Russia-Ukraine updates: Russians may ‘adopt siege tactics’ in Kyiv: US official

(NEW YORK) — Russian forces are continuing their attempted push through Ukraine from multiple directions, while Ukrainians, led by President Volodymr Zelenskyy, are putting up “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The attack began Feb. 24 as Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation.”

Russians moving from Belarus towards Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, don’t appear to have advanced closer towards the city since coming within about 20 miles, although smaller advanced groups have been fighting gun battles with Ukrainian forces inside the capital since at least Friday.

Russia has been met by sanctions from the U.S., Canada and countries throughout Europe, targeting Russia’s economy and Putin himself.

Here’s how the news developed Monday. All times Eastern:
 

Feb 28, 8:22 pm
Rumors that messaging app Signal was hacked are ‘false,’ company says

The encrypted messaging app Signal — which has lately seen an “uptick in usage in Eastern Europe” — is pushing back on social media rumors that the app has been compromised and hacked.

“Signal is not hacked,” the company tweeted. “We believe these rumors are part of a coordinated misinformation campaign meant to encourage people to use less secure alternatives.”

Signal said it is seeing rumors being pushed in the form of forwarded messages. The message attributes a warning that Signal has been compromised to a “senior government official.”

But, the company said, there is no senior government official saying that, and the app is not compromised.

“This is false and Signal is not under attack,” it tweeted.

-ABC News’ Luke Barr
 

Feb 28, 7:58 pm
40 senators ask Biden to give Temporary Protected Status to Ukrainians in US

Forty senators signed a letter that was sent to President Joe Biden on Monday night requesting that he use his executive authority to grant Temporary Protected Status to the estimated 29,500 Ukrainians with nonimmigrant visas in the U.S.

“Some of them are tourists, some of them are students, some are on work visas, but often times they expire and they’re supposed to return to their home countries at the moment of expiration,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said.

Durbin, Republican Sen. Rob Portman and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez wrote and sent the letter, which included signatures from mostly Democratic senators as well as Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer and Independent Sen. Angus King.

The letter noted that TPS can be granted to nationals from another country if returning to their home country would “pose a serious threat to their personal safety because of ongoing armed conflict.”

Ukraine “clearly meets the standards for TPS,” the letter read.

The designation does not make a national from another country eligible for U.S. citizenship, and when TPS designation is terminated, the immigration status of a person from that country returns to what it was prior to the designation, the letter noted. It only allows eligible nationals to remain in the United States legally until the TPS designation ends.

“That, to me, is a way to give them some peace of mind,” Durbin said.

-ABC News’ Trish Turner
 

Feb 28, 7:35 pm
Disney pausing theatrical releases in Russia

The Walt Disney Company will not be releasing any new movies in Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

“Given the unprovoked attack on Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, we are pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia, including the upcoming ‘Turning Red’ from Pixar,” the company wrote in a statement released on Twitter. “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.”

Disney is also working with NGO partners to provide urgent humanitarian aid for the refugee crisis, the company wrote.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.

Feb 28, 6:29 pm
Russian bombardment of civilian areas constitutes a war crime, Zelenskyy says

Russian forces deliberately fired upon civilian areas in Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alleged in an address Monday.

“Today, Russian forces brutally fired on Kharkiv from jet artillery,” Zelenskyy said. “This is clearly a war crime.”

Zelenskyy described the bombarded neighborhoods as “peaceful residential areas” with “no military facility.”

“Dozens of eyewitness accounts prove that this is not a single false volley, but deliberate destruction of people,” Zelenskyy said. “The Russians knew where to shoot. There will definitely be a tribunal for this crime, international. This is a violation of all conventions. No one in the world will forgive you for killing peaceful Ukrainian people.”

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., accused Russia of using a vacuum bomb, or a thermobaric weapon, amid their attacks, which is also a war crime, she said.

“They used the vacuum bomb today, which is actually prohibited by Geneva convention, so you know the devastation Russia is trying to inflict on Ukraine is large,” Markarova said during a meeting with the U.S. House of Representatives Ukraine Caucus on Monday afternoon.

It is a war crime to deliberately target civilians or civilian infrastructure is a war crime, including the use of cluster munitions that groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say they’ve confirmed Russia has used.

