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Explosions heard in Kiev after Putin says invasion is underway

Vladimir Putin has ordered an invasion of Ukraine and said he wants to ‘demilitarise’ and not occupy the country.

The Russian President told Ukrainian service members to ‘lay down their arms and go home’ as he declared war on Ukraine in an address to the nation. 

Putin said Russia could not exist with a ‘constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine’ as he said clashes between Russian and Ukrainian solders was ‘inevitable’.

Within minutes of his public address, explosions could be heard in the capital city of Kiev as well as the city of Kramatorsk in central Ukraine.

In a dark day, Putin told Russians:  ‘I have decided to conduct a special military operation. Russia cannot exist with a constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine.

‘You and I have been left with no opportunity to protect our people other than the one we use today.’

It comes after explosions were heard near the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, as fears mounted that shelling is underway.

Residents in the city, which is located in south eastern Ukraine, have been woken up at 3.30am this morning by blasts 30 miles from the Russian border.

Video footage appeared to show clouds of smoke rising up into the night sky near Mariupol, but it was unconfirmed whether it was as a result of shelling.

Putin earlier this week said he wanted to take the major Azov Sea Port of Mariupol, which handles 50 per cent Ukraine’s steel and mineral exports.   

The explosions come just hours after the U.S. warned the Ukrainian government that Putin’s troops are ‘ready to go now’ with an invasion of Ukraine, with 80 per cent of Russian soldiers now assembled around the country in attack positions.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken issued a further stark warning and said he believed Russia will invade before the night is over. 

And in a further worrisome move, Russia issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) which closed the airspace along its northeastern border with Ukraine to all civilian air traffic. Ukraine later said early on Thursday it had restricted civilian flights in its airspace due to ‘potential hazard’.

Ukraine‘s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy earlier tonight vowed that the Ukrainian people will ‘fight back’ if Putin threatens their freedom and lives by launching a full-scale invasion.

President Zelenskyy made an emotional address to his nation after Moscow-backed rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine asked Putin for military assistance in fending off Ukrainian ‘aggression’ – a move which has fuelled fears the Russian strongman will use it as an excuse to invade Ukraine.  

In an emotional televised address tonight, President Zelenskyy said: ‘The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace.  

‘But if we come under attack, if we face an attempt to take away our country, our freedom, our lives and lives of our children, we will defend ourselves. When you attack us, you will see our faces, not our backs.’ 

The Ukrainian President said he had tried to call Putin this evening, but there was ‘no answer, only silence’, adding that Moscow now has around 200,000 soldiers by Ukraine’s borders.  

The United Nations Security Council quickly scheduled an emergency meeting Wednesday night – the second in three days – at Ukraine’s request. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the separatists’ request ‘a further escalation of the security situation.’ 

 

Footage shows smoke supposedly rising on the skyline after the blasts were heard near Mariupol, eastern Ukraine

Russian armored vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms at a railway station in the Rostov-on-Don region, not far from Russia-Ukraine border, on Wednesday

Russian armored vehicles are loaded onto railway platforms at a railway station in the Rostov-on-Don region, not far from Russia-Ukraine border, on Wednesday

Putin has recognised two areas in eastern Ukraine as independent and authorised Russian troops to go in on 'peacekeeping' missions. Rebels already hold part of that territory (in red) but Putin has recognised a much-wider region (yellow) amid fears he will now try to seize it. There are also fears he is preparing to attack Kharkiv in Ukraine (green) after massing forces nearby

Putin has recognised two areas in eastern Ukraine as independent and authorised Russian troops to go in on ‘peacekeeping’ missions. Rebels already hold part of that territory (in red) but Putin has recognised a much-wider region (yellow) amid fears he will now try to seize it. There are also fears he is preparing to attack Kharkiv in Ukraine (green) after massing forces nearby 

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that the Ukrainian people will 'fight back' if Vladimir Putin threatens their freedom and lives by launching a full-scale invasion

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has vowed that the Ukrainian people will ‘fight back’ if Vladimir Putin threatens their freedom and lives by launching a full-scale invasion

Earlier today, Ukraine was placed on a war footing: A state of emergency was declared and approved by parliament, 200,000 military reservists called up, border zones were restricted and three million Ukrainians told to leave Russia, with Kiev acknowledging for the first time that an attack could now take place anywhere, at any time.

