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Russia-Ukraine crisis update: Pentagon warns Moscow 'ready' to attack

The United States and its allies have stepped up sanctions on Russia after President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine.

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U.N. Security Council schedules emergency meeting on Russia

The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday night at the request of Ukraine. The open meeting, scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m. ET, was requested by Ukraine earlier Wednesday.

“Ukraine has requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council due to the appeal by Russian occupation administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk to Russia with a request to provide them with military assistance, which is a further escalation of the security situation,” tweeted Ukraine's foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.

The meeting comes hours after rebel leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk, two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide military assistance to defend against Ukrainian "aggression" — a request that Kyiv has warned could become a pretext for a Russian invasion.

The council held an emergency meeting on Monday that was also requested by Ukraine. The 15-member council did not show any support for Putin’s declaration of independence for the two breakaway regions, according to The Associated Press.

Zelenskyy says Ukraine doesn't pose a threat to Russia, makes emotional plea

Teaganne Finn

In an emotional speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a plea to prevent a Russian invasion that he warned could cause tens of thousands of deaths. 

Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday local time. Initially, his address was in Ukrainian. Zelensky spoke about the decisions made in Ukraine and in the international arena to support the country's defense capabilities. Then he switched to speaking in Russian.

Addressing the Russian public, the president stressed that Ukraine "in your news" and Ukraine in reality are two completely different countries. He stressed that Ukrainians are not "Nazis" and do not "hate Russian culture." 

"We are different, but this is no reason to be enemies. We want to define and build our own history.  Peaceful, calm, honest," Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy said he tried to call Putin late Wednesday but the Russian leader ignored the call. He said that Russia does not want to negotiate with Ukraine. 

"The truth is that we need to stop before it's too late," he said. "And if the Russian leadership does not want to sit at the table with us for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at the table with you. Do Russians want war? I would very much like to answer this question, but the answer depends on you, the citizens of the Russian Federation."

Top E.U. official urges Russia not to escalate after breakaway regions ask for help

Jacob Fulton

A top European Union official urged Russia against further escalation on Wednesday after leaders in the  Moscow-backed breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk asked for Russian military assistance. 

In a tweet, Josep Borrell, the European Union's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said any escalatory measures would be a "dangerous step" against Ukraine's sovereignty and would put thousands of lives at risk. 

Kyiv's mayor announces new restrictions as state of emergency begins

Teaganne Finn

The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, has posted information about upcoming restrictions as the city braces for a 30-day state of emergency that began at midnight local time.

Klitschko posted information on Wednesday regarding curfews and a new regime of exit and entry, along with the movement of vehicles. 

The mayor also laid out increased security measures and "special control" at city stations and airports. 

Ukraine requests meeting of U.N. Security Council as Russia threat increases

Teaganne Finn

Ukraine has requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council after the rebel leaders of two Moscow-backed breakaway regions asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide military assistance.

The move is a "further escalation of the security situation," said Ukraine's minister of foreign affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, in a tweet Wednesday. 

Rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military help, Kremlin says

Teaganne Finn

Rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military help in fending off Ukrainian "aggression," Russian state media said, citing a Kremlin spokesman.

The leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk, two Moscow-backed breakaway regions, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin "to provide assistance in repulsing the aggression" from Ukrainian military, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. 

The Ukrainian military warned earlier this week that Russian-backed mercenaries had been sent to the area to stage “provocations” as a possible pretext for invasion.

On Monday, Putin ordered troops into the two regions just hours after he formally recognized their independence. The Biden administration has described the troop movement as “an invasion."

'Wiper' software found on Ukrainian computers, cybersecurity company says

Hackers have installed malicious "wiper" software on hundreds of computers in Ukraine, the cybersecurity company ESET announced Wednesday.

Some code from Wednesday's wiper attacks was dated Dec. 28, indicating that it was written almost two months ago, ESET said. The software is designed infect computer systems and delete all files.

It's unclear how many computers if any had been wiped. Some Ukrainian government websites were briefly slowed or knocked offline Wednesday by what officials said was a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), which can overwhelm targets with web traffic. That attack seems to have had only a minor impact. It was not immediately clear if the two attacks were designed to compliment each other.

Ukraine's Cyber Police announced Wednesday that the country has seen an escalation of cyberattacks on its infrastructure, and that Russia was responsible for the DDoS.

Some Ukrainian government computers were also infected with wiper attacks in January, Microsoft announced at the time. Ukraine and the United States later said that Russia was responsible for that cyberattack.

White House says Putin is 'improvising' his strategy in Ukraine

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "improvising" and "adapting" his strategy in Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Psaki said that officials believe Putin was surprised by the amount of intelligence and information that the U.S. had gathered about Russia's threat to Ukraine, and was not prepared for the Biden administration to make so much of that information public

Psaki said officials believe Putin also was not expecting the global community to be as unified this week in its response to Russia's advancement on Monday into the eastern part of Ukraine.

"Our assessment is that [Putin] is improvising, adapting and having to respond and adapt his own actions as we are responding to him," Psaki said. 

Psaki warned that while Putin was making changes to his strategy, Russia continued to be in an "attack position" and said Moscow remained "capable of operationalizing at any time."

State department promises further escalation if Russian aggression continues

Anjali Huynh

Anjali Huynh and Dareh Gregorian

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday that they are poised to escalate if Russia takes further actions against Ukraine.

Price referenced the U.S.' recent sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Russia had invested $11 billion into, saying that it is "now a hunk of steel sitting at the bottom of the sea." The pipeline's certification was halted by Germany, and the U.S. imposed sanctions against its Russian manufacturer yesterday. 

While Price said the U.S. is willing to engage in further discussions with Russia, they first want to see that Russia is "serious about diplomacy first."

"This is the beginning of our response," he added. "If they escalate further, we will escalate further.

Ukraine declares state of emergency

Anjali Huynh

Ukraine officially declared a 30-day state of emergency beginning at midnight, following a vote from the country's parliament on Wednesday. 

Officials in Ukraine have urged their citizens to leave Russia immediately and began calling military reservists to prepare for a possible invasion, NBC News has reported.

"We are aware of the risks that exist from the Russian Federation. We clearly understand that our army is ready to fight back," Ukraine's top security official, Oleksiy Danilov, previously told reporters after he asked lawmakers to approve the state of emergency.

Ukrainians seen lining up to enlist: 'Enough is enough'

Ukrainians lined up outside a military registration and enlistment office in Kyiv on Tuesday, a day before President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called up some of the country’s military reservists ahead of a possible conflict with Russia.

Liudmyla Yankina, 38, shared pictures and video from the district of Solomianskyi and told NBC News she and her friends had enlisted as reservists.

Solomianskyi enlistment office
In pictures published on social media, a queue of people appeared outside a military registration and enlistment office in Solomianskyi, Kyiv on Tuesday.Liudmyla Yankina

She said she felt motivated to register after Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech on Monday formally recognizing the independence of two regions in eastern Ukraine — the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People's Republic.” 

“I am from Luhansk and when the war started in 2014 I was shocked and didn’t know what to do except run away and evacuate with my mother from shelling,” Yankina said.

“This time everything is different for me,” she added. “Enough is enough. I won’t run away this time. I will stay and defend my country.”

Biden imposes sanctions on Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Teaganne Finn

Biden has announced sanctions on the entity and corporate officers behind the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

"These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine," said Biden in a statement on Wednesday. "As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate."

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Germany was taking steps to halt progress on the pipeline, which would have delivered gas to Germany directly from Russia, following the latest developments in the Ukraine crisis. The U.S. has warned that the pipeline could make Germany overly reliant on Russia for energy. 

Pelosi condemns 'very evil' move by Putin, compares his actions to Hitler

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., lashed out at Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, calling his aggression toward Ukraine “very evil” and likening it to Adolf Hitler’s annexation of parts of Czechoslovakia just before World War II.

“This, my friends, is our moment. This is the Sudetenland — that's what people were saying there,” Pelosi said referring to conversations she had at the Munich Security Conference in Germany over the weekend. “You cannot ignore what Putin is doing. Nobody is, of course, ignoring it, but you cannot take it any lighter than what it is: a total assault on democracy."

Pelosi repeatedly called Putin “a tyrant" as she briefed reporters on her recent trip.

“This is the same tyrant who attacked our democracy in 2016,” she said, referring to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“This is the same tyrant who is opposed to democracy and wants to minimize, trivialize it, to downgrade it in the eyes of the Russian people," she said, calling Putin's recent order of Russian troops into two regions in eastern Ukraine “a very evil move."

Pelosi said the sanctions that President Joe Biden imposed Tuesday on Russia were “appropriate” and part of a “unified effort” with NATO and other U.S. allies. 

Biden is ready to go “all the way” with stronger sanctions if Putin continues his incursion into Ukraine, Pelosi said. “Let me just say that we haven't seen the depth of these sanctions yet,” Pelosi added.

Ukraine calls for 'swift, concrete and resolute actions' against Russia

Abigail Williams

Abigail Williams and Henry Austin

Ukraine's foreign minister called for "swift, concrete and resolute actions" against Russia in a speech Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly. 

"If Russia does not get a severe, swift and decisive response now, this will mean a total bankruptcy of the international security system and international institutions, which are tasked with maintaining the global security order," Dmytro Kuleba told representatives. 

"We urge member states to use all available means to protect Ukraine and deter Russia — whatever action you can take is appreciated," he added. 

Kuleba said that, during a speech Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin "overtly denied Ukraine's right to exist." He said that Putin wanted to "prove that the United Nations are weak, indecisive and unable to defend their core principles" and "that rules do not apply to him."

Senior U.S. defense official says Russia is 'ready to go now'

Teaganne Finn

Teaganne Finn and Courtney Kube

The Russians are "as ready as they can be" to attack Ukraine, a senior U.S. defense official tells NBC News. 

They have about 80 percent "in forward positions ready to go," and range from about 3 miles from the border to about 30 miles (5 kilometers to 50 kilometers), the official said. 

“They are literally ready to go now," the official added. Russia has brought in "nearly 100 percent" of the forces the U.S. anticipates Putin would need for a large-scale invasion, they said.

The official also said Russia has more than 10 landing ships in the Black Sea with troops on board. The belief continues to be that a large-scale invasion is still Putin's goal, the official added.

Why didn't the U.S. and allies provide Ukraine with a better air defense system?

Years of Western reluctance to help Ukraine modernize its Soviet-era air defenses have left the country dramatically vulnerable to a massive Russian bombing and missile campaign that could devastate Ukrainian forces before they ever see a hostile tank or soldier.

A confluence of concerns — fear of provoking Russia, worries the technology could fall into Russian hands, doubts Ukraine could operate the systems — prevented the U.S. and its allies from granting Ukrainian requests for sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in the years after Russia seized Crimea in 2014, current and former American officials and defense experts told NBC News.

Read more here.

U.N. ambassador urges member states to ‘isolate’ Russia

Anjali Huynh

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on Wednesday called for other members of the body to join together and isolate Russia for its “unprovoked, further aggression” against Ukraine.

“Other U.N. member states must recognize the threat before us all today before it is too late. There is no middle ground. Calling for both sides to de-escalate only gives Russia a pass. Russia is the aggressor here,” Thomas-Greenfield said during remarks delivered to the U.N. General Assembly.

She said Russia’s actions will likely cause a refugee crisis and food shortages, stating, “The tidal waves of suffering this war will cause are unthinkable.”

Thomas-Greenfield urged member states to “show Russia that it is isolated and alone in its aggressive actions” as Russia considers its next steps.

“What we can do together is make clear that Russia will pay an even steeper price if it continues its aggression,” Thomas-Greenfield said. 

"This, right here, right now, is a moment when we can save this generation, and the next, from that terrible fate,” she continued. “Now is the time to get off the sidelines.”

Former senior Treasury official warns U.S., European sanctions may not go far enough

A former senior Treasury Department official told NBC News that while it was encouraging that the U.S. and European governments were presenting a united front toward Russia on sanctions, Moscow may interpret these first moves as a sign the West was hesitant to pursue tougher measures.

"This is a reasonable first tranche from the Biden administration, moving in step with what the E.U. is reportedly considering, assuming that there are more incremental aggressions anticipated by Moscow that will need escalation room by the U.S. and its partners," said Brian O’Toole, who is now a fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The measures so far fall short of the promised major banking sanctions promised on both sides of the Atlantic as no significant commercial banks were included, he said.

"They will have impact, undoubtedly, but I fear that Putin may assess the West does not have the stomach to impose truly significant measures given the incremental nature of today's announcement," O’Toole added. "I hope that time proves him wrong, as it is clear he has no intention of stopping with just taking the breakaway territories."