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan, Mariam Khan and Christine Theodorou
 

Feb 28, 6:25 pm
UN warns of humanitarian crisis, potential 4 million refugees

Russia’s war against Ukraine could create a refugee crisis of up to 4 million people in the coming days and weeks, a U.N. commissioner told the Security Council on Monday afternoon.

“I have rarely seen such an incredibly fast rising exodus of people — the largest, surely, within Europe since the Balkan wars,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told the New York-based council via video teleconference from Geneva.

At least 520,000 refugees have already fled Ukraine, but Grandi said the number is “rising exponentially, hour after hour.” That includes 280,000 to Poland, 94,000 to Hungary, 40,000 to Moldova, 34,000 to Romania, 30,000 to Slovakia, tens of thousands in other countries, and a “sizable number” to Russia.

In Ukraine itself, Grandi said the U.N. is “not even scratching the surface of meeting the needs of Ukrainians.”

“The situation is moving so quickly, and the levels of risk are so high by now, that it is impossible for humanitarians to distribute the help that Ukrainians desperately need,” he said.

Monday’s U.N. Security Council session was meant to more narrowly focus on the humanitarian crisis, as opposed to the war itself. U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths announced the U.N. will make an urgent humanitarian appeal by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday — a three-month flash appeal for the crisis in Ukraine and a longer-term appeal for the refugee crisis in the region.

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
 

Feb 28, 5:55 pm
European Council extends sanctions to include dozens more individuals

The European Council extended sanctions against Russia to include 26 more individuals and an additional entity, the Council said in a statement Monday.

The new listings include oligarchs and businessmen active in the oil, banking and finance sectors as well as government members, high-level military personalities and propagandists who contributed to the spread of anti-Ukrainian propaganda and promoted a positive attitude toward the invasion of Ukraine.

Some prominent individuals on the list include Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, a Russian state oil company; Nikolay Tokarev, CEO of Transeft, a major Russian oil and gas company; Alisher Usmanov, a pro-Kremlin oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin; and Petr Aven, one of Putin’s closest oligarchs.

The EU’s restrictive measures now apply to a total of 680 individuals and 53 entities.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou
 

Feb 28, 5:38 pm
Restrictions on Russian oil and gas remain ‘on the table’: White House

The White House is not ruling out imposing restrictions on importing Russian oil and gas, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a briefing Monday afternoon.

“We haven’t ruled out that,” she said.

The sanctions announced this past week by the Biden administration did not directly hit oil and gas flows from Russia, which would deal a major blow to the energy market as the global economy continues to recover.

The White House has raised concerns about already high energy costs for Americans going even higher if this trigger is pulled.

Remaining “on the table” as well is the option to tap into the strategic petroleum reserve, though Psaki didn’t have updates on that decision.

“There are conversations that we’ve been having with global partners, and obviously we have our own strategic petroleum reserve stockpile to tap into,” she said.

When asked about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s announcement that Canada would unilaterally ban Russian crude oil imports and whether the U.S. would make a similar move without coordination from European partners, Psaki repeated that “all options remain on the table.”

“You have seen us take a number of actions over the last several days that play that out,” she said. “But I don’t have anything to predict at this point other than to reiterate that we have really worked to take steps in lockstep with the Europeans and a number of our NATO partners.”

Psaki said the White House also continues to be in touch with Saudi Arabia to try and minimize the impact on energy markets across the world as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues.

She would not say if the U.S. made any request to Saudi Arabia or OPEC+ members to increase production given the ongoing crisis.

“There is an ongoing discussion about steps that we can take to address volatility in the market,” Psaki said.

-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
 

Feb 28, 4:40 pm
International Crime Court to investigate possible war crimes in Ukraine

The International Criminal Court is “opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, as rapidly as possible,” the court’s chief prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan, announced Monday.

The court has “reasonable basis to believe” that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed in Ukraine and is pursuing accountability, including possible prosecutions, Khan said in a statement.

An authorization from a pretrial chamber of the court and support and funding from the ICC’s 123 member states will be required to begin an investigation.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the court, but Ukraine has provided authorization for an investigation in its territory, Khan said.

The U.N. Human Rights Council also voted Monday to hold an urgent debate on Thursday, where they’ll consider a draft resolution from Ukraine.

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan
 

Feb 28, 4:43 pm
Americans should not be worried about nuclear war, Biden says

Americans people should not be worried about the threat of nuclear war, President Joe Biden said Monday.

