Biden and Putin have agreed “in principle” to meet, U.S. and French officials said — even as troops continue to gather near the Ukraine border, suggesting the window for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis is closing. The summit was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron during separate calls with Biden and Putin on Sunday. Officials in Paris and Washington said the talks would go ahead only if Moscow doesn’t attack.
Russian officials were ambiguous about whether the summit would go ahead. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that there are not “concrete plans” for a Russia-U.S. summit: “It is possible if the heads of states consider it expedient. A decision can be made at any moment.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Putin told Macron that he was “not against” a summit but that it must be clear in advance what result was expected from a meeting, “especially in such a tense atmosphere.”
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, struck a pessimistic chord in comments to ABC news Monday morning: “We never give up hope on diplomacy until the missiles fly or the tanks roll,” he said. But “the likelihood there’s a diplomatic solution, given the troop movements of the Russians, is diminishing hour by hour.”
Here’s what to know
- The United States has warned the United Nations that it has credible information showing that Moscow is compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
- Ukraine’s foreign minister on Monday urged the European Union to move forward on sanctions against Russia now, rather than waiting for the Kremlin to make additional moves.
- Britain and the United States could take steps to prevent Russian companies from trading in British pounds and U.S. dollars if Putin invades Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Sunday.
UNDERSTANDING THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE CRISIS
Russian artillery and tanks cross muddy fields to close in on Ukraine’s border
By Mary Ilyushina12:24 p.m.
USPENKA, Russia — Convoys of Russian military equipment could be seen advancing into the forests toward Ukraine in Russia’s southern region of Rostov on Monday, as close as a dozen miles from the border with the Ukraine’s separatist-controlled Donetsk region.
Washington Post journalists saw a convoy of at least 20 Gvozdika and Msta-S self-propelled howitzers, artillery-fire-control systems, and all-purpose towing tractors crossing a muddy field about 18 miles away from the border with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, an area President Vladimir Putin’s security council has urged him to recognize as independent of Ukraine. Such recognition could be pretext to send in Russian forces.
A few miles farther from the border, The Post team spotted a tow truck transporting a tank with a dirt-caked caterpillar chain.
Trucks with fuel and cargo were stationed on the side roads along a highway leading to the Uspenka checkpoint on the border.
Fresh tank tracks were visible in fields near the border, which locals said had not been spotted before Monday in the area.
According to the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), an independent group of researchers tracking Russian movements near Ukraine, similar Russian military movements were observed in other parts of western Russia near Ukraine on Monday.
“The nature of the movement of Russian equipment near the borders of Ukraine has changed dramatically,” the CIT said on Telegram, noting that tanks and infantry-fighting vehicles were moving across terrain and along roads, not merely being transported on rail cars.
“We believe that the transfer of forces from other regions has come to an end, and apparently they are heading towards positions for a possible offensive,” CIT said.
Uspenka border crossing now serves as an evacuation point for residents leaving the Moscow-backed Donetsk region.
Ukraine requests U.N. Security Council meeting
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday called on the U.N. Security Council to meet immediately to discuss Ukraine’s security.
In a Twitter post, he said he was acting on behalf of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He asked that Security Council members confer over “urgent actions aimed at de-escalation, as well as practical steps to guarantee the security of Ukraine” under Article 6 of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.
The agreement was signed by Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom in December 1994. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, but agreed to relinquish it in return for assurances of its sovereignty and the sanctity of its borders.
Among the guarantees given to Kyiv, the three countries promised that they would “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence.”
The memorandum’s sixth and final article said the three would “consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.” However, the agreement did not contain any mechanism to force the signatories to comply.
This month, the UNSC’s rotating leader — which has some control over the body’s agenda — is Russia.
Russian Security Council calls on Putin to recognize two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in Ukraine.
Russia’s Security Council Monday called on President Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of two Russian-backed separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that could give him a pretext to invade Ukraine, particularly after Moscow’s claims that Kyiv forces were attacking the areas.
Ukraine officials Monday denied the attacks, saying the claims were Russian disinformation. Western officials have warned repeatedly that Moscow is manufacturing a reason to invade.
Putin is likely to make a decision later Monday.
All the members of Putin’s hawkish Security Council supported recognizing two regions, calling themselves the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, where some 800,000 Russians live.
Putin called the extraordinary Security Council meeting after accusing Ukraine of committing “genocide” in the regions last week, without producing evidence.
The Security Council includes Putin’s hawkish military, security and intelligence chiefs, who have emerged as his major source of advice according to Russian political analysts, as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the heads of Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament.
Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic are a major flashpoint in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and the scene of fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists that has claimed 14,000 lives since 2014.
The decision to recognize them would beach a 2015 Minsk peace agreement brokered by France and Germany that was designed to return the two regions to Kyiv’s control.
One by one, Security Council officials, urged Putin to recognize the regions, arguing that Kyiv was trying to “freeze” the eastern Ukraine conflict, preventing a resolution and leaving Russia to cover the regions’ costs.
Putin said it was clear that Ukraine had no intention of implementing the Minsk agreement, which requires Kyiv to pass laws giving the regions autonomy.
Kyiv officials say such laws would allow Moscow to use the separatist regions as leverage over Ukraine’s foreign policy and to veto its pro-Western stance.
A Russian recognition of the breakaway territories could achieve several Russian goals, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told The Washington Post. “It seems they lost hope on Kyiv,” he said, “and are taking what they can.”
This “is a frozen conflict, and NATO and the E.U. will not admit Ukraine any time soon,” he said, If the status of the eastern territories is in question. It would put significant political pressure on Ukraine’s president Voldymyr Zelensky, potentially leading to his ouster and to a weaker and more divided Kyiv, he suggested.
And because it would stop short of a full invasion, it could hold off the most dramatic Western sanctions against Russia, Rinkevics said, though he said he supported strong sanctions against the Kremlin in response to its actions.
It’s “a full plate,” Rinkevics said. “A complete pig’s breakfast.”
Putin said Russia had done everything to resolve the situation peacefully but that Ukraine authorities had “carried out military punitive operations in these territories” in the past and was doing so again.
Deputy security council chief Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow had to protect the Russians living in the regions, after Moscow began handing out Russian passports to Ukrainians living there in recent years.
Michael Birnbaum contributed to this story from Washington.
Photos show daily life near breakaway region
As Putin asked his Security Council to examine whether to recognize the independence of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions, life near Luhansk — one of the areas in Ukraine controlled by separatists — continued as normal, Washington Post photographer Salwan Georges witnessed Sunday.
Russian recognition of breakaway Ukraine regions being considered by Putin’s security council
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin called a meeting of his Security Council on Monday to “determine our next steps” related to the Ukraine crisis.
Putin told the meeting the West had offered no concessions to Russia in its key demands for a bar on Ukraine or other Eastern European countries joining NATO.
He said the Russian Security Council would examine whether to recognize the independence of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, a move that would signal an end to a seven-year peace deal known as the Minsk agreement.
Russia has accused Ukraine of intensifying attacks on the regions in recent days, without producing evidence, and Putin on Friday accused Kyiv of committing “genocide” there. Ukraine officials said Monday that Russia was manufacturing disinformation that fighting was going on.
Putin said it was clear that Ukraine had no intention of implementing the terms of the 2015 Minsk agreement that was designed to return the regions to Ukrainian control.
Kyiv has sought amendments to the deal, arguing that implementing it on Russian terms would give Moscow a lever to influence Ukraine’s foreign policy and Western links, undermining the nation’s sovereignty.
Putin said that Russia had initially done everything it could to resolve the situation peacefully but that Ukrainian authorities had “carried out military punitive operations in these territories twice. All these years, the people who live there have been practically abused.”
Earlier, the leaders of both regions had requested Moscow’s recognition.
Air France temporarily suspends Kyiv flights
PARIS — Air France on Monday became the latest major airline to temporarily suspend flights to the Ukrainian capital over concerns that a Russian invasion of the country may be imminent, joining other European carriers that have already taken similar measures.
In a statement, Air France said the “precautionary measure” would for now only concern flights to and from Kyiv on Tuesday. The airline did not say whether it expects flights to resume later this week.
“Air France will regularly reassess the situation and reminds that the safety and security of its flights, its customers and its crews, is an absolute imperative,” the French flag carrier said in a statement.
Germany’s Lufthansa Group and Dutch carrier KLM had previously announced a suspension of their flights to Kyiv.
In total, about 10 airlines have so far changed flight plans, said Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, according to Reuters news agency.
Kubrakov said “the state is working to replace canceled flights,” Reuters reported.
