U.S. Offers Support After Banks Face Cyber Hit: Ukraine Update

Track the latest updates from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine tensions.

U.S. Offers Support After Banks Face Cyber Hit: Ukraine Update
A member of the public waves a Ukraine flag at a rally attended by soldiers and police in Ukraine. (Photographer: Christopher Occhicone/Bloomberg)

President Joe Biden said that a Russian attack on Ukraine is “still very much a possibility” but said diplomacy should continue. 

Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow while Western allies reacted cautiously to a Russian statement that it was beginning to pull back troops from the Ukrainian border. Putin told reporters that the talks with Scholz were businesslike and that U.S. and NATO offers on limits to missile deployments and confidence-building measures could be the basis for further discussions.

Russian officials have repeatedly denied that an incursion is planned.

Key Developments

All times CET

U.S. Offers Support After Denial-of-Service Hit (10:52 p.m.)

The U.S. has offered to help Ukraine investigate and respond to the distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that some Ukrainian banks, the defense ministry and other websites suffered on Tuesday. 

After the initial reports on the attacks emerged, Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, said that the government website Dia was also hit by a “strong DDos attack.” Dia is a popular app that citizens use to store everything from passports to driver’s licenses and vaccination certifications. 

Separately, an executive at online-security firm Mandiant Inc. cautioned against over-hyping Russia’s ability to wreak havoc in the digital realm. 

Russia Sanctions Wouldn’t Be ‘Painless’ for U.S.: Biden (9:40 p.m)

Biden said sanctions envisioned by his administration against Moscow if it attacks Ukraine wouldn’t be “painless” for the U.S. 

“We are taking active steps to alleviate the pressure on our own energy markets and offset rising prices,” Biden said. “We’re coordinating with major energy, energy consumers and producers are prepared to deploy all the tools and authority at our disposal to provide relief at the gas pump.” 

He said the penalties the U.S. would inflict with allies “will impose long-term consequences that will undermine Russia’s ability to compete economically and strategically” and reiterated vows that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany will remain shut if hostilities break out. 

Biden Says Attack Possible, No Sign of Drawdown (9:35 p.m.)

Biden said a Russian attack is still a possibility and that the U.S. is “prepared, no matter what happens.” 

“The Russian defense minister reported today that some military units are leaving their positions near Ukraine,” Biden said in an address at the White House. “That would be good, but we have not yet verified that.” He went on to say that Russian forces remain “very much in a threatening position.” 

Biden said Russia has about 150,000 troops are deployed near Ukraine. And he reached out to the Russian people, citing the cooperation with the U.S. in World War II. 

“We’re not targeting the people of Russia. We do not seek to destabilize Russia. To the citizens of Russia: You are not our enemy. And I do not believe you want a bloody destructive war against Ukraine.”

Key Senate Republican Plans Sanctions Bill (9:00 p.m.)

Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, has drafted his own Russia sanctions bill, the latest sign that bipartisan talks remain at an impasse.

Risch’s bill is aimed at halting construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and would mandate sanctions on the project should Russia invade Ukraine. Prior to any invasion, the bill would suspend sanctions for as long as the German government continues to suspend the certification process for the conduit. It would also provide $500 million in Foreign Military Financing for Ukraine, including $250 million in emergency funding, with $100 million of that for lethal assistance.

Risch and Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez have been trying to reach consensus on a sanctions package, but the Senate plans to leave Washington for a week-long recess at the end of this week, giving lawmakers just a few days to strike a deal that has eluded them for weeks. 

Russia Moves Don’t Suggest Force Posture Change, RUSI Says (8:40 p.m.)

Judging by units the Russian defense ministry has shown as withdrawing, it’s doubtful a meaningful de-escalation has begun, according to Samuel Cranny-Evans, a military analyst at the Royal United Services Institute in London. The units were from two motor rifle brigades that were stationed in the southern part of Crimea, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

“It does not really change Russian force posture at all,” Cranny-Evans said, because they were positioned too far from the provisional border. At the same time, he noted that open source videos purport to show tanks from the 1st Guards Tank Army driving at night close to the Ukrainian border, which would send a very different signal.