The president made the comment while leaving a White House event celebrating Black History Month, replying “No” when a reporter asked whether the country should feel worried.

The brief response to the question was Biden’s only reference to the current situation in Ukraine, but Vice President Kamala Harris commented further on the situation unfolding in Eastern Europe.

“Today the eyes of the world are on Ukraine, and the brave people who are fighting to protect their country and their democracy,” Harris said. “And their bravery is a reminder, a most recent reminder that justice, equality, and freedom must never be taken for granted by any of us.”

On a call with allies Monday afternoon, Biden discussed “their coordinated efforts to impose severe costs and consequences to hold Russia accountable while working to maintain global economic stability, including with regard to energy prices,” according to a statement from the White House.

The U.S. sees “no reason” to change its own nuclear alert level, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing Monday afternoon.

“We are assessing Putin’s directive and at this time we see no reason to change our own alert level,” she said.

-ABC News’ Mary Bruce and Molly Nagle

 

Feb 28, 4:12 pm
12 Russian diplomats accused of espionage expelled from UN

Twelve Russian diplomats have been expelled from Moscow’s mission to the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills, the deputy representative to the U.N., confirmed on Monday.

Those diplomats were engaged in activities not in accordance with their obligations and responsibilities as diplomats, Mills said.

They “abused their privileges of residency in the U.S. by engaging in espionage activities that are adverse to our national security,” Olivia Dalton, spokeswoman for U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tweeted Monday. The action to expel them “has been in the works for several months,” Dalton wrote.

Russian Permanent Representative to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzya in a Monday press conference in New York accused U.S. authorities of undertaking “another hostile action against the Russian Federation’s mission to the United Nations” and of “grossly violating their commitments on the host country agreement that they undertook” with this move.

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Tanya Stukalova

 

Feb 28, 4:00 pm
US committed to pursuing accountability for human rights violations: State Department

The U.S. is supporting an international effort to “detect and document potential human rights violations” for abuses of international humanitarian law, potential war crimes and “other potential atrocities” committed by Russia, Department of State Spokesman Ned Price announced Monday.

The U.S. will use “every tool available, including criminal prosecutions where appropriate,” Price said in a warning to “the government of Russia and all Russian personnel involved in these operations” against Ukraine.

Price said the U.S. is concerned by reports of civilians killed, schools and kindergartens destroyed, and other civilian targets impacted.

 

Feb 28, 3:57 pm
Microsoft detected round of ‘offensive and destructive’ cyberattacks toward Ukraine hours before invasion

Hours before the physical invasion into Ukraine, Microsoft detected a new round of “offensive and destructive” cyberattacks directed at the Ukrainian government, a top Microsoft official announced.

“In recent days, we have provided threat intelligence and defensive suggestions to Ukrainian officials regarding attacks on a range of targets, including Ukrainian military institutions and manufacturers and several other Ukrainian government agencies,” President and Vice Chair of Microsoft Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Monday. “This work is ongoing.”

Microsoft remains concerned about the cyber threat emanating from Ukraine, “especially” recent cyberattacks on Ukrainian civilian digital targets, including on the financial sector, agriculture sector, emergency response services, humanitarian aid efforts and energy sector organizations, Smith said.

“These attacks on civilian targets raise serious concerns under the Geneva Convention, and we have shared information with the Ukrainian government about each of them,” he wrote.

Microsoft has advised the Ukrainian government about recent cyber efforts to steal a wide range of data, including health, insurance and transportation-related personally identifiable information, as well as other government data sets, Smith said. Microsoft is also sharing information with U.S. officials.

Over the weekend, the U.S. warned that a cyberattack in Ukraine could have ripple effects in the U.S.

“Further disruptive cyberattacks against organizations in Ukraine are likely to occur and may unintentionally spill over to organizations in other countries,” the FBI, DHS and CISA warned in a statement, saying Russia has taken these steps in the past. “Organizations should increase vigilance and evaluate their capabilities encompassing planning, preparation, detection, and response for such an event.”

Microsoft is “swiftly” removing Russian propaganda from their websites from the Windows app store, including RT, the Russian state-controlled international television network.

“We are also focused as a company in protecting against state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, which have long been commonplace in times of war,” Smith wrote.

This comes as Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced efforts it was taking to disrupt social media misinformation campaigns.

-ABC News’ Luke Barr and Cindy Smith

 

Feb 28, 2:22 pm
Ukraine, Russia envoys kick off contentious debate in rare UNGA special session

In an extraordinary emergency meeting of the U.N. General Assembly — only the 11th in the body’s history — representatives from Ukraine and Russia delivered fiery back-to-back remarks.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.N. Sergiy Kyslytsya compared Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hilter.

“This war was not provoked. It was chosen by someone who is right now sitting in the bunker. We know what happened with the person who sat in the bunker in Berlin in May 1945,” he said.

Kyslytsya accused Russia of carrying out war crimes, saying Russians “keep attacking kindergartens and orphanages, thus committing war crimes and violating the Rome Statute. Hospitals and mobile medical aid brigades are also targeted by the Russian shelling and sabotage groups working in Ukraine cities and towns.”

He concluded with an appeal for support, stressing that it was not just Ukraine at stake.

“If Ukraine does not survive, international peace will not survive,” he said.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya denied the veracity of many of Kyslytsya’s claims, saying instead of discussing the roots of the “disinformation,” he wished to focus on the “real reasons for the crisis,” saying the fault lies with Ukraine itself. He cited baseless Kremlin-peddled claims that the country was carrying out a brutal attack on the people of the Donbas region and accused Western powers of turning “a blind eye.”

Nebenzya also attempted to shift blame to the West.

“Our Western colleagues have shamelessly inundated the country with weapons, have sent to the country instructors, and effectively incited Ukrainians who are facing a 120,000-strong military contingent, and prompted them to engage in armed provocation again the Donbas,” he said.

This phase of debate on a resolution condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine has now concluded and the General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution later on Monday.

-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford

Feb 28, 1:55 pm
French embassy moving from Kyiv to Lviv

France’s embassy in Ukraine will be moved from the capital, Kyiv, to Lviv, near the Polish border, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a live interview on BFMTV.

Le Drian said, “I’m not sure President Putin imagined his operation was going to be so difficult.”

He added, “Vladimir Putin has lost the communication battle” and that while “Putin wanted to divide us,” “he has achieved the opposite.”

Feb 28, 1:17 pm
US shutters embassy in Belarus, draws down embassy in Russia

The U.S. is suspending operations at the embassy in Belarus, where just half a dozen U.S. diplomats had been based, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.

The U.S. is also drawing down its embassy in Moscow, authorizing the departure of non-emergency staff and diplomats’ families, Blinken said in a statement.

He didn’t cite any specific threat but said the department took these steps “due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”

The U.S. special envoy for Belarus tweeted a photo showing two American diplomats taking down the flag at the embassy in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.

“Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s war against Ukraine has shown the regime’s loss of sovereign decision-making,” Ambassador Julie Fisher tweeted.

Fisher said all staff have already departed the country, with some moving to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where she has been based.

While U.S. officials have been concerned that Belarusian forces will join Russia’s invasion, a senior Defense Department official told reporters Monday they’ve seen no indication that Belarus is preparing to join. But Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko “seems to be establishing a pretext for more active involvement” in the war, according to an internal State Department situation report Sunday obtained by ABC News, including by accusing Ukraine of “beating” and “poisoning” Belarusians in Ukraine.

Feb 28, 12:51 pm
FIFA, UEFA suspend Russian teams

FIFA and UEFA said they are suspending all Russian national and club soccer teams from competition until further notice.

The UEFA soccer league also said it’s ending its partnership with Russian gas company Gazprom.

“The decision is effective immediately and covers all existing agreements including the UEFA Champions League, UEFA national team competitions and UEFA EURO 2024,” UEFA said.

Feb 28, 12:40 pm
Russia bans flights from 36 countries from their airspace

Russia is restricting the flights of airlines from 36 countries “as a retaliatory measure” for the European Union’s ban on Russian planes, Russian news agency Interfax reported, citing the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency.

The countries on Russia’s ban are: Austria, Albania, Anguilla (a British overseas territory), Belgium, Bulgaria, the British Virgin Islands, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Denmark (including Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the territorial sea), Jersey, Ireland, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Canada, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, France, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Estonia.

The U.S., which isn’t included on Russia’s list, hasn’t banned Russia from its airspace. However, Delta suspended its codeshare partnership with Russian airline Aeroflot on Friday.

