US officials to believe the crisis appeared to be reaching a critical point.

UK defence minister says troops sent to Ukraine for training to return soon

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said British troops sent to Ukraine for training purposes would return soon and that he hopes his talks with Russia’s defence minister has contributed to a de-escalation in the standoff.

Speaking to reporters in the British embassy, Wallace said Russia’s government told him it had no intention of invading Ukraine and he had made clear that any invasion would have tragic consequences.

He said Russian forces deployed near Ukraine gave Moscow a range of options, including undertaking an invasion. He said it was vital not to allow room for a miscommunication or miscalculation.

Japan urges its citizens in Ukraine to leave immediately

The Japanese foreign ministry has issued an advisory urging any of the country’s nationals currently in Ukraine to leave at once.

There are about 150 Japanese citizens in Ukraine, a foreign ministry official said.

Ukraine's biggest national flag on the country's highest flagpole and the giant 'Motherland' monument are seen at a compound of the World War II museum in Kyiv
Washington and London have warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come within days [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Russia ready to launch military operations in Ukraine, Norway says

Russia is operationally ready to conduct a wide range of military operations in Ukraine after massing “more than 150,000 combat troops” near its neighbour, the head of Norway’s military intelligence service says.

The Russians “have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine”, Vice Admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said at the presentation of the Norwegian intelligence services’ annual threat assessment report.

“Now, it is up to President [Vladimir] Putin to choose if he wants to proceed or not,” he added.

Biden to discuss Russian military buildup with transatlantic leaders

US President Joe Biden will hold a call with transatlantic leaders at 16:00 GMT to discuss Russia’s massing of troops around Ukraine, the White House has said in a statement.

Biden will be joined on the call will by the leaders of Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the United Kingdom and NATO.

How do Ukrainians in Russia feel about the crisis?

Despite mounting fears that Putin may order his troops to roll into Ukraine, Ukrainians remain the largest diaspora in Russia.

According to officials in Kyiv, there were approximately three million Ukrainian citizens living in Russia in 2018, including migrant workers sending remittances back home – and many are palpably pro-Russian. Others, however, have some sympathy for the Ukrainian position.

Read more here.

Ukrainian skeleton slider uses Olympic spotlight to call for peace

A Ukrainian athlete has flashed a small sign reading “No War in Ukraine” to television cameras while competing at the Beijing Olympics.

Skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych’s message was printed on a blue-and-yellow piece of paper, matching the colours of his country’s flag, and delivered as he finished a run.

It is possible that the International Olympic Committee could consider Heraskevych’s act a violation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter. That rule, in part, states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas”.

But it also could fall into a gray area since the sign did not explicitly disrespect an opponent or criticise any political target.

Where are Russian troops stationed?

Al Jazeera has put together the following infographic demonstrating where Russia has deployed its forces near the border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus.

INTERACTIVE- Where are Russian troops stationed?

Ukraine crisis ‘very sensitive’ for Russia-backed breakaway state

Internationally recognised as part of Moldova, Transnistria is home to Russian troops and lies on Ukraine’s border, placing it in a precarious position as tensions continue to rise.

Read more here.

UK’s Wallace says he hopes for diplomatic progress during Moscow visit

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace has told his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu he hopes they can use their meeting in Moscow to resolve a number of issues through diplomacy.

“I hope that by speaking today and starting that relationship, that was at 0 percent, we can resolve a number of the issues that you’ve raised,” Wallace said at the start of the pair’s talks.

“We can address some of the issues raised in Russia’s draft treaty … and we can try and move on to where we can resolve our issues together through diplomacy, through other actions, and through confidence-building measures.”

Shoigu had earlier said Moscow’s ties with London were “close to zero and about to cross the zero meridian and go into negative” after a rancorous meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his British counterpart Liz Truss in the Russian capital on Thursday.

Russia to respond soon to US, NATO counterproposals: Report

Russia will respond “in the nearest future” to counterproposals on European security made by the United States and NATO, the Interfax news agency quotes Shoigu as telling Wallace at the outset of their meeting.