Not only is driving tanks at night risky and certain to tear up roads, so generally not done lightly, but if open source identifications are correct the 1st Guards are a spearhead division, according to Cranny-Evans. “If that kind of unit were withdrawn from that kind of location, it would be a much more definitive indication of de-escalation.”

West Watches Where Russian Troops and Equipment Might Move (7:38 p.m.)

As Western diplomats seek to parse Russia’s announcement of a partial withdrawal of some of the estimated 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, it’s what-gets-moved-where that will indicate the Kremlin’s intentions.

To be meaningful, any withdrawal must be substantial and include heavy land equipment such as tanks, according to Henry Boyd, a research fellow for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The troops would need to return to home barracks across Russia, rather than the closer makeshift bases they were in recently until moving up near the border, Boyd said.

“There has to be equipment, it is too quick and easy to move personnel backward and forwards,” said Boyd. “Otherwise, you are just shifting from the potential for invasion within a couple of days to within a week.” Any semi-withdrawal could also be part of a deception operation: “yes, it could be genuine, or yes it could be false and in essence the two things wouldn’t look too different at this point in time.”

Ukraine Defense Ministry, Banks See Websites Hit (6:46 p.m.)

Ukraine’s defense ministry and two state-run Ukrainian lenders, Privatbank and Oschadbank, said they suffered distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks which interrupted access to some of their services. 

The ministry’s website still appears to be down. The banks said the attacks on their systems lasted several hours but that most functions have since been restored.

Over 70 government websites came under massive cyberattacks on Jan. 14. Ukrainian investigators said last month that all evidence pointed to Russia being behind them, charges Moscow rejected. 

Biden to Speak on Russia-Ukraine Crisis (6:28 p.m.)

Biden will discuss the Russia-Ukraine situation in public remarks at the White House at 3:30 p.m. 

The president “will reiterate that the United States remains open to high-level diplomacy in close coordination with our allies, building on the multiple diplomatic off-ramps we and our allies and partners have offered Russia in recent months. The United States continues to believe diplomacy and de-escalation are the best path forward, but is prepared for every scenario,” the White House said in a statement. 

Oil Plummets Amid Signs of Tensions Easing (4:40 p.m.)

Oil dropped from its highest since 2014 after Russia said some troops are starting to return to their permanent bases after completing drills, even as Western officials expressed reservations over the claims. 

Futures in New York fell close to $5 a barrel after touching $95 on Monday. Crude has swung wildly this week amid a flurry of reports about the tensions over Ukraine.

U.S. Offers Support After Banks Face Cyber Hit: Ukraine Update

Putin Says Russia Committed to Minsk Accords (3:56 p.m.)

Putin on Tuesday called for efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas to continue on the basis of the Minsk accords. Putin, speaking to reporters in Moscow following talks with Scholz, urged France and Germany to pressure Kyiv to implement the stalled 2015 peace agreement.

U.S. Offers Support After Banks Face Cyber Hit: Ukraine Update

The Russian leader was responding to a question on a vote by Russian lawmakers asking him to immediately recognize separatist Kremlin-backed regions in Ukraine. Putin didn’t specify how he’d respond to the request. 

Scholz warned that such a move would risk scuppering the Minsk peace process, adding that failure of those discussions would be a catastrophe and that all parties needed to make contributions. 

Western Officials Seek to Clarify Russian Claims (3:07 p.m.)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock joined a chorus of Western voices expressing skepticism over Moscow’s statement that it was beginning to pull back troops from the Ukrainian border. “Every step of de-escalation would be reason for hope. But so far there are only words, which now have to be followed by actions,” she said on Tuesday.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told reporters that they would need to verify Russia’s claims, adding that Moscow made similar statements in December that couldn’t be supported by the facts.

Russia has rotated troops before and would need to demonstrate a significant reduction for a proper rollback, according to a NATO diplomat familiar with the alliance’s thinking. A mass movement of troops would also take time, the diplomat cautioned, so the situation would need to be monitored for a while to ensure it’s not a tactical ploy.