Twitter suspends some accounts reporting on Russian military

Twitter has suspended or locked the accounts of at least 15 users who were tracking Russian military movements on the platform.

The accounts are part of a relatively new form of journalism that uses the internet to gather images and video (also known as open-source intelligence, or OSINT) in an effort to track and report on violent conflicts. Many of these accounts have been tracking Russian military movements — information that the Russian military might have found problematic if they launched an attack.

Many tech companies use automated systems to moderate their platforms, which can be tricked into banning legitimate accounts through a coordinated flood of false claims

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company has reinstated some accounts that were mistakenly suspended.

"We’ve been proactively monitoring for emerging narratives that are violative of our policies, and, in this instance, we took enforcement action on a number of accounts in error," the spokesperson said in an email. "We’re expeditiously reviewing these actions and have already proactively reinstated access to a number of affected accounts."

The spokesperson added that the suspensions were not the result of a "coordinated bot campaign" or "mass reporting."

First round of E.U. sanctions take effect

A first round of European Union sanctions went into effect Wednesday targeting Russian politicians and blocking trade between two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine that were recognized as independent by Moscow this week.  

All 351 legislators in Russia's Duma, or parliament, who voted in favor of formally recognizing pro-Russian separatist regions in Ukraine had any assets they had in the E.U. frozen, the 27-nation bloc said in a news release. They were also prevented from traveling to E.U. countries.  

Banks involved in financing separatist activities in eastern Ukraine as well as 27 other individuals were also targeted with restrictive measures. 

The self-proclaimed "Donetsk People’s Republic" and "Luhansk People’s Republic" will also be removed from a free-trade deal between the E.U. and Ukraine.

Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of the Duma, told the Belgian broadcaster RTBF the sanctions were "worthless" and Moscow is planning a response. He did not give details. 

European Council president calls for emergency meeting

Anjali Huynh

Charles Michel, president of the European Council, called for an emergency summit of European Union leaders to take place Thursday, according to a letter obtained by CNBC. 

The letter was sent to 27 member-state leaders, who will meet in Brussels. 

“The use of force and coercion to change borders has no place in the 21st century,” Michel wrote.

He continued that Russia’s actions “violate international law and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine” as well as “undermine the European security order.”

Michel added that at the meeting, he plans to discuss latest developments, protecting the “rules-based” international order, how to “deal with Russia,” and how to support Ukraine.

Leaders of Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland call on Russia to 'de-escalate' and withdraw forces

The presidents of Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland called on Russia Wednesday to "de-escalate" and "withdraw its armed forces deployed around Ukraine’s borders and in temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine." 

In a statement issued after a meeting in Kyiv, Presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania, and Andrzej Duda of Poland expressed their "strongest condemnation" of Russia's decision to recognize two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine as independent. 

"This unprovoked aggressive step by Russia constitutes yet another blatant violation of the fundamental norms and principles of the international law, including the U.N. Charter, as well as security assurances given to Ukraine in the framework of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum," they said. "Russia deliberately and unilaterally has withdrawn from the Minsk agreements and therefore bears full responsibility for further deterioration of the security situation on the ground."

In addition to calling upon the international community to take "resolute and far-reaching steps" in response to Russia's actions, the world leaders urged Russia to de-escalate the situation and "refrain from taking any further military actions."

"The Presidents of Lithuania and Poland stand by Ukraine and fully commend and support its efforts to solve Russian-Ukrainian conflict by diplomatic and peaceful means," they added.

Ukrainian websites hit by cyberattack

At least five Ukrainian websites were slowed or rendered inaccessible by a cyberattack on Wednesday, the country's minister of digital transformation, Mykhailo Fedorov, said on his Telegram channel.

The websites of the Cabinet of Ministers and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as those of a number of banks were hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, Fedorov said. DDoS attacks are a simple tactic to overwhelm a website with massive amounts of traffic.

The attack echoes a similar one last week, which Ukraine and the U.S. attributed to Russia. That case appeared to have been a hybrid information warfare tactic designed to harass Ukrainians and sow distrust about their financial systems. Hackers knocked out the websites of two major banks while simultaneously sending many Ukrainians spam text messages that informed them ATMs were down.

NBC News

Ukrainian frontier guards patrol an area along the Ukrainian-Russian border in the Kharkiv region on Wednesday.