Moscow has demanded that the US-headed alliance guarantee that it will never let Ukraine join the bloc. Washington and NATO have flatly refused that request and have sent their own proposals to Russia.

Russia slams ‘disrespectful’ responses from EU, NATO to security questions

Russia’s foreign ministry has dismissed a joint response by NATO and the EU to its questions on the continent’s security arrangements as disrespectful and lacking substance.

The ministry said Lavrov had asked all member nations of the two blocs about their understanding of the principle of “indivisible security” and expected an individual response from each.

Instead, the Russian foreign minister received replies from the head of NATO and the EU foreign policy chief, to whom he had not addressed his correspondence, the ministry added.

“Such a step cannot be seen as anything other than a sign of diplomatic impoliteness and disrespect for our request,” it said.

INTERACTIVE- NATO members in Europe expand eastwards

NATO using Ukraine crisis as a ‘pretext’ for troop movements, Moscow says

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry has accused NATO of using the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to shift troops closer to Russia’s borders.

“NATO continues to increase its presence near the borders of Russia and creates a pretext for this in the form of forcing the situation around Ukraine,” Maria Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel.

NATO chief warns of ‘real risk’ of war

Stoltenberg says there is a “real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe” as both the alliance and Russia are increasing their troop presences around Ukraine.

“The number of Russian troops are going up, and the warning time is going down,” Stoltenberg told reporters after visiting a Romanian airbase near the Black Sea with President Klaus Iohannis.

“We don’t have any certainty, and therefore we continue to reach out to Russia to call on them to de-escalate and to engage in good faith in political dialogue with NATO and NATO allies,” he added.

Blinken says Russian invasion could ‘begin at any time’

Russia is now massing yet more troops near Ukraine and an invasion could be launched at any time, perhaps before the end of this month’s Beijing Winter Olympics on February 20, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said.

“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” Blinken told a news conference while on a visit to Melbourne for a meeting of foreign ministers from the so-called “Quad group”, which comprises the US, Australia, Japan and India.

Blinken’s remarks came after commercial satellite images published by a US-based private satellite imagery company, Maxar Technologies, showed new Russian military deployments in several locations in western Russia, Belarus and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Biden has urged American citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, warning things “could go crazy quickly” there.

Ukrainian FM accuses Russia of trying to strong-arm Kyiv into talks with separatists

Peace talks between Ukraine and Russia failed to reach a breakthrough due to Russia’s insistence that Ukraine should consult directly with separatists in the country’s conflict-hit Donbas region, Ukraine’s foreign minister has said.

Ukrainian and Russian officials met in Berlin on Thursday for discussions mediated by France and Germany on ending the war in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

“Russia insists that Ukraine conduct a direct dialogue with the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba said at a news briefing.

“If Ukraine agrees to this, then the status of Russia will change from being a party to the conflict to the status of being a mediator in the conflict. That is why we do not go for it.”

Berlin talks produced ‘no results’, Kremlin says

The Kremlin says there were “no results” from the meeting of negotiators from Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in efforts to resolve the crisis over Ukraine.

“We all witnessed how yesterday the meeting of political advisors of the Normandy Four ended with absolutely no results,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday, referring to the discussions in Berlin.

Peskov said some diplomats “have problems with reading the very short and extremely clear” text of the 2015 Minsk peace agreement between Kyiv and Moscow, which was aimed at ending the war in eastern Ukraine.

Click here to read more on the troubled deal and why it has now come back into focus.

German minister calls Ukraine situation ‘dicey’, urges diplomacy

Every diplomatic effort must be made to de-escalate the “extremely dicey” situation around Ukraine, Germany’s economy minister says.

Robert Habeck told reporters in Warsaw that Russia would face hard-hitting sanctions if diplomacy failed.

“I say that knowing that every sanction, of course, has costs in one’s own economy,” he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies