Ukraine latest updates: US says Russia plotting false flag attack

Ukraine news from February 3: The US claims Moscow is planning to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces.

Russian soldiers attend military training at the Yurginsky training ground in the Kemerovo region, Russia.
Russian soldiers attend military training at the Yurginsky training ground in the Kemerovo region, Russia [Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP Photo]

The United States has accused Moscow of a plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbour.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday offered to host a meeting with the leaders of Ukraine and Russia as Ankara pushes ahead with a bid to mediate the crisis.

Western powers fear a Russian incursion may be imminent given Moscow’s massing of more than 100,000 soldiers near the border with Ukraine, but the Kremlin denies having plans to attack.

It has instead blamed the US and the Washington-led NATO alliance for undermining the region’s security and demanded sweeping guarantees from the West.

The US has dismissed Moscow’s main proposals – that NATO cease activity in Eastern Europe and never allow ex-Soviet state Ukraine to become a member – as non-starters and moved to deploy troops to Eastern Europe to “deter and defend against any aggression”.

This live blog is now closed, thanks for joining us. Here are the updates for February 3.

Macron discusses status of Donbas region with Putin, Zelenskyy

French President Emmanuel Macron has held separate talks with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders to try to make progress on the status of the Donbas region as part of efforts to defuse tensions, the French presidency has said in a statement.

The statement said Macron had stressed to Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy the importance of discussing the conditions to reach strategic balance in Europe, which would enable a reduction in tension on the ground and guarantee security on the continent.

Putin, Macron discuss Russia’s ‘security guarantees’ over Ukraine: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have discussed Ukraine tensions and Moscow’s demand for security guarantees in their third phone call in a week, the Kremlin has said.

Moscow said the pair discussed “the situation around Ukraine” and Russia’s demand for “long-term” security guarantees and that Putin “again drew attention to the provocative statements and actions of the Kyiv leadership”.

US says China ties will not make up for consequences of Russian invasion of Ukraine

The US State Department has said a closer relationship between Russia and China will not make up for the consequences of a Russian invasion of Ukraine and only make the Russian economy more brittle.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told a regular news briefing the US has an array of tools it can deploy if it sees foreign companies, including those in China, trying to “backfill” US export control actions over Ukraine.

Price spoke after China’s Foreign Ministry said China and Russia coordinated their positions on Ukraine during a meeting between both countries’ foreign ministers in Beijing.

Russia planning to stage fabricated attacks by Ukrainian military: State Department

The US State Department says the US has information that Russia is planning to stage fabricated attacks by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces as a pretext for the invasion of Ukraine, adding that one possible option involves the production of a propaganda video.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that the US is publicising intelligence to lay bare the extent of Russia’s destabilising actions towards Ukraine and to dissuade Russia from continuing what Price said was a dangerous campaign.

Putin, Macron discuss Ukraine again: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, in a phone call, have discussed Ukraine’s crisis and Moscow’s security proposals to the West, the Kremlin has said, in their third call in a week. The leaders also agreed to continue personal contacts.

UK says US intelligence shows shocking evidence of Russian aggression

US intelligence about Russian plans to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine shows shocking evidence of Moscow’s aggression, United Kingdom Foreign Minister Liz Truss has said.

“This is clear and shocking evidence of Russia’s unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilise Ukraine,” she said on Twitter.

“This bellicose intent towards a sovereign democratic country is completely unacceptable and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

Shutting down German broadcaster in Russia strains relations, Germany says

The Russian government’s decision to shut down the operations of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle is unfounded and burdens German-Russian relations, Germany’s foreign ministry has said.

“The measures that the Russian government announced today against Deutsche Welle have no basis whatsoever and represent a renewed strain on German-Russian relations,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement.

“If these measures are actually implemented, this would limit free reporting by independent journalists in Russia, which is particularly important in politically tense times,” the spokesperson said.