Feb 28, 12:13 pm
State Department: Reports of human rights abuses ‘widespread’

The State Department said in a statement Monday that “reports of human rights abuses have been widespread” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pointing to attacks that killed civilians, including children, and destroyed schools, hospitals and homes.

The allegation of human rights abuses has also gone further to accusations of war crimes by Russia’s military. Amnesty International reported Sunday that Russia used cluster munitions in an attack against a kindergarten that killed three civilians, including one child, which “could constitute a war crime,” the human rights group said. The use of cluster munitions against civilians is a violation of international law.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has repeatedly accused Russian forces of committing war crimes, tweeting on Friday that Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office is collecting reports and will send them to The Hague, adding, “responsibility is inevitable.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will address the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was set to address the same chamber but his trip was canceled “due to an unprecedented ban on his flight in the airspace of a number of EU countries,” Russia’s mission to the U.N. offices in Geneva said.

Feb 28, 11:59 am
Talks between Ukraine, Russia end after six hours

Talks between a Ukrainian delegation and Russian officials at the Belarus-Ukraine border have ended after six hours. Both sides will return to their capital cities for consultation ahead of a second round of talks.

Ukraine said it wanted a ceasefire and Russian withdrawal, while the Kremlin said it would not announce its position. Russia’s negotiators have talked of striking a deal that’s in the interests of both sides.

Feb 28, 11:47 am
Russian advance frustrated by resistance: US official

Russian forces are frustrated by their slow advance, but that could lead them “to be more aggressive and more overt in both the size and scale of their targeting of Kyiv,” a senior U.S. defense official said Monday, implying less discriminate attacks with more danger to civilian populations.

The Russians heading south to Kyiv continue to be slowed by fuel shortages and stiff Ukrainian resistance and have only moved about three miles since Sunday, leaving them about 16 miles away from the capital city, the official said.

“We believe they want to encircle Kyiv and it’s possible that they could adopt siege tactics there,” the official warned.

On Sunday the same official said there were indications Russian forces were adopting siege tactics around the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.

So far, the Russians have fired more than 380 missiles, the official said.

Putin has committed about 75% of the more than 150,000 forces he had arrayed at the border to the invasion inside Ukraine, according to the official.

There’s no indication Belarusian forces are involved or are preparing to join Russia in the invasion, and Russia has not placed nuclear weapons in Belarus, according to the official.

Feb 28, 10:53 am
Putin tells Macron he’ll stop strikes against civilian targets

According to the Elysée, Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday that he’ll stop strikes against civilian targets.

Putin also told Macron he’ll preserve civilian infrastructure to secure main roads, including the road south of Kyiv, according to the French government.

Macron and Putin will speak again this week, the Elysée said.

Feb 28, 10:18 am
IOC recommends no participation of athletes from Russia, Belarus

The International Olympic Committee said its executive board is recommending prohibiting athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus in international competitions.

The recommendation is “to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants,” the IOC said.

Feb 28, 9:57 am
Neutral Switzerland adopts EU sanctions targeting Russia

Switzerland is breaking from its longstanding policy of neutrality by adopting the packages of sanctions imposed by the European Union citing Russia’s continuing military invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland, which has long been a safe haven for Russian assets, announced on Monday that it’s imposing financial sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov, and is targeting the assets of certain people and companies.

Switzerland also is imposing entry bans against individuals who have a connection to Switzerland and are linked to Putin and will be closing Swiss airspace to flights from Russia, with the exception of flights for humanitarian, medical or diplomatic purposes, officials said.

Switzerland will also extend a ban on imports, exports and investments concerning Crimea and Sevastopol, which has been in place since 2014, to the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Swiss officials said they are partially suspending the 2009 agreement on visa facilitation for Russian nationals, and those with diplomatic passports will continue to be allowed entry without a visa in an effort to continue diplomatic talks.

-ABC News’ Christine Theodorou

Feb 28, 9:01 am
US banning Russia’s central bank from accessing reserves in US

Senior administration officials on Monday provided more specifics on the sanctions against Russia announced over the weekend and emphasized the drastic nature of these steps, saying the “actions represent the most significant actions the U.S. Treasury has taken against an economy of this size, and assets of this size,” noting the Russian central bank is multiple times larger than Iran’s or Venezuela’s.