U.S. President Joe Biden today warned President Zelenskyy of an ‘imminent’ attack by Putin’s troops in the next 48 hours, just hours after Ukraine was hit by a ‘massive’ cyberattack targeting its government and banks.  

But Blinken cut that time frame of a Russian invasion drastically and said on Wednesday he expected Russia to invade Ukraine before the night was over.  

U.S. intelligence chiefs fear Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is at particular risk of being targeted in a Russian invasion as it is close to the Ukrainian-Russian border. Last night, a huge military convoy of more than 100 trucks with soldiers were heading in the direction of the city. 

This is a breaking news story, more to follow… 

Vladimir Putin praised the battle readiness of his armies and boasted of developing hypersonic weapons as he called Russia’s security interests ‘non-negotiable’ in an address to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day today

Boris Johnson is briefed by the Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin at the Ministry of Defence on the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday

Boris Johnson is briefed by the Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin at the Ministry of Defence on the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday

A Russian attack on Ukraine could start in the Donbass region (top right) with attempts to expand rebel-held areas, that could either be in coordination with or before a much wider assault on the entire country (top right). Should the fighting spill over Ukraine's borders, it could drag in NATO forces stationed in Europe (bottom centre)

A Russian attack on Ukraine could start in the Donbass region (top right) with attempts to expand rebel-held areas, that could either be in coordination with or before a much wider assault on the entire country (top right). Should the fighting spill over Ukraine’s borders, it could drag in NATO forces stationed in Europe (bottom centre)

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official warned Putin’s military is as ready as it can be to launch a full scale invasion of Ukraine, with 80 per cent of Russian troops assembled around Ukraine in attack positions within three to 30 miles of the border. 

‘They are literally ready to go now,’ the official told NBC News, adding that Russia has brought in ‘nearly 100 percent of all the forces we anticipated [Putin] would need’ for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. 

‘He is as ready as he can be. We’ve been saying any day now and it’s certainly possible that today is that day,’ the U.S. defence official said. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC Nightly News on Wednesday that he expected Russia to invade Ukraine before the night was over but still sees a chance to ‘avert a major aggression’.

‘Everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine,’ Blinken told NBC in an interview, adding he could not be precise about time or place.

In a significant move, the Kremlin said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance Wednesday to help fend off Ukrainian ‘aggression’.

Many observers have suggested baseless and unfounded claims of Ukrainian military aggression to Moscow-backed separatist forces would form the pretext to a full-scale invasion. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the rebel chiefs in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk wrote to Putin, pleading with him to intervene after Ukrainian shelling caused civilian deaths and crippled vital infrastructure. 

But the White House said the separatists’ request for Russian help was another example of the sort of ‘false-flag’ operations the West has consistently warned Moscow would use to create a justification for war.

‘We’ll continue to call out what we see as false flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground,’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. 

In an apparent reference to Putin’s move to sanction the deployment of the Russian military to ‘maintain peace’ in eastern Ukraine, President Zelenskyy warned that ‘this step could mark the start of a big war on the European continent.’

‘Any provocation, any spark could trigger a blaze that will destroy everything,’ he said.

He challenged the Russian propaganda claims, saying that ‘you are told that this blaze will bring freedom to the people of Ukraine, but the Ukrainian people are free.’

If Russia does invade Ukraine, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby warned that any attack by Putin ‘won’t be bloodless’. 

‘There will be suffering,’ Kirby said. ‘There will be sacrifice. And all of that must and should be laid at his feet. Because he’s doing this by choice. 

And amid an ‘imminent’ Russian invasion, two separate convoys with no identifiable insignia were seen moving towards the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine along different roads from the direction of the Russian border, a Reuters witness said on Wednesday. 