Ukraine’s Top Diplomat Wants to See ‘Real Withdrawal’ (2:40 p.m.)

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he would need to see action before believing Moscow’s statement that it was beginning to pull troops back from Ukraine’s border. Kuleba wrote on Twitter that he would believe a de-escalation was in progress if “a real withdrawal follows these statements.” 

U.K.’s Johnson Sees ‘Mixed Signals’ in Russian Position (2:26 p.m.) 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Russia’s declaration that it was moving troops away from the Ukrainian border was a sign of a “diplomatic opening,” but added that U.K. intelligence “is still not encouraging.” 

“You’ve got more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border,” Johnson told reporters on Tuesday after being briefed by intelligence officials. “So, mixed signals, I think, at the moment.”

Johnson added that the U.K. will take steps to stop Russian companies from raising capital on London financial markets as part of a broad range of sanctions if Russia invades.

Euro Area at Risk From Gas-Supply Shock, ECB Finds (1:18 p.m.)

A potential reduction of gas supplies to the euro area would diminish economic activity in the region and worsen the hit from already-high energy prices, European Central Bank researchers said. 

Slovakia, Austria and Portugal would take the biggest hit, while the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium would be relatively immune, the researchers said. 

NATO Says No Sign Yet of Russian Pullback (1:08 p.m.)

NATO has yet to see any signs of a reduced Russian presence on its border with Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels, although he said Moscow’s announcement offered “reason for cautious optimism.” 

“So far we haven’t seen any sign of de-escalation on the ground,” he said. “Everything is in place for a new attack. Russia still has time to step back from the brink.”

U.S. Offers Support After Banks Face Cyber Hit: Ukraine Update

Estonian Spies See Long-Term Risk From Russia (1:00 p.m.)

NATO and its allies must be prepared for “sustained military pressure” from Russia and a continued military presence in Belarus that will pose a threat to Baltic nations, Estonia’s intelligence agency said in its annual report.

“Russia may continue to maintain a rotating force group on Belarusian territory,” the report said. “This would harm the wider security situation in the Baltic Sea region and for NATO, reducing the preparation time for an attack against the Baltic states.”

Russia’s military would only be a “political decision” away from a full-scale attack on Ukraine from the second half of February, according to the report. But even if current tensions de-escalate, the military pressure wielded by the Kremlin has become an “integral part of the foreign policy of Putin’s Russia” in recent years.

Russia’s Lavrov Says Security Deal Possible With U.S., NATO (12:10 p.m.)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia is confident that diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving a tense stand-off with the U.S. and Europe will succeed.

Lavrov said his country will pursue talks on its demands for sweeping security guarantees including a halt to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the U.S. and its allies have rejected. At the same time, Russia is ready to start talks at an expert level on proposals made by the U.S. on missile restrictions and confidence-building measures, he said, adding that Moscow would publish its response to the U.S. soon.

“Thanks to efforts on all these fronts, overall we can work out a fairly good package solution,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

Duma Asks Putin to Recognize Ukraine Separatists (11:32 a.m.)

The Russian State Duma voted Tuesday to appeal to Putin to immediately grant formal recognition to separatist entities in east Ukraine. The Kremlin so far hasn’t publicly stated its position on the proposal. 

The U.S. has warned allies that Russia could try to create a pretext to move against Ukraine by causing a provocation in the eastern Donbas region, where Ukraine’s military has been fighting for years against separatists backed by Moscow, officials familiar with the matter said. 

Russia Shows Video of Troops Preparing to Pull Back (11:11 a.m.)

Units of the Western and Southern military districts are already loading equipment onto road and rail transport after completing their drills and will begin returning to their permanent bases Tuesday, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a video posted on its website.

It remains unclear how many troops may be pulled back and how significant the process might become.

Some of the troops on exercise in Belarus have moved closer to the border than expected, according to Western intelligence officials. They added their intelligence showed there were currently 100 Russian battalion tactical groups massed near Ukraine’s borders and 14 more in transit. The officials did not provide the evidence behind their assessments.

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