The U.S. has put into effect sanctions on Russia’s central bank that keep Moscow from accessing any of their more than $600 billion in reserves in the U.S., or in U.S. dollars in foreign countries. The sanctions also target Russia’s National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance.

Officials said it was clear from the beginning of the invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning to use central bank assets to mitigate any sanctions.

“Today’s announcement that prohibit transactions with the Central Bank of Russia in the national wealth fund will significantly hinder their ability to do that, and inhibit their access to hundreds of billions of dollars in assets from our actions alone, they will not be able to access assets that are either in United States or in US dollars,” officials said.

“What we’ve done today is not only preventing them from using those dollars in the United States, but preventing them from being able to use those dollars in other places like Europe or Japan to defend their currency and prop up their institutions. And our goal was to make sure that not only would they not have access to dollars, but also not have access to other currencies,” officials said.

“Our strategy — to put it simply — is to make sure that the Russian economy goes backwards, as long as President Putin decides to go forward with his invasion of Ukraine,” a senior administration official said.

-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky, Justin Gomez

Feb 28, 8:39 am
White House: ‘No reason to change’ US alert levels

After Russian President Vladimir Putin put Russia’s nuclear deterrent forces on a state of heightened alert this weekend, a White House official confirms the U.S. has not changed its own alert level.

“We are assessing President Putin’s directive and at this time see no reason to change our own alert levels,” a White House official confirmed to ABC News.

“We think provocative rhetoric regarding nuclear weapons is dangerous, adds to the risk of miscalculation, should be avoided, and we will not indulge in it,” the official added.

The official also noted that, as recently as June, when President Joe Biden met Putin face-to-face in Geneva, the two leaders affirmed nuclear war is tantamount to mutually assured destruction.

The leaders said in a joint statement in June, “Today, we reaffirm the principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky

Feb 28, 8:21 am
US shutters embassy in Belarus, draws down embassy in Russia

The U.S. is suspending operations at the embassy in Belarus, where just half a dozen U.S. diplomats had been based, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.

The U.S. is also drawing down its embassy in Moscow, authorizing the departure of non-emergency staff and diplomats’ families, Blinken said in a statement.

He didn’t cite any specific threat but said the department took these steps “due to security and safety issues stemming from the unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russian military forces in Ukraine.”

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan

Feb 28, 6:47 am
Russia hikes key rate to 20% as ruble tumbles

Russia’s central bank on Monday raised its key interest rate to 20% from 9.5% in an apparent effort to slow the fallout from severe international sanctions.

The rate hike came as the Russian ruble tumbled, trading down as much as 30% against the U.S. dollar on Monday, according to Bloomberg. The currency traded about 17% lower midday in Moscow.

The Russian stock market reportedly closed for the day.

-ABC News’ Zunaira Zaki

Feb 28, 6:23 am
500,000 refugees have fled Ukraine, UN says

More than 500,000 people have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on Thursday, the U.N. Refugee Agency said on Monday.

More than half have crossed the border into Poland, the agency said. Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, had said on Sunday that 368,000 people had fled to neighboring countries.

-ABC News’ Zoe Magee

Feb 28, 5:00 am
Ukraine delegation arrives for talks with Russia

The Ukrainian delegation sent for talks with Russia arrived Monday morning at the Belarus-Ukraine border, where the meeting will be held.

Ukraine has said the key issue for the talks is an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Russia has signalled it wants to discuss Ukraine adopting “neutral status.”

The head of Russia’s delegation has said the two sides will meet within about an hour. They are meeting on the Pripyat River, north of Chernobyl.

The Ukrainian delegation includes the Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov, the head of Zelenskyy’s parliamentary party, as well as advisors to the president and MPs.

Russia’s delegation includes officials from the Foreign and Defense ministries, and the presidential administration.

The talks were agreed to on Sunday in a call between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Fighting continued throughout the night, as Russia attempted to advance and bombarded Ukrainian forces.

-ABC News’ Patrick Reevell and Julia Drozd

Feb 28, 3:29 am
Russian advance slows north of Kyiv, UK military says

The U.K. Ministry of Defence said on Monday that the advance of Russian ground forces had been slowed by Ukraine’s defense of an airport in Hostomel, about 19 miles north of Kyiv.

“Logistical failures and staunch Ukrainian resistance continue to frustrate the Russian advance,” the ministry said on Twitter.

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