One convoy included nine tanks and an infantry fighting vehicle, while the other was made up of trucks and fuel tankers, said the reporter, who was in the territory of two Russia-backed rebel regions recognised as independent by Moscow on Monday. 

Russia has up to 190,000 troops backed by tanks, artillery, fighter jets and bombers surrounding Ukraine from three sides, as the US warns of a full-scale invasion of the whole country including an attack on the capital, Kiev

Russia has up to 190,000 troops backed by tanks, artillery, fighter jets and bombers surrounding Ukraine from three sides, as the US warns of a full-scale invasion of the whole country including an attack on the capital, Kiev

Russian armoured vehicles and artillery pieces are seen at a rail yard in the Rostov-on-Don region, close to the border with Ukraine, as the country was today put on a war footing

Russian armoured vehicles and artillery pieces are seen at a rail yard in the Rostov-on-Don region, close to the border with Ukraine, as the country was today put on a war footing

Russian troops in full packs are seen marching through mud at a rail yard in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia close to the frontline with Ukraine, with armoured vehicles loaded on to train carriages nearby

Russian troops in full packs are seen marching through mud at a rail yard in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia close to the frontline with Ukraine, with armoured vehicles loaded on to train carriages nearby

And on Wednesday night, the crack troops of Russia’s advanced units were banned from using all mobile phones in what was believed to be a key sign that they would invade Kyiv-controlled Ukraine. 

The 1st and 2nd Army Corps in Donbas received an order to turn off mobile phones, according to the volunteer project Informnapalm on its Facebook page.

‘Attention! ….(we) received information from insiders from ORDLO that at 20:40 (Moscow time) all advanced units of the 1st and 2nd Army Corps were ordered to completely turn off phones and walkie-talkies.

‘They were strictly forbidden to go on the air for this time, they were even ordered to remove the batteries from their phones. As an option, the Russians will probably scan the space and all available phones on the line of contact in order to make target designations by coordinates,’ the statement said. 

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted on Wednesday that a night shift of the Titan chemicals plant in annexed Crimea had been evacuated from the facility.

He said it was a possible preparation for another staged provocation by Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014.

‘Moscow seems to have no limits in attempts to falsify pretexts for further aggression,’ he wrote. 

Meanwhile, the websites of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Security Service, and Cabinet of Ministers were all out of action Wednesday afternoon after a cyberattack. Bomb threats were also phoned in to several government buildings, thought to be part of a psychological pressure campaign by Moscow.

Deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov said banks were also targeted in a ‘massive’ distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack – which uses computer networks to bombard websites with information until they crash – in what analysts have warned would likely be the first stage of a Russian attack.  

Russian armored vehicles are pictured at a railway station in the Rostov region, amid fears Putin is about to attack

Russian armored vehicles are pictured at a railway station in the Rostov region, amid fears Putin is about to attack

Moscow's foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would evacuate diplomats from the country soon, saying this was in order to 'protect their lives', and the withdrawal appeared to be underway on Wednesday, with workers pictured leaving the building in Kiev

Moscow’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would evacuate diplomats from the country soon, saying this was in order to ‘protect their lives’, and the withdrawal appeared to be underway on Wednesday, with workers pictured leaving the building in Kiev

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Wednesday

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Wednesday

As the noose tightened, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to send more weapons to help Ukraine defend itself against what the US has warned will be an all-out Russian assault. Johnson also promised more and tougher sanctions against Russia if Putin escalates further. 

Earlier in the day, Vladimir Putin had given a sabre-rattling address to his troops to mark Defender of the Fatherland Day, praising their ‘battle readiness’ while saying he is assured that they will fight to defend Russian security interests – which he called ‘non-negotiable’. Russia also evacuated staff from its Kiev embassy.  

Ukraine’s security agency claimed 45,000 plastic body bags have now been ordered to the Russian frontlines, giving the first hint of the amount lives Putin is willing to sacrifice to get what he wants – after Joe Biden said supplies of blood for transfusions have also been brought in. 