Image: Hoptivka border crossing in Kharkiv region
Antonio Bronic / Reuters

Russia says sanctions 'will not affect our resolve' as it warns of strong response

Russia has remained defiant in the face of fresh sanctions from the United States and other Western nations, saying the penalties will "not affect our resolve to keep standing up for our interests" as it warned of a "strong response."

In a statement Wednesday, Russia's foreign ministry said the new sanctions were "in line with Washington's unceasing attempts to change Russia's course." 

"Despite the obviously barren efforts that have been taken over many years to halt the development of our economy, the USA are grabbing the restricting instruments again, which are ineffective and counterproductive for the America’s own interests," the ministry said, adding that "Russia has proved that it can minimize the losses of these sanctions."

The foreign affairs ministry said the U.S. was following a "false conviction" that it "still has the right to impose its own rules of the world order."

The ministry said Russia was open "only toward diplomacy that is based on principles of mutual respect, equality and consideration of each other’s interests."

It also said there would be a "strong response" to the sanctions. "Not necessarily a symmetrical one, but measured and considerable for the American side."

NBC News

Russia reportedly begins evacuating diplomatic staff from Ukraine

Russia has begun evacuating diplomatic staff from all of its diplomatic facilities in Ukraine, the state-owned TASS news agency reported. 

Citing a representative of Russia's embassy in Kyiv, TASS said the evacuations had begun Wednesday. The development came after Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a tweet earlier in the day that evacuations would begin "soon."

On Tuesday, the ministry said it had made the decision to pull its diplomatic staff from Ukraine "to take care of Russian diplomats and employees of the Embassy and Consulates General."

Former Ambassador McFaul warns a Russian invasion will 'probably be the largest war in Europe since 1939'

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul warned in an interview on NBC's "TODAY" show that the steps taken by the West to respond to Russia are not enough to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Asked what the U.S. and NATO have in their arsenal to respond to Russia, McFaul said, "Tragically, let's be honest, not very much."

McFaul said President Joe Biden has ruled out going to war with Russia and said he has played his cards well. Sanctions are coming, which McFaul said will be "difficult" for the Russian economy. The U.S. has given military assistance to the Ukrainians and has bolstered NATO's frontline forces, he added. 

"But having said all that, that is not enough to deter Putin," he said. "Tragically, I think he's going to go in, and he's going to go in big, and this will probably be the largest war in Europe since 1939."

Leaders of Pakistan and Sudan head to Moscow amid Ukraine crisis

Sudan's Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo looks to deepen ties with Russia on an official trip to Moscow amid the crisis in Ukraine, in an image posted to social media on Wednesday.
Sudan's Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo looks to deepen ties with Russia on an official trip to Moscow amid the crisis in Ukraine, in an image posted to social media on Wednesday.GeneralDagllo / Twitter

As the West announced heavy sanctions against Russia, condemning its decision to formally recognize the independence of two separatist regions and send troops into the area, officials from other nations made their way to Moscow, with Sudan looking to "advance relations."

On Wednesday, Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan's ruling council, said in a tweet that he hoped to strengthen ties with Russia as he headed to Moscow in the latest in a string of foreign trips. 

Widely known as Hemedti, Dagalo made the trip as Russia faced condemnation and heavy sanctions from the West after recognizing the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and ordering troops into the area.

"Through this visit, we hope to advance relations between Sudan and Russia to broader horizons, and strengthen the existing cooperation between us in various fields," Dagalo said in a tweet Wednesday, according to a translation by Reuters. 

Meanwhile, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was set to leave Wednesday for a two-day visit to Russia. Pakistan's foreign office said he was visiting on the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Faisal Javed Khan, a senator in Pakistan and a member of the ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said in a tweet that the meeting would "review the entire array of relations (between) the two countries," including on energy cooperation and trade.

Calling the trip a "game-changer," he said it was the first visit by a serving Pakistani prime minister to Russia in more than 20 years.

NBC News

Vladimir Putin attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall to mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow on Wednesday.

Alexey Nikolsky / AFP - Getty Images

China says it won't join sanctions against Russia

China said Wednesday that it would not join the U.S. and other Western countries in sanctioning Russia over its actions in Ukraine.

"Sanctions have never been a fundamentally effective way to solve problems," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday. "China always opposes any illegal unilateral sanctions."

