US State Department official Derek Chollet has warned that the US will impose “crippling” sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.
His warning on Sunday came after a phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden ended with no breakthrough on the crisis.
The White House insists Moscow faces “swift and severe costs” if it pushes ahead with aggression, while the Kremlin has denounced the US’s “peak hysteria” over Ukraine and has denied it has plans to invade.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the risk of Russian military action in Ukraine was high enough to justify the departure of much of the staff at the US embassy in Kyiv, but said a diplomatic solution to the crisis is still possible.
“The diplomatic path remains open. The way for Moscow to show that it wants to pursue that path is simple. It should de-escalate rather than escalate,” he said.
Hello, and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Ukraine-Russia crisis. I am Virginia Pietromarchi with the latest updates.
Biden and Ukraine’s Zelenskiy to discuss security
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and US President Joe Biden will speak on Sunday, the spokesman for Ukrainian leader’s said.
Sergii Nykyforov said on Facebook the two leaders “would discuss the security situation and ongoing diplomatic de-escalation efforts”.
Pentagon cannot confirm reports of a Russian plan to invade Ukraine on Wednesday
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has said that he cannot confirm reports that Russia plans to invade Ukraine on Wednesday.
“I’m not in a position to confirm those reports,” Kirby said during an interview on “Fox News Sunday”, adding that the United States believes that a “major military action could happen any day now.”
Russia has ‘responsibility’ for risk of ‘war’: German president
Russia carries the “responsibility” for the possibility of war in Ukraine, the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
There was “the danger of a military conflict, of war in eastern Europe and Russia carries the responsibility for that,” Steinmeier said in a speech to mark his reelection.
Situation ‘critical’ as tensions with Russia over Ukraine rise: German gov’t
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a “critical” point, a German government source said Sunday, the eve of Chancellor Scholz’s departure for Kyiv and then Moscow.
“Our concerns have grown… we asses the situation as very critical, very dangerous”, the source told members of the press, as fears grow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent.
Moscow voices concern over OSCE moves to ‘relocate’ Ukraine staff
Russia said it was concerned by the decision of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to relocate some of their Ukraine-based monitors.
The OSCE “informed the participating states of the decision by ‘a number of countries’ to relocate their national staff of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine ‘due to deteriorating security conditions’”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
“These decisions cannot but cause our serious concern.”
The OSCE has served as the world’s eyes and ears for the eight-year conflict across Ukraine’s Russian-backed separatist east that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
Germany’s vice chancellor says Europe may be on the ‘verge of war’
Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and economics minister, has warned that Europe may be on the verge of war.
Speaking in an interview with broadcaster RTL/NTV, Habeck, without elaborating, pointed to large armed forces facing each other.
“We may be on the verge of war in Europe,” he said. “It is absolutely oppressive and threatening.”
Timeline: How the Ukraine-Russia crisis reached the brink of war
Tensions over the Ukraine-Russia crisis have been simmering for more than two months, with diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue showing little sign of progress.
But how did we get to this point?
Here is a timeline of the main events so far.
Pope Francis calls silent prayer for Ukraine
Addressing thousands of people in Rome’s St Peter’s square, Pope Francis invoked a silent prayer for Ukraine appealing to politicians’ consciences to seek peace.
“The news from Ukraine is very worrying,” said Francis. “I entrust every effort for peace to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the consciences of responsible politicians,” he said during his weekly blessing and message. “Let us pray in silence,” he said. The crowd went quiet for about half a minute.
Germany hopes for insight into Putin’s aims: Report
Germany does not expect concrete results from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s meeting with Putin set for Tuesday, but hopes to get a glimpse of what the Russian leader hopes to achieve with the military build-up on the border of Ukraine, a German government source told Reuters.
The source said Scholz would make it clear to Putin that Western partners stood united in their stance that any aggression would prompt “painful, considerable sanctions” on Russia.
“He will also underscore that we are not just ready to dialogue, but we insist on de-escalation and the withdrawal of the troop build-up that can only be interpreted as a threat,” the source said.
Not worried about sanctions: Russian diplomat
Moscow “doesn’t give a s***” about the risk of Western sanctions, Russia’s outspoken ambassador to Sweden told a Swedish newspaper.