Flights to and from Ukraine have been under close scrutiny for years. Airlines have avoided flying over eastern Ukraine since a surface-to-air missile downed a passenger jet in the area in 2014, killing 298 people. A Dutch-led investigative team later found that the missile system was brought in from Russia and fired from an area held by pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainians in U.S. plead for peace as conflict escalates in their homeland
CHICAGO — The screen inside the Ukrainian National Museum flashed with images of gunfire, helmeted young protesters and bloodied bodies. In one massive photo propped against a wall, a lone Ukrainian protester waves the country’s blue and yellow flag as fire burn around him.
The scenes shown to the packed museum crowd in Chicago late Saturday were not from Ukraine’s eastern border, where a growing mass of Russian military forces has sparked fears of a full-on invasion, but from 2014, when more than 100 antigovernment protesters were killed in the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv.
Hailing from a country where past conflict is often prologue, Ukrainian Americans were commemorating one conflict while being mired in another.
“I’m concerned, and honestly I’m scared,” said Halyna Parasiuk, 47, an archivist at the museum with two adult sons in Ukraine. “When President Biden said it could be war, I was like, ‘Oh my God. Can you imagine how many people could be victims? Millions and millions.’ ”
Ukraine rejects Russian claims of intensifying attacks as disinformation
KYIV — Ukrainian officials on Monday denied Russian claims they mounted major attacks on two Moscow-backed separatist enclaves in eastern Ukraine, calling this a disinformation effort to create a “picture of war.”
Western officials have warned that Russia is spreading disinformation to manufacture a pretext to invade Ukraine, after Moscow officials from Putin down accused Ukraine of “genocide” and shelling of civilians. No evidence of Russia’s claims has been produced.
Ukrainian Minister of Information Policy Oleksandr Tkachenko, speaking at a briefing of journalists, said reports of explosions were false and the mass evacuation ordered Friday by the pro-Moscow separatist leaders was manufactured.
He said Ukraine unmasked 10 disinformation “fakes” over the weekend. Russia was manufacturing lies about Ukraine shelling the Moscow-backed breakaway enclaves in eastern Ukraine to create a false “picture of war,” he said.
“I emphasize once again: The Ukrainian army is not planning any offensive actions. Nowhere,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the briefing. “We stand for the return of our people and territories through political and diplomatic means.”
Russian officials claimed on Monday that a Ukrainian shell hit a Russian border post, causing no casualties, following earlier claims Saturday that two shells from Ukraine exploded in Russia’s southern Rostov region.
Moscow-back leaders of the enclaves earlier claimed that Ukraine shelling intensified overnight, without producing evidence.
Some of the videos about Ukraine attacks aired by Russian state television have been swiftly debunked by analysts, with video metadata indicating these were filmed earlier than claimed.
Ukraine calls on Europe to sanction Russia now
Ukraine’s foreign minister on Monday urged the European Union to move ahead on sanctions against Russia now, rather than waiting for the Kremlin to make additional moves.
“We expect decisions,” Dmytro Kuleba told reporters ahead of a meeting with his E.U. counterparts in Brussels. “We believe there are good and legitimate reasons to impose at least some of the sanctions now to demonstrate that the European Union is not only talking the talk about sanctions, but walking the walk.”
The remark comes two days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky slammed the West for inaction, accusing leaders of “appeasement” and warning that sanctions issued after further Russian aggression would be too late.
European leaders have warned for weeks that they are ready to hit Russia with hefty sanctions, but details of their plans remain scarce. That’s led some to push publicly for swifter, more decisive action. On Sunday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on Twitter that Russia’s move to keep troops in Belarus beyond scheduled military exercises represents “a clear preparation to attack Ukraine towards Kyiv” and a “creeping annexation of Belarus.” This is a “game-changer” for NATO and for countries bordering Belarus, he tweeted. “NATO reinforcements and EU sanctions are in order.”
Russian forces to stay in Belarus until NATO withdraws nearby forces
MOSCOW — The Belarusian Defense Ministry said Monday that Russian troops would remain in the country until NATO withdrew forces near its borders in neighboring countries, raising the prospect that they could stay indefinitely.
The move reinforces Moscow’s security demands to Washington and NATO that the alliance withdraw forces and equipment from former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries.
Belarus neighbors NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania and, to the south, non-NATO member Ukraine.