US confirms reports of Russia planning ‘false flag’ attack on Ukraine

Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby has confirmed media reports that the US has intelligence accusing Russia of planning to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine.

“We’ve discussed this idea of false flags by the Russians before; we made no secret of that. We do have information that the Russians are likely to want to fabricate a pretext for an invasion – which again, is right out of their playbook,” Kirby said at a press briefing at the Pentagon.

“One option is the Russian government, we think is planning to stage an attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory or against Russian speaking people, to therefore justify their acts.

“We believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include corpses, and factors that would be depicting borders and images of destroyed locations …

“We’re watching this across the board. We’ve seen these kinds of activity by the Russians in the past and we believe it’s important when we see it like this, we can call it out,” Kirby said.

US should impose sanctions on Russia if it strikes Ukraine: Pelosi

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that it is important that the US imposes sanctions on Russia if it strikes Ukraine.

Pelosi called the situation “deadly serious” and said legislators “want to move quickly” to pass a sanctions bill.

Military exercises between Russia and Belarus near Ukraine border represent escalation, US says

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus near the border with Ukraine represent a clear “escalatory not a de-escalatory action”.

Psaki told reporters that the exercises and the potential for Russia to expand its presence up to 30,000 soldiers near Belarus’s border with Ukraine are a factor “in the assessment into how to support and work with our other NATO partners in the region”.

US says will work to prevent any Russian effort to inject Ukraine conflict into Latin America

Any Russian efforts to destabilise the Western Hemisphere or inject the Ukraine conflict into the region are unacceptable, and Washington will work with Latin American partners to prevent it, a senior US State Department official has said.

Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols was responding to a question during a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing in which he was asked about a recent Russian threat to send weapons to Russian allies such as Cuba and Venezuela.

He said he did not want to “respond to every instance of Russian bluster” but said that Washington would not stand idly by.

US intelligence alleges Russia has plan to fabricate pretext for attack on Ukraine: Reports

The US has intelligence accusing Russia of a plan to fabricate a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine, two US newspapers have reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The New York Times reported that Russia’s plan involves using a faked video involving staging and filming a fabricated attack by the Ukrainian military either on Russian territory or against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

The Washington Post reported that details of the plan have been declassified by US intelligence and are expected to be revealed Thursday.

Russia’s order against Deutsche Welle ‘unacceptable’: German minister

The German government has hit out at Russia’s decision to close Deutsche Welle’s bureau in Moscow, calling it unacceptable.

Russia’s decision had “no basis of comparison whatsoever” with Berlin’s move to shut down the German-language channel of Russian TV network RT, Germany’s Culture Minister Claudia Roth said.

“I urgently appeal to the Russian side not to abuse RT’s licensing problems for a political reaction,” she said.

China, Russia ‘coordinated positions’ on Ukraine: Chinese foreign ministry

China and Russia have coordinated their positions on Ukraine during a meeting between both countries’ foreign ministers in Beijing, according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.

The two sides coordinated their positions on regional issues of common concern, such as Ukraine, Afghanistan and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, the statement said.

China expressed understanding and support for Russia’s position on security regarding Russia’s relationship with the US and with NATO.

Germany’s Scholz to meet France’s Macron and Poland’s Duda

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will receive the presidents of France and Poland, Emmanuel Macron and Andrzej Duda, in Berlin on February 8 to discuss the situation in Ukraine, Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper has reported.

Scholz, who said on Wednesday that he would meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow soon, is expected to be in Moscow on February 15, the newspaper said.

On Sunday, Scholz will travel to the US to meet US President Joe Biden. The Russia-Ukraine crisis is expected to be a central theme of the meeting.

Hello, I’m Mersiha Gadzo and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Klitschko brothers pledge to defend Kyiv from Russian aggression

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko has joined an offshoot of the Ukrainian army.

His brother, Vitali Klitschko, a fellow former world heavyweight boxing champion and now the mayor of Kyiv, watched during the registration process and pledged Ukraine would defend itself from any attack.

