Russia-Ukraine updates: US urges Ukrainian president to head to Lviv for his safety

(NEW YORK) — The United States continues to warn that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day” amid escalating tensions in the region, with President Joe Biden telling reporters Friday he’s “convinced” Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade.

More diplomacy seemed possible, though, with Biden agreeing “in principle” Sunday to meet with Putin, as long as Russia didn’t invade, but the Kremlin on Monday said talk of a summit was “premature.”

In an address to the Russian public on Monday, Putin announced that he’s recognizing two Russian-controlled separatist regions in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region as independent: the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Biden swiftly responded to Putin with sanctions. The White House said Biden will issue an executive order banning “new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine.” The order “will also provide authority to impose sanctions on any person determined to operate in those areas of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, adding that the U.S. “will also soon announce additional measures related to today’s blatant violation of Russia’s international commitments.”

While the U.S. says some 190,000 Russian troops and separatist forces are estimated to be massed near Ukraine’s borders, Russia has denied any plans to invade and reiterated its demands that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the military alliance.

Latest headlines:
-Putin orders Russian military to assist in “maintaining peace” in separatist regions
-Leaders call for UN Security Council meeting
-Biden responds with sanctions
-Putin says he’ll recognize separatist regions as independent
-Likelihood of diplomatic solution ‘diminishing hour by hour’

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern.

Feb 21, 9:32 pm
US to announce new sanctions against Russia on Tuesday

The Biden administration plans to impose additional sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, a White House official told ABC News.

“We plan to announce new sanctions on Russia tomorrow in response to Moscow’s decision and actions today,” the official said.

The U.S. is consulting with allies and partners now on the way forward, the White House official and a spokesperson for the State Department told ABC News.

Among those consultations was a conversation Secretary of State Antony Blinken had with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba Monday night — ahead of their in-person meeting Tuesday in Washington — in which they spoke about the necessity for tough sanctions on Russia.

The spokesperson described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions on Monday as “a major escalation” and “another indication that Russia is seeking war, not diplomacy.”

Earlier on Monday, President Joe Biden tweeted a photo of himself signing an executive order to authorize limited sanctions in response to Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of two regions in eastern Ukraine.

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Justin Gomez

Feb 21, 9:17 pm
US diplomats in Ukraine moved to Poland for their safety

U.S. embassy staff that remained in Ukraine in Lviv have been moved to Poland for the night for security reasons, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Monday.

The diplomats “will spend the night in Poland,” Blinken said, but their departure may be open-ended. They “will regularly return to continue their diplomatic work in Ukraine and provide emergency consular services,” Blinken added, without offering more details.

As the U.S. has done for weeks, Blinken urged U.S. citizens to depart the country immediately amid the threat of a Russian invasion “at any moment.” Commercial flights could soon be “severely” restricted, Blinken warned, because of “any Russian military operations.”

The State Department has stationed support teams near the Ukrainian border in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova, along with the U.S. citizen welcome center it opened in Poland last week, Blinken said.

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan

Feb 21, 9:06 pm
Top Democrats echo GOP calls for tougher sanctions on Russia

Democrats are now joining Republicans in the call for stricter sanctions against Russia in the wake of President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., is calling for “crushing sanctions” if “any additional Russian troops or proxy forces cross into Donbas.”

“There must be tangible, far-reaching and substantial costs for Russia in response to this unjustified act,” Menendez said.

Sen. Chris Coons, a close ally of President Joe Biden and a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called for “significant” action to be taken against Russia.

“The time for taking action to impose significant costs on President Putin and the Kremlin starts now,” Coons said late Monday, adding that the U.S. must “swiftly” join NATO allies and European Union partners “to impose forceful new sanctions on Russia.”

ABC News’ Conor Finnegan and Allie Pecorin

Feb 21, 9:26 pm
Zelenskyy says Ukraine is ready to defend itself

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Monday that he considers the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize two separatist regions as independent to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

“According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, Ukraine reserves the right to individual and collective self-defense,” the president said. “We can well distinguish between provocations and attacks by the aggressor’s troops.”

Zelenskyy said Russia’s decision constitutes a de facto exit from the Minsk agreements, which attempted to end the fighting in the East but was vaguely written. Its interpretation is disputed by both sides.

The president noted that he initiated an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council and the Normandy 4 — Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia.

He added that Ukraine was committed to diplomacy but noted that they are ready to defend the country.

There’s no need to panic, Zelenskyy said, adding that he is “committed to a peaceful and diplomatic path,” but also noting that it’s not 2014, it’s 2022. “This is another country, another army,” he said.

We are not afraid of anything or anyone,” Zelenskyy said. “We owe nothing to anyone. And we will not give anything to anyone.”

ABC News’ Kirit Radia

 

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