The UN Security Council has also now scheduled an emergency meeting following a request from Ukraine. 

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba asked for the meeting in a letter to Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who holds the council presidency in February. The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday (02.30am GMT on Thursday).

The meeting comes two days after the 15-member council held an emergency open meeting, also at Ukraine’s request, which saw no support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of independence for two separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and his announcement that Russian troops would head there to keep the peace.   

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Wednesday

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on Wednesday

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 23

A convoy of Russian military vehicles is seen as the vehicles move towards border in Donbas region of eastern Ukraine on February 23

Russia has for months been massing troops, tanks, and support vehicles (pictured) on the border with Ukraine and is now thought to have up to 190,000 men ready to attack the country

Russia also began evacuating diplomatic staff from its Kiev embassy, with the flag lowered over the building (pictured, workers leave the building with their baggage on Wednesday, February 23)

Russia also began evacuating diplomatic staff from its Kiev embassy, with the flag lowered over the building (pictured, workers leave the building with their baggage on Wednesday, February 23)

Moscow's foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would evacuate diplomats from the country soon, saying this was in order to 'protect their lives', and the withdrawal appeared to be underway on Wednesday, with workers pictured leaving the building in Kiev

Moscow’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would evacuate diplomats from the country soon, saying this was in order to ‘protect their lives’, and the withdrawal appeared to be underway on Wednesday, with workers pictured leaving the building in Kiev

Boris Johnson is briefed by the Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin at the Ministry of Defence on the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday

Boris Johnson is briefed by the Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin at the Ministry of Defence on the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday

Meanwhile, Ms Truss sought to defend the UK’s own sanctions – criticised yesterday for not being harsh enough – by insisting that ‘nothing’ is off the table should Putin decide to escalate. 

‘We’ve been very clear that we’re going to limit Russian access to British markets,’ Truss told Sky. ‘We’re going to stop the Russian government with raising sovereign debt in the United Kingdom.’

‘There will be even more tough sanctions on key oligarchs, on key organisations in Russia, limiting Russia’s access to the financial markets, if there is a full scale invasion of Ukraine,’ Truss said.

Separately, US Secretary of State Antony Bliken announced that he has called off a high-level summit with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov scheduled for Thursday, saying it ‘does not make sense’ to go ahead with peace negotiations when an invasion is already underway.

Russia today began evacuating diplomatic staff from Ukraine, with the flag lowered over the embassy in Kiev. 

Moscow’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it would evacuate diplomats from the country soon, saying this was in order to ‘protect their lives’. 

Asked if the evacuation had begun, the embassy’s spokesperson Denis Golenko told AFP by phone today: ‘Yes.’  

Golenko said the evacuation was ‘linked to the fact that Western embassies announced evacuations of some of their staff, and that our ministry also took this decision.’

Some Western embassies, including the United States and Britain, moved their staff to the city of Lviv near the Polish border.

They did so fearing a Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the capital could come under attack.   

Fighting also escalated along the frontlines between separatist forces and Ukraine’s men overnight, with one Ukrainian soldier killed and six injured in shelling. A house was also hit in the village of Muratovo. 

The Russian-backed leader of the breakaway Donetsk region said today that he wanted to peacefully settle its borders with Ukraine but reserved the right to ask ‘big Russia’ for help.

Denis Pushilin, who heads the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that was recognised by Russia this week, said he favoured dialogue with Ukraine in the first instance.

But he told a news conference the situation in their long-running conflict had become critical and the separatists had accelerated a mobilisation of forces, in which healthy men between 18 and 55 have been called up to fight.

‘We will win. With people like this, we will win. With such a country, with big Russia, which we respect and value,’ he said. ‘We have no right to lose, or even to doubt in our victory.’

Russian armoured troop transports are pictured in an assembly area, amid fears they could soon roll across the border and into Ukraine – sparking the most-serious war in Europe for decades

Russia has alternately claimed to be staging routine training exercises in its border regions, withdrawing its forces and reinforcing its allies in the region – all of which has been dismissed by the West as pretense (pictured, a Russian soldier)

People hold placards during a pro-Ukrainian demonstration outside the Russian Embassy, in London, UK, on Wednesday night

People hold placards during a pro-Ukrainian demonstration outside the Russian Embassy, in London, UK, on Wednesday night

The Brandenburg Gate is lit in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian national flag in solidarity with Ukraine and its people on Wednesday in Berlin, Germany

The Brandenburg Gate is lit in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian national flag in solidarity with Ukraine and its people on Wednesday in Berlin, Germany

Tensions between East and West dramatically ratcheted up on Tuesday as Putin was granted authority by Russia’s lap-dog parliament to use military force abroad, a move that paves the way for him to attack Ukraine.

Hours earlier, he had given a speech in which he made expansionist claims about rebel-held territory in Ukraine’s east – saying Russia has recognised areas currently held by Ukrainian troops as belonging to the separatists.

That has sparked fears he is preparing for a land-grab of that territory under the auspices of a ‘peacekeeping’ mission to the region which could extend even beyond those boundaries and all the way to the city of Kharkiv – where several major Ukrainian military bases are located.

Russian tanks and armoured vehicles have been spotted hiding in civilian areas and the tree lines of forests in several areas just to the north of Kharkiv in recent days, within just three miles of the border. 

Putin has up to 190,000 troops backed by thousands of tanks and artillery units, hundreds of fighter jets and dozens of bombers encircling Ukraine from three sides – with up to 10,000 men already thought to have moved into rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk on the current frontlines with Ukrainian forces.  

Western nations have tried to present a united front in the face of the invasion, with more than two dozen European Union members unanimously agreeing to levy their own initial set of sanctions against Russian officials. 

Germany also said it was halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia – a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow but criticized by the US for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.

Meanwhile, President Biden on Wednesday announced he was sanctioning the company building Russia‘s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and its CEO – a coordinated response by Germany and the U.S. to Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.  

‘Today, I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers,’ Biden said in a statement. ‘These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.’

Biden waived sanctions last year against Nord Stream 2 AG, when the project was almost completed, in return for an agreement from Germany to take action against Russia if it used gas as a weapon or attacked Ukraine.  

The U.S. also moved to cut off Russia’s government from Western finance, sanctioning two of its banks and blocking it from trading in its debt on American and European markets. 

The administration’s actions hit civilian leaders in Russia’s leadership hierarchy and two Russian banks considered especially close to the Kremlin and Russia’s military, with more than $80 billion in assets. 

That includes freezing all of those banks’ assets under US jurisdictions.

Russia warned today that new sanctions would be met with a ‘strong response’.

‘There should be no doubt – sanctions will meet a strong response, not necessarily symmetrical, but well-calibrated and sensitive for the American side,’ the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said that Washington had slapped a new round of sanctions in order to ‘change Russia’s course.’

‘Russia has proved that, with all the sanctions costs, it is capable of minimizing the damage. And even more so, sanctions pressure cannot affect our determination to firmly defend our interests,’ the statement said.  

The Russian-backed leader of the breakaway Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, said on Wednesday that he had accelerated a mobilisation of forces, in which healthy men between 18 and 55 have been called up to fight

The Russian-backed leader of the breakaway Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, said on Wednesday that he had accelerated a mobilisation of forces, in which healthy men between 18 and 55 have been called up to fight

A Ukrainian pilot boards a fighter jet at an air base in an undisclosed region of the country early Wednesday, as he takes part in combat readiness drills amid fears Russian is about to invade

A Ukrainian pilot boards a fighter jet at an air base in an undisclosed region of the country early Wednesday, as he takes part in combat readiness drills amid fears Russian is about to invade

A Ukrainian Su-34 fighter jet, originally made in Russia, takes off from an airfield in an undisclosed region of the country amid fears that Russia is about to stage a full-scale invasion

A Ukrainian Su-34 fighter jet, originally made in Russia, takes off from an airfield in an undisclosed region of the country amid fears that Russia is about to stage a full-scale invasion

