Timeline: Russia's stand-off with Ukraine

A Ukrainian military tank exercise in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, on Feb 17, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

PARIS (AFP) - From Russia's massing of soldiers along the border in November last year to President Vladimir Putin announcing a military operation on Thursday (Feb 24), here is a timeline of months of tensions around Ukraine.

Troop movements

Nov 10, 2021: Washington reports unusual Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border.

Nov 28: Ukraine says Russia is massing nearly 92,000 troops for an offensive at the end of January or early February. Moscow denies this and accuses Ukrainian capital Kyiv of a military build-up of its own, demanding "legal guarantees" that it will never join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) military alliance.

Moscow demands

Dec 7: US President Joe Biden threatens Russian counterpart Mr Putin with "strong economic and other measures" if he invades Ukraine. Ten days later, Moscow puts forward proposals to limit US and Nato influence on former Soviet states.

Build-up in Belarus

Jan 17, 2022: Russian troops begin arriving in ex-Soviet Belarus for military drills, which Moscow says are aimed at "thwarting external aggression". Two days later, Washington announces an extra US$200 million (S$271 million) in security aid to Kyiv.

Nato on standby

Jan 24: Nato puts troops on standby and sends ships and fighter jets to bolster Europe's eastern defences. The next day, Moscow begins military exercises involving some 6,000 troops and at least 60 fighter jets in southern Russia near Ukraine and in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

Jan 26: Washington refuses to shut the Nato door on Ukraine and the alliance says many of Moscow's security demands are "unrealistic". The US says it believes Mr Putin "is going to use military force between now and the middle of February".

The next day, China warns that Russia's security concerns should be "taken seriously".

Jan 28: Mr Putin says the West has ignored "Russia's fundamental concerns" on Nato's expansion and has "strike weapons systems near Russia's borders".

Manoeuvres in Belarus

Feb 2: The US sends 3,000 troops to fortify Nato forces in eastern Europe.

Feb 10: Russia and Belarus begin 10 days of military manoeuvres.

Retreat or reinforcement?

Feb 15: Moscow says some of its forces are returning to their bases. But Nato sees no sign of a withdrawal and Washington claims Russia is in fact sending reinforcements.

Artillery fire

Feb 17: Shellfire intensifies all along the frontline of the two Russian-backed enclaves in eastern Ukraine. A day later, the leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions say they are evacuating residents to Russia.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accuses Moscow of "false provocations" to justify further "aggression" against Ukraine.

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Attack imminent

Feb 19: Ukraine says two of its soldiers died in attacks on the frontline with Russian-backed separatists.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposes a meeting with Mr Putin, as Moscow test-fires nuclear-capable missiles.

Russia is "on the brink" of invading Ukraine, Washington says.

Putin-Biden summit?

Feb 21: France says that Mr Putin and Mr Biden have agreed in principle to a summit. But the White House is notably cautious and the Kremlin says it is too early.

The Russian military says it has killed five "saboteurs" who crossed into Russia from Ukraine. Ukraine denies the claims.

France and Germany call on their nationals to leave Ukraine.

Putin recognises separatist republics

A satellite image close up of a field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod, Russia, on Feb 21, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Feb 22: In a televised address, Mr Putin recognises the independence of the two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. The EU vows sanctions.

Mr Putin orders Russian troops into the separatist areas on a "peacekeeping" mission.

Several hours later during an emergency United Nations Security Council session, the UN and most of its members denounce the Russian decisions.

Washington says it will slap new sanctions on Russia.

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The EU will also adopt sanctions, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says.

Moscow says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is still ready for talks with Mr Blinken, whom he is scheduled to meet in Geneva on Thursday.

Putin announces military operation

Feb 24: Mr Putin announces a military operation in Ukraine in a surprise television address. He calls on Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their arms, claiming he wants a "demilitarisation" of the former Soviet state but not its occupation.

Explosions are heard soon after in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine.

Mr Putin's announcement prompts outrage from Mr Biden, who warns of a "catastrophic loss of life".

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