Read more here.

Zelenskyy welcomes Erdogan’s mediation offer

Ukraine’s president says he welcomes Erdogan’s offer to mediate in Kyiv’s standoff with Moscow and to host peace talks.

“I would like to thank President Erdogan for his initiative to become a mediator between Ukraine and Russia on the way to ending the war,” Zelensskyy said alongside his Turkish counterpart.

The two leaders had earlier penned a free trade deal and other agreements during Erdogan’s visit to the Ukrainian capital.

Erdogan offers to host crisis summit

Erdogan has reaffirmed his offer to host a Ukraine-Russia crisis summit.

Speaking to reporters in Kyiv following his hours-long discussions with his Ukrainian counterpart, the Turkish leader repeated his idea of holding talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelenskyy in Turkey.

Erdogan added that Ankara continued to support the former Soviet republic’s “territorial integrity and still rejected Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula”.

Ankara has interests in both Ukraine and Russia. It is involved with Moscow in several global conflicts, but it also sells weapons to Ukraine.

Russia-Ukraine crisis: How Europe may cope if Putin shuts off gas

If Putin decides to use what analysts often call Moscow’s “gas weapon”, the fallout would impact some European Union nations far more than others.

Read more here.

Ukraine secures more gas from Slovakia to boost energy supplies

Ukraine has struck a deal to import up to about 55 percent more gas from Slovakia as it strives to secure energy supplies amid the crisis with Russia, its one-time major gas provider.

The operator of Ukraine’s gas transmission system (GTSOU) said in a statement that the country had increased its guaranteed capacity for gas imports from Slovakia to 42 million cubic meters (mcm) per day from 27 mcm.

The new agreement with Slovakia’s Eustream will run during the current heating period until March 31, 2022, GTSOU added. “This will significantly strengthen our energy security during this period,” it said.

Kyiv stopped importing gas from Russia, its former key supplier, when relations between the countries soured after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine.

Recovery in rouble, Russian stocks runs out of steam

The rouble has weakened after five consecutive days of paring recent heavy losses, while stock indexes have dipped, with investors keeping an eye on tensions between Moscow and the West that led to a major sell-off in January.

As of 14:12 GMT, the rouble had eased 0.2 percent to 76.20 against the dollar, heading away from its session low of 76.8250 towards its Wednesday peak of 75.68, its strongest level since January 17.

The Russian currency hit a near 15-month low of 80.4125 against the dollar last week. Russian markets remain highly volatile and vulnerable to any headlines related to political developments.

A customer hands over Russian rouble banknotes and coins to a vendor at a market in Omsk, Russia
The rouble hit a near 15-month low against the dollar last week [File: Alexey Malgavko/Reuters]

Russia’s quiet anti-war movement gets louder

In Russia, where protests are essentially tightly restricted, a small anti-war movement is growing as the Ukraine crisis rumbles on.

From an open letter from civil society decrying the “party of war in the Russian leadership” to a TV anchor delivering a high-profile protest against any potential conflict, dissent is increasingly on display.

Read more here.

Moscow shuts down German broadcaster’s Russian operations in retaliatory move

Russia says it is shutting down the operations of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in Moscow and stripping its staff of their accreditation in a retaliatory move after Berlin banned Russian broadcaster RT DE.

Moscow said it would stop the German channel being broadcast in Russia and start proceedings that would see it declared a “foreign agent,” a designation that carries a negative Soviet-era connotation.

The Russian foreign ministry said it would also bar entry to Russia for German officials involved in the move to ban RT DE.

The move came after Germany’s MABB media watchdog and Commission for Licensing and Supervision (ZAK) of media institutions said this week that RT DE could not broadcast in Germany using a Serbian licence, a decision that angered Russia.

ECB president acknowledges rising ‘tensions’

Geopolitical tensions have risen and are weighing on the eurozone’s economic outlook, the European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde has said in a nod to the West’s fears that Russia might invade Ukraine.