The tail fins of Ukrainian Su-34 fighter jets are seen at an undisclosed air field somewhere in Ukraine as one takes to the skies during combat readiness checks ahead of what could be a full-scale Russian invasion

The tail fins of Ukrainian Su-34 fighter jets are seen at an undisclosed air field somewhere in Ukraine as one takes to the skies during combat readiness checks ahead of what could be a full-scale Russian invasion

Ukrainian firefighters attempt to put out a blazing house in the village of Muratovo, close to the frontlines with pro-Moscow rebels in Luhansk, after it was shelled overnight

Ukrainian firefighters attempt to put out a blazing house in the village of Muratovo, close to the frontlines with pro-Moscow rebels in Luhansk, after it was shelled overnight 

Ukraine said one soldier died and another six were injured in shelling by pro-Moscow rebels overnight, which also hit and destroyed a house in the village of Muratovo

Ukraine said one soldier died and another six were injured in shelling by pro-Moscow rebels overnight, which also hit and destroyed a house in the village of Muratovo

Russian volunteers carry medical supplies to a warehouse in the city of Taganrog, close to the border of Ukraine, after Biden warned that blood is being moved to the frontlines in what is considered to be one of the final moves before an attack

Russian volunteers carry medical supplies to a warehouse in the city of Taganrog, close to the border of Ukraine, after Biden warned that blood is being moved to the frontlines in what is considered to be one of the final moves before an attack

A wreath laying ceremony is held at the Fallen Warriors Memorial in Rostov-on-Don, where Russian troops are gathering

A wreath laying ceremony is held at the Fallen Warriors Memorial in Rostov-on-Don, where Russian troops are gathering

Frontline Ukrainian soldiers sent texts telling them to abandon posts

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontlines with pro-Moscow rebels have been sent texts warning of an imminent attack and told to abandon their posts.

‘Moscow gave a go to the use of [Russian] Armed Forces in the Donbas,’ one text read, referring to a wide area of eastern Ukraine where large parts of the country’s armed forces are currently deployed.

‘There’s still time to save your life and leave the [area],’ the text message added.

Another read: ‘Ukrainian military servicemen! The Russian army is already in Donetsk and Luhansk. Return home while it isn’t too late!’

There are fears Putin is about to stage a land-grab in eastern Ukraine after acknowledging the whole of the Donbass – including areas held by Ukraine – as independent and authorising Russian troops to go in on a ‘peacekeeping’ mission.

If his troops do try to advance into Ukrainian areas, then it would likely spark direct fighting between the two militaries which could quickly escalate into all-out war.

Biden, though, did hold back some of the broadest and toughest of the financial penalties contemplated by the US, including sanctions that would reinforce the hold that Germany put on any startup of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; an export ban that would deny Russia US high tech for its industries and military; and sweeping bans that could cripple Russia’s ability to do business with the rest of the world.

Biden said he was moving additional US troops to the Baltics, though he described the deployments as purely ‘defensive,’ asserting, ‘We have no intention of fighting Russia.’

 The US is sending about 800 infantry troops and 40 attack aircraft to NATO’s eastern flank from other locations within Europe, according to a senior defense official. In addition, a contingent of F-35 strike fighters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters will also be relocated.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is set to ask Turkey to close the Black Sea strait in the event of an invasion.  

Earlier Tuesday, members of Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, voted unanimously to allow Putin to use military force outside the country – effectively formalizing a Russian military deployment to the rebel regions, where an eight-year conflict has killed nearly 14,000 people.

Shortly afterward, Putin laid out three conditions to end the crisis that has threatened to plunge Europe back into war, raising the specter of massive casualties, energy shortages across the continent and global economic chaos.

Putin said the crisis could be resolved if Kyiv recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014, renounces its bid to join NATO and partially demilitarizes. 

The West has decried the annexation of Crimea as a violation of international law and has previously flatly rejected permanently barring Ukraine from NATO.

Asked whether he has sent any Russian troops into Ukraine and how far they could go, Putin responded: ‘I haven’t said that the troops will go there right now.’ He added that ‘it’s impossible to forecast a specific pattern of action – it will depend on a concrete situation as it takes shape on the ground.’

