(Bloomberg) — Senior U.S. and European ministers will meet Saturday as tensions build over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine, with Joe Biden saying U.S. intelligence now leads him to believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to attack Ukraine. The U.S. president said an invasion — including a strike on Kyiv — could come within days.
Countries in Europe including France and the U.K. are also sounding increasingly frantic warnings, while Russia denies it plans an invasion and calls such claims propaganda and “hysteria.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to travel to Germany to speak at the Munich Security Conference, where he’s also expected to meet with U.S. officials including Vice President Kamala Harris.
Moscow and Kyiv continue to trade allegations of violations of a shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine. That measure was put in place as part of efforts to halt an armed conflict that broke out in 2014 between Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military. The government in Kyiv refuses to negotiate with the separatists, saying they are proxies for Moscow.
- Group of Seven foreign ministers to meet in Munich
- U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets Baltic ministers in Vilnius
- Biden Says He’s Convinced Putin Has Decided to Invade Ukraine
- Gold Steadies as Traders Assess Heightened Tensions Over Ukraine
- Explainer: Why Minsk Accords Are Murky Path for Ukraine Peace
All times CET:
Ukraine Separatists Call for General Military Mobilization (8:05 a.m.)
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine called for a general mobilization of men able to fight. “I urge fellow countrymen who are in reserve to come to military stations,” Denis Pushilin, leader of the Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk, said in a video posted on Telegram. The leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic made a similar call, Russia’s Tass reported.
Pushilin said Friday that women, children and the elderly would start to leave for Russia due to an escalation in fighting along the line of contact with Ukrainian forces. The governor of Russia’s Rostov region declared a state of emergency Saturday in response to what he said was the growth in the number of people arriving from Donbas, Tass reported.
Kyiv has repeatedly said it doesn’t intend to attack the breakaway areas. Violence in the Donbas region has spiked over the past week, according to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitors the cease-fire.
Russian Media Reports Fire at Gas Pipeline (12:20 a.m.)
Russia state media reported a fire at a gas pipeline that followed an explosion in the separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine late Friday night.
Some media reports and commentators on social media said the explosion targeted the Druzhba “gas pipeline,” though Druzhba is a major oil pipeline servicing Europe and also does not actually run near the breakaway Luhansk area. A gas pipeline in the vicinity has previously been hit, with no impact on Russian gas exports. The state company that manages gas pipelines in Luhansk said a fire had been quickly extinguished.
French Tone Grows Darker on Risk of Attack (11:25 p.m.)
A top official of President Emmanuel Macron’s government said all the participants in a call among leaders from Europe, the U.S. and Canada see the risk of an invasion rising. The trans-Atlantic allies agreed they must be prepared to act at any moment, according to the official, who added that a worst case scenario can still be prevented.
The readout from France reflects a notable change of tone. French officials have generally kept their distance from alarming warnings that have emerged from the Biden administration.
The official urged all parties involved to remain cautious regarding disinformation and inaccurate reports the region. The person said Macron will speak with Zelenskiy on Saturday and Putin on Sunday.
Biden Says Putin Attack Likely Coming in Days (11:06 p.m.)
Biden said U.S. intelligence had prompted him to believe that Putin has decided to attack Ukraine and that an invasion — including a strike on Kyiv — could come within days.
“We believe that they will target Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people,” Biden told reporters at the White House, without detailing the intelligence behind his comments. “We’re calling out Russia’s plans loudly, repeatedly, not because we want a conflict but because we’re doing everything in our power to remove any reason that Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving.”
Speaking after he hosted a call with European allies, Biden also said that claims by Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine that the Kyiv government has provoked fresh violence in the region aren’t plausible. He repeated his assertion that the Kremlin is trying to stage a “false flag” operation to create a fake pretense for its invasion.
U.S. Says Russia Was Behind Cyber Attacks (9:03 p.m.)
The U.S. believes Russia was responsible for a cyber attack on Ukrainian banks and government websites earlier this week, Anne Neuberger, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for cyber, told reporters at the White House. Russia has denied having anything to do with the distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack.
Without providing details, Neuberger said the U.S. has technical information that showed infrastructure linked to Russia’s military intelligence services “transmitting high volumes of communication to Ukraine-based IP addresses and domains.”
The U.S. has shared that underlying intelligence with Ukraine and European partners. While the attack ultimately had little impact on Ukrainian banking operations, the White House is concerned the attack may be laying the groundwork for more disruptive cyber actions.
Draghi Says Any Russia Sanctions Should Avoid Energy (7:24 p.m.)
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Friday that any European Union sanctions on Russia should be “limited” and not include energy, given the impact on countries that rely on gas imports, including Italy. “Sanctions should be focused on as limited a number of sectors as possible without including energy,” he said at a press conference in Rome, adding penalties should be applied proportionally to “the type of attack.”
Draghi plans to go to Moscow and meet with Putin but no date has been announced. He said Putin had reassured him in recent phone calls that Russia is ready to increase gas supplies to the country if needed, and Italy is also looking at other potential energy sources.
The EU and U.S. are discussing a package of sanctions to be imposed on Russia in the event it invaded Ukraine, though European nations have been cautious about the potential fallout on their own economies, including the energy and financial sectors.
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