The risks to the economic outlook are “broadly balanced over the medium term,” said Lagarde. “Although uncertainties related to the pandemic have abated somewhat, geopolitical tensions have increased.”

EU working on joint response to Russia requests, Von der Leyen says

The EU is working on a joint response to the letter which many of its member states received from Russia earlier this week asking for security guarantees, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says.

“Russia is challenging or putting into question our European security architecture, this is, of course, also an offence for all of us, all 27 member states,” von der Leyen told reporters while on a visit to Helsinki.

“We are working on the coordination of the response… We are united in the European Union and therefore it is clear that the response will mirror, will reflect that unity,” she added.

The Ukraine-Russia crisis in infographics

Al Jazeera has put together a series of infographics that explain the background of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Have a look here.

INTERACTIVE- Conflict between Ukraine and Russia at a glance

Poland to lobby for permanent, rotational US troop increase

Poland’s Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau will lobby Washington for a proposed US troop increase to remain in the country permanently on a rotational basis, a Polish official has said.

“It’s natural that Polish diplomacy is looking to broaden the allied presence in the form of a permanent rotation,” Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Reuters news agency before Rau’s visit to the US, where he will meet Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Washington, DC, on Friday.

Rau and Blinken will decide when and where the approximately 1,700 US soldiers being shifted to Poland will be stationed in the country, as well as potential sanctions on Russia, during their talks.

Photo gallery: Ukrainian civilians train for war

In Kharkiv, northeast Ukraine, a table tennis coach, a chaplain’s wife, a dentist and a firebrand nationalist are among those preparing to defend against a feared Russian attack.

Take a look here.

Russian defence minister in Belarus before joint drills

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has arrived in Belarus to inspect Russian and Belarusian troops’ preparations for joint drills this month, according to the Belarusian defence ministry.

Moscow has moved an undisclosed number of soldiers and military hardware to neighbouring Belarus, which also borders Ukraine, for the February 10-20 joint drills. The Kremlin says the forces will be withdrawn after the exercises have been completed.

At a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Shoigu said the two countries planned to hold a total of 20 joint military manoeuvres this year, and Moscow stood ready to help Minsk oppose “the West’s destructive line”, Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Timeline: Ukraine’s turbulent history

Ukraine has faced significant challenges since winning independence in 1991.

For a timeline of developments, click here.

INTERACTIVE- Ukraine/Russia Political Leadership since 1991 graphic

US military aid arrives in Kyiv

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Kyiv, says the seventh delivery as part of a $200m US security support package to Ukraine has arrived in the capital.

“This time [the delivery] is carrying about 80 tonnes of ammunition for grenade launchers,” she said. “This is all being loaded into trucks by the Ukrainian army, but as per the Minsk agreement – a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists – this hardware cannot go to the front line in eastern Ukraine.”

Why is Turkey trying to mediate the Ukraine-Russia crisis?

Turkey is hoping to help defuse tensions between its NATO allies and Russia over the Ukraine crisis. For months, Ankara has been calling for both sides to tone down their rhetoric.

While invested in the Ukrainian defence industry, Turkey is also involved with Russia militarily in a number of conflicts, meaning it needs to strike a balancing act.

Read more here.

A fighter of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic holds a weapon at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in the village of Zholobok in Luhansk
Washington and its Western allies have threatened to impose sweeping sanctions on Russia should it invade its neighbour after massing troops near the shared border [File: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters]

Erdogan ‘believes he can talk freely and frankly’ with Zelenskyy, Putin

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, says Erdogan has stepped up as a “mediator between Ukraine and Russia as he believes he can talk freely and frankly” with both Zelenskyy and Putin.

“He [Erdogan] says that he doesn’t like to see two neighbours in a conflict, but that as a NATO member, if Russia invades Ukraine, Turkey will do what is necessary to hold the eastern flank of the transatlantic military alliance,” she said.