The EU announced initial sanctions aimed at the 351 Russian lawmakers who voted for recognizing the two separatist regions in Ukraine, as well as 27 other Russian officials and institutions from the defense and banking sectors. They also sought to limit Moscow’s access to EU capital and financial markets.

With tensions rising and a broader conflict looking more likely, the White House began referring to the Russian deployments in the region known as the Donbas as an ‘invasion’ after initially hesitating to use the term – a red line that Biden had said would result in severe sanctions.

U.S President Joe Biden said it defies logic to think Putin has taken such extensive military preparations, including putting 190,000 Russian troops on the border and moving blood supplies to those areas, for reasons other than invading Ukraine

U.S President Joe Biden said it defies logic to think Putin has taken such extensive military preparations, including putting 190,000 Russian troops on the border and moving blood supplies to those areas, for reasons other than invading Ukraine

Satellite imagery from Tuesday shows several new deployments of troops and equipment have been established in rural areas southwest of Belgorod, less than 20 kilometers to the northwest of the border with Ukraine

Satellite imagery from Tuesday shows several new deployments of troops and equipment have been established in rural areas southwest of Belgorod, less than 20 kilometers to the northwest of the border with Ukraine

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a close up of field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod, Russia, less than 20 kilometers to the northwest of the border with Ukraine

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a close up of field hospital and troop deployment in western Belgorod, Russia, less than 20 kilometers to the northwest of the border with Ukraine

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a close up of assembled vehicles at Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus, on Tuesday

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows a close up of assembled vehicles at Bokov Airfield near Mazyr, Belarus, on Tuesday

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows armor and vehicles at a railyard in Belgorod, Russia, on Tuesday

Satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows armor and vehicles at a railyard in Belgorod, Russia, on Tuesday

Satellite imagery from Tuesday shows new deployments of troops and equipment that have been established in rural areas southwest of Belgorod, Russia, which is close to the Ukrainian border

Satellite imagery from Tuesday shows new deployments of troops and equipment that have been established in rural areas southwest of Belgorod, Russia, which is close to the Ukrainian border

‘We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,’ Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said on CNN. ‘An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway.’

The White House announced limited sanctions targeting the rebel regions on Monday evening soon after Putin said he was sending in troops. A senior Biden administration official, who briefed reporters about those sanctions, noted ‘that Russia has occupied these regions since 2014’ and that ‘Russian troops moving into Donbas would not itself be a new step.’

Western leaders have long warned Moscow would look for cover to invade – and just such a pretext appeared to come Monday, when Putin recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist regions. 

The Kremlin then raised the stakes further by saying that recognition extends even to the large parts of those two regions now held by Ukrainian forces, including the major Azov Sea port of Mariupol. 

He added, however, that the rebels should eventually negotiate with Ukraine.

Condemnation from around the world was quick. In Washington, lawmakers from both parties in Congress vowed continued US support for Ukraine, even as some pushed for swifter and even more severe sanctions on Russia. Senators had been considering a sanctions package but held off as the White House pursued its strategy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he would consider breaking diplomatic ties with Russia, and Kyiv recalled its ambassador in Moscow.

If Putin pushes farther into Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted the West would move in lockstep. ‘If Russia decides once again to use force against Ukraine, there will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay,’ he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would slap sanctions on five Russian banks and three wealthy individuals. He warned a full-scale offensive would bring ‘further powerful sanctions.’

Zelenskyy said he was calling up some of the country’s military reservists but added there was no need for a full military mobilization.

In an address to the nation, Zelenskyy said his decree applied only to those assigned to the so-called operational reserve, which is typically activated during ongoing hostilities, and covers ‘a special period of time,’ without clarifying what that means.

‘Today there is no need for a full mobilization. We need to quickly add additional staff to the Ukrainian army and other military formations,’ he said. The head of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksii Danilov, said earlier this year that Ukraine can call up up to 2.5 million people.

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