“Excuse my language, but we don’t give a s*** about all their sanctions”, Viktor Tatarintsev told the Aftonbladet newspaper. “We have already had so many sanctions and, in that sense, they’ve had a positive effect on our economy and agriculture,” said the veteran diplomat.
“New sanctions are nothing positive but not as bad as the West makes it sound”, he added.
No point in closing Ukraine’s airspace: Adviser
Ukraine sees no point in closing its airspace, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff told Reuters.
“The most important point is that Ukraine itself sees no point in closing the sky. This is nonsense. And, in my opinion, it somewhat resembles a kind of partial blockade,” said Mykhailo Podolyak.
His comments came after Dutch carrier KLM said it would stop flying to Ukraine immediately, while Ukraine’s SkyUp airline said it had to divert one of its planes after the owner of the leased aircraft barred the flight from entering Ukrainian airspace.
‘A massive strategic setback’
US State Department’s Derek Chollet has elaborated on what would be the “swifts and severe costs” for Russia if it decides to invade Ukraine.
The US and its allies would infer “quite considerable” and “crippling” sanctions that would bring “tremendous economic hardship upon the Russians”, Chollet said. An invasion, he told the BBC, would also not deter NATO from boosting its military capacity on its eastern borders.
Such actions would be “a massive strategic setback” for Moscow as it would further isolate it from Europe while strengthening NATO’s build-up.
A simple guide to the Ukraine-Russia crisis
Why are Ukraine’s NATO ambitions so controversial? What does Russia want? Will Ukraine join NATO? And will there be all-out war?
Here are five things you should know about what’s happening now and what could come next.
‘Not tough enough’: British minister
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has compared Western diplomatic efforts to head off a Russian invasion of Ukraine to the appeasement of Nazi Germany ahead of World War II.
Wallace told the Sunday Times that Russian President Putin could send his massed troops into Ukraine “at any time” and suggested unnamed Western countries were not being tough enough with Moscow.
“It may be that he (Putin) just switches off his tanks and we all go home but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West,” Wallace said.
The 1938 Munich Agreement handed Nazi Germany parts of Czechoslovakia in a failed bid to head off major conflict in Europe.
Diplomacy ‘doesn’t seem to be going anywhere’: AJ correspondent
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Kyiv, said that after a flurry of diplomacy with Russia’s President Putin speaking to his US and French counterparts, “no real progress seems to have been made”.
“A lot of conversations are happening but there doesn’t seem to be any form of breakthrough. You still have the two sides that are deeply entrenched in their positions,” she said.
Putin told Biden that the US has failed to take Russia’s main concerns such as NATO expansion into account, while Western powers have said Russia has to show signs it is ready to deescalate and solve the crisis diplomatically.
US staff of OSCE starts pullout from Donetsk: Reuters
A Reuters witness says US staff at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the world’s largest regional security institution – have started to withdraw by car from the rebel-held city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
The OCSE’s special monitoring mission has been operating in the area since 2014.
Australia suspends operations at Ukraine embassy
The Australian government has temporarily suspended operations at its Kyiv embassy as fears of a Russian invasion rise.
“Given the deteriorating security situation caused by the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, the Government has directed the departure of staff at the Australian Embassy in Kyiv and temporarily suspended operations at our Embassy in Kyiv,” foreign minister Marise Payne said in a Sunday statement.
Payne said that the embassy’s operations would be temporarily moved to the Ukrainian city of Lviv, located further west, near the border with Poland.
US: The ‘diplomatic path remains open’
Blinken has reiterated that a diplomatic solution remained possible, if Moscow de-escalates.
“The diplomatic path remains open. The way for Moscow to show that it wants to pursue that path is simple. It should de-escalate, rather than escalate,” Blinken said.
Blinken says embassy drawdown prudent given risk of Russian invasion
The US secretary of state says the risk of Russian military action in Ukraine is high enough to justify the departure of much of the staff at the US embassy in Kyiv, which the Department of State announced on Saturday.
“We ordered the departure of most of the Americans still at the US embassy in Kyiv. The risk of Russian military action is high enough and the threat is imminent enough that this is the prudent thing to do,” Blinken told a news conference in Honolulu.
Most embassy staff were ordered to leave Ukraine immediately, with the department saying it appeared increasingly likely that the situation is headed towards “some kind of active conflict”.
You can see updates from Saturday, February 12 here.