Hua repeated Beijing's earlier for all parties to exercise restraint and try to resolve the dispute through dialogue and negotiation.

Ukraine moves to impose state of emergency

Russian military vehicles are seen loaded on train platform 50km from the border with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in Russia's southern Rostov region on Wednesday.AFP - Getty Images

Ukraine is on track to impose a state of emergency across the country, excluding the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where a special regime is already in place.

Speaking on Wednesday, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the Nation Security and Defense Council, said that after a "lively" discussion, the council decided to push forward with the decision. 

"According to our legislation, the Council must approve this decision within 48 hours," he said.

If given final approval by Parliament, a state of emergency would be imposed on all territories of the country, except Donetsk and Luhansk, the two separatist regions Russia recognized as independent on Monday.

It is unclear exactly what measures would be enforced under the state of emergency. Danilov suggested it would depend on the situation in each territory.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's Parliament voted in favor of a draft law to give permission for civilians to carry firearms for self-defense, in the first reading of the proposed legislation.

Ukraine rolls out further restrictions at Russian border

A man walks in the small town of Krasnogorivka, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on Wednesday.AFP - Getty Images

Ukraine's border service has announced additional restrictions in border areas with Russia. 

In a statement Wednesday, the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine said the restrictions would block traffic except for certain vehicles, including those belonging to the military, law enforcement agencies and agricultural machinery on unofficial roads leading to the border. 

The restrictions will also block people from staying at the border at night, with traffic for non-military vehicles also limited during the night time.

The border service noted that regular measures have also been introduced restricting the stay of foreigners in the border zone, as well as the use of radio stations and flights of light and unmanned aerial vehicles. 

Restrictions have also been imposed on filming and photography of personnel and facilities of the border service, it said.

NBC News

A satellite image dated Feb. 21 and released by commercial satellite company Maxar appears to show a new Russian troop deployment near Belgorod in western Russia, near the Ukraine border. NBC News cannot verify the image.

Image: A satellite image shows a new deployment, material support and troops, near Belgorod
Maxar Technologies / via Reuters

Ukraine's Parliament approves sanctions on 351 Russians, including lawmakers

The independent monument rises above the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv during sunrise on Wednesday.Daniel Leal / AFP - Getty Images

Ukraine's Parliament has approved sanctions on 351 Russians, including lawmakers who have supported Russia's decision to recognize the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and send troops there. 

The sanctions are heavily restrictive and include bans on entry into Ukraine, in addition to prohibiting access to assets, capital, property and licenses for business. The security council was expected to impose the sanctions after the vote. 

It comes as Ukraine called on its allies to impose further penalties after the U.S. and allies announced fresh sanctions over Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognition of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People’s Republic" and "Luhansk People’s Republic."

Pope Francis tells politicians to examine their consciences before God over Ukraine crisis

Pope Francis said Wednesday that the threat of war in Ukraine has caused "great pain in my heart" as he urged politicians to make a serious examination of conscience before God about their actions.

In comments made at the end of his weekly general audience, Francis implored leaders to refrain from making choices that could lead to further suffering, according to a translation by Reuters.

He also proclaimed Ash Wednesday, March 2, as an international day of fasting and prayer for peace.

Putin says Russia open to 'diplomatic solutions,' but own interests come first

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has suggested Moscow is open to "diplomatic solutions" on the situation in Ukraine. However, he said Russia's interests would come first. 

Putin made the comments in a video address Wednesday marking the Defender of the Fatherland Day, a public holiday in Russia. 

"Our country is always open for direct and honest dialogue, for the search for diplomatic solutions to the most complex problems," Putin said.

"But I repeat: the interests of Russia, the security of our citizens are unconditional for us," he said. "Therefore, we will continue to develop and improve the army and navy, to ensure that their efficiency is increased, that they are equipped with the latest technology."

During his address, Putin thanked "comrades" and veterans, saying he was confident "in the soldiers and officers of Russia, in your high professionalism, courage, reliability, that you will protect the peace and tranquility of our citizens, and defend the national interests of our great country."

Ukraine tells its citizens in Russia to leave 'immediately'

A Ukrainian military jet takes part in training exercises at an unknown location of Ukraine on Wednesday, in this image released by the military.Ukrainian Armed Forces / via AFP - Getty Images

Ukraine has told its citizens in Russia to leave "immediately" as it warned nationals to also avoid any travel to the country in the midst of the unfolding crisis.

Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the warning on Wednesday amid what it called the "intensification of Russian aggression against Ukraine."

Warning that the latest developments in the unfolding crisis could lead to "significant restrictions on the provision of consular assistance in the Russian Federation," the ministry recommended that all Ukrainian citizens refrain from traveling to Russia.

Those already in the country, it said, should "leave its territory immediately."

"We emphasize that ignoring these recommendations will significantly complicate ensuring proper protection of Ukrainian citizens in the Russian Federation," it added.

Ukraine calls on allies to ramp up pressure on Putin and 'cronies': 'Hit hard, hit now'

Ukraine's foreign affairs minister has called on the country's allies to ramp up pressure on Russia with "more sanctions" targeting its economy and President Vladimir Putin's "cronies."

"To stop Putin from further aggression, we call on partners to impose more sanctions on Russia now," Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement Wednesday morning on Twitter. 

"First decisive steps were taken yesterday, and we are grateful for them," he said. "Now the pressure needs to step up to stop Putin. Hit his economy and cronies. Hit more. Hit hard. Hit now."

It comes after the U.S. and allies announced new sanctions against Russia after Putin formally recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and sent troops to the area,

NBC News

A military truck drives down a street outside Donetsk, in territory controlled by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, late Tuesday.


Sanctions 'cannot solve a thing,' Russian ambassador to U.S. says

Russia's ambassador to the United States has said sanctions "cannot solve a thing" after the U.S. and allies announced new sanctions against Russia after it recognized the independence of two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine and deployed troops to the area.

In comments published to the embassy's Facebook page Tuesday evening, ambassador Anatoly Antonov said that "for seven years, Americans did nothing to convince the Ukrainian leadership of the need to implement the Minsk agreements," referring to the series of international agreements which seeking to end the war in Ukraine's Donbas region.

Now, he said, the U.S. has "chosen a different strategy here — to pump the Kiev regime with 'weapons' and push it to a war."

"Not everyone can learn lessons from history," he said. "As concerns Russia, sanctions cannot solve a thing."

"It is hard to imagine that there is a person in Washington who expects Russia to revise its foreign policy under a threat of restrictions," he continued. "I don't remember a single day when our country lived without any restrictions from the Western world. We have learned to work in such conditions. And not only to survive, but also to develop our state."

1 Ukrainian soldier killed, six injured in fresh shelling, Ukraine government forces say

The Ukrainian government's Joint Forces Operation said Wednesday that at least one soldier died, while at least six others were injured, in shelling over the past 24 hours. 

The Joint Forces Operation said on Facebook it had recorded at least 96 shellings in the 24-hour time span. At least 81 of the shelling was carried out with the use of heavy weapons, it said, while not saying where the fighting took place.

One Ukrainian serviceman received fatal shrapnel wounds, it said. Another soldier was injured and in hospital, while five more also received combat injuries, it said.

The violence comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin formally recognized the independence of two separatist regions of Ukraine before sending troops into the area.

Taiwan says it must be on heightened military alert

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen held a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, which has raised fears that it may embolden Beijing in its territorial claims on the self-governing island.

Tsai condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a violation of its sovereignty and called on all parties to resolve the dispute peacefully, according to a statement on her Facebook page. She was speaking at a meeting of a Ukraine working group formed under Taiwan's national security council.

She also said Taiwan’s military and security forces must heighten their surveillance around the Taiwan Strait “to ensure national security.” 

While the situations in Ukraine and Taiwan are fundamentally different in terms of geography, geopolitics and relative importance in the international supply chain, Tsai said, the government is working to combat misinformation and maintain morale in Taiwanese society.

Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, told reporters on Wednesday that Taiwan and the West were using the situation in Ukraine to "maliciously hype" the military threat to the island and stoke opposition to China. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that Taiwan is "not Ukraine."

"Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China's territory," she said. "This is an irrefutable historical and legal fact."

Taipei’s representative in Washington told NBC News earlier that Taiwan was watching events in Ukraine with "much concern and anxiety."

But in a survey conducted last week by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, more than 60 percent of respondents said they did not believe Beijing would invade Taiwan in the event of Russian-Ukrainian conflict.