Belarusian Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Gulevich told a briefing of military attachés that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe starting in 1997 was “aggressive and unreasonable.”
“It does not ensure stability in the Eastern European region but on the contrary increases the likelihood of armed conflict,” he said. “There is an escalation of tension. And not from the territory of Belarus.”
He said Belarus “has the right to demand the withdrawal of the groups of troops created by the United States and individual NATO member countries from the borders of the Republic of Belarus.”
The Belarusian opposition has called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops, saying Belarus is “losing its sovereignty” by hosting Russian forces indefinitely.
On Sunday, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced that Russian forces would stay after the end of massive joint military drills — despite Belarusian officials’ earlier pledges that they would leave.
Cease-fire monitoring group to meet amid ‘rapidly deteriorating situation’ on the ground in Ukraine
Representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the body that monitors cease-fire violations in Ukraine, will convene in Vienna on Monday for an emergency meeting to discuss the uptick in violence.
Yevhenii Tsymbaliuk, Ukraine’s permanent representative to the OSCE, requested the meeting, “given the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground,” to decide on “appropriate courses of action in order to deescalate the tension,” according to a letter sent to Poland’s representative. Poland holds the rotating position of chair of the OSCE.
Ukrainian officials have also complained of bias at the monitoring mission following the withdrawal of monitors from the United States, Britain and Canada. On Friday, monitors recorded more than 1,500 cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine in a single day, as shelling rises sharply.
Satellite images appear to show recent Russian deployments
Satellite images collected by a private U.S. company over the weekend appear to show small deployments of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine, in what the company has said could signal Moscow’s readiness to attack.
Unlike the large-scale battle groups including tanks and armored carriers captured by commercial satellites in recent weeks, the latest images show smaller numbers of troops deployed outside bases and training areas, including along tree lines, according to an analysis by Maxar Technologies, which released the images Sunday.
Stephen Wood, a senior director at Maxar News Bureau, told Reuters the company had concluded that the activity was recent, based on the tracks and the snow. “To me it indicates an increased state of readiness,” he said.
Experts say recent advances in technology, including commercial satellites, make it increasingly hard for countries to launch surprise attacks.
Satellite imagery has offered a bird’s-eye view of Russia’s deployment of more than 150,000 troops at the Ukrainian border, marking the largest military buildup in Europe since the end of World War II. The latest release of satellite images comes as Russia continues to keep in place 30,000 troops it has deployed in neighboring Belarus despite promises to withdraw them by Sunday.
U.S. claims Russia has list of Ukrainians ‘to be killed or sent to camps’ following a military occupation
The United States has informed the United Nations it has credible information showing that Moscow is compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” according to a letter to the U.N. human rights chief obtained by The Washington Post on Sunday night.
The letter alleges that Moscow’s post-invasion planning would involve torture, forced disappearances and “widespread human suffering.” It does not describe the nature of the intelligence that undergirds its assessment.
Speaking to journalists on a daily call Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the letter’s claims. “Do you realize that this is an absolute canard, a lie? It is absolute fiction. There is no such list. It’s a fake,” Peskov said.
Kremlin says Putin could meet Biden ‘at any moment’ but no concrete plans
MOSCOW — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that there were “no concrete plans” for a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Biden to discuss the NATO-Russia crisis over Ukraine, but that it was possible if they saw a meeting as useful.
“The decision can be made at any moment,” he said, adding that dialogue would continue. He said diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis continued, with French President Emmanuel Macron, calling Putin at about 1 a.m. Moscow time. Macron’s office announced that he invited Putin and Biden to a summit and that the leaders had agreed in principle.
“Clearly, tensions are rising, and active contacts are continuing,” Peskov said at a news briefing Monday.
Peskov said tensions in two Moscow-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine were extremely high but declined to say whether Russian forces would intervene to support them. Western leaders say that Russia’s claims of “genocide” and major Ukrainian attacks on the regions are a false-flag operation designed to create a pretext for an invasion. No evidence of the claims has emerged, and Ukraine has denied the attacks.
“The situation is indeed extremely tense, and so far we see no signs of a decrease in the level of tension,” Peskov said. “Provocations, shelling are becoming more and more intense; of course, this causes very deep concern.” Putin called a special meeting Monday of the Russian Security Council, which includes his hawkish military and security chiefs, who have emerged as his major source of advice, according to Russian political analysts.