“But of course, Turkey and Russia have strategic relations and strategic cooperation when it comes to Libya, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh … so Erdogan needs to be very careful while dealing with this issue … as he has some national interests at stake.”

French FM says Romania troop deployment offer not to provoke Moscow

France’s offer to send troops to Romania as part of wider NATO plans to bolster its ranks on the alliance’s eastern flank is not meant to provoke Russia, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

Speaking after meeting foreign ministers from Eastern Europe and the Baltic states in Bucharest, Le Drian and his Romanian counterpart Bogdan Aurescu said France and NATO were doing everything to convince Russia to choose dialogue rather than escalation.

Russia has moved 30,000 soldiers to Belarus, NATO chief says

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Russia has been moving some 30,000 combat soldiers and modern weapons to Belarus over the last few days, Moscow’s biggest military deployment to the country since the end of the Cold War.

The deployment included Speznaz special operations forces, SU-35 fighter jets, “dual capable” Iskander missiles and S-400 air defence systems, Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

“All this will be combined with Russia’s annual nuclear forces exercise,” he added. The term dual capable, which Stoltenberg used for the Iskander missiles, is used to describe weapons meant for conventional and nuclear warfare.

Kremlin says US troop boost in Eastern Europe will fuel tensions

The deployment of additional US troops in Eastern Europe will escalate tensions in the region, the Kremlin says.

“We are constantly urging our American partners to stop escalating tensions … [but] unfortunately they are continuing to do it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

He added Russia’s concerns over NATO’s eastward expansion and the US troop deployment are “absolutely clear” and “absolutely justified”.

Turkish president urges ‘restraint’ from all sides

Erdogan says before departing for Kyiv that Ankara hopes to stop “any form of confrontation between Russia and Ukraine”.

“We support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty,” the Turkish leader told reporters in the country’s capital. “As a country of the Black Sea region, we advocate … a peaceful resolution … and call upon all parties to use restraint.”

US’s Omar slams proposed sanctions bill

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has condemned a bill that would allow Washington to impose sweeping economic sanctions on Russia should it take aggressive action against Ukraine and supply Kyiv with weaponry.

“The proposed legislative solution to this crisis, escalates the conflict without deterring it effectively,” Omar said in a statement posted on her website.

“I am under no illusions about the horrors an invasion will unleash, or that it is Russia that is responsible for bringing us to the brink … but I cannot in good conscience support a bill that places militarism and economic warfare over the urgent needs of both Ukrainian and Russian civilians,” she added.

The full text of the so-called Defending Ukraine Sovereignty Act of 2022 is accessible here (PDF).

NGO warns escalation would unleash dire humanitarian consequences

The Norwegian Refugee Council says that up to two million people living on both sides of the contact line in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv has been battling Russian-backed separatists since early 2014, will be under increased threat of violence and displacement if the conflict escalates.

“Active hostilities would dramatically worsen the existing humanitarian situation, where needs are already high from years of violence,” the NGO said in a statement, adding that it called on all parties in the conflict to “prioritise de-escalation, and refrain from all hostilities”.

“It would devastate already damaged civil infrastructure, further restrict peoples’ movements, block access to communities in need, and disrupt essential public services such as water, power, transport and banking. It would also trigger massive new displacements, as millions of people in Donetsk and Luhansk regions would be under threat.”

Biden and Macron review coordinated response to Russia

US President Joe Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have reviewed the coordination of diplomatic efforts and plans to impose economic costs on Moscow should it invade Ukraine, according to the White House.

“President Biden and President Macron agreed their teams will stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO Allies and EU partners, on our coordinated and comprehensive approach to managing these issues,” the White House said in a readout of Wednesday’s call.

President Joe Biden returns a salute as he walks by the Marine Barracks in Washington, DC
Biden has approved sending additional troops to Eastern Europe as Washington moves to avert a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies