JOE Biden has ordered US troops, jets and helicopters to Eastern Europe in response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of rebel-held Ukraine.
The US president said he would continue to provide “defensive assistance” to Ukraine as he announced the authorisation of additional forces in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Joe Biden has authorised additional troops to be sent to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania[/caption]
It comes after Putin gave a rambling address to Russians on Monday[/caption]
Announcing financial constraints against Russia on Tuesday, the president said he would “escalate sanctions if Russia escalates”.
And he warned the measures were only the “first tranche” in his bid to stop Putin waging all-out war.
Speaking from the White House, Mr Biden said: “In response to Russia’s admission that it will not withdraw its forces from Belarus, I have authorised additional movements of US forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to strengthen our Baltic allies – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
“Let me be clear, these are totally defensive moves on our part. We have no intention of fighting Russia.
“We want to send an unmistakable message though, that the United States together with our allies will defend every inch of Nato territory and abide by the commitments we made into Nato.”
His comments came after Russia warned it will not halt its invasion in the rebel-held zones of Ukraine, stoking fears of all-out war by denying its neighbour’s right to exist.
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Hours after tanks and 10,000 troops moved into pro-Russia breakaway enclaves, the Kremlin said further territory held by Ukrainian forces should belong to the two self-declared republics.
And in a further chilling development, Russia’s parliament voted to allow Vladimir Putin to use armed forces abroad.
Mr Biden later said intelligence suggested Russian forces were moving “supplies of blood and medical equipment” to the Ukrainian border as they prepared for an invasion.
And he announced the US would immediately block the Russian government from using Western financial markets to raise money.
He told reporters: “We still believe that Russia is poised to go much further in launching a massive military attack against Ukraine.
“There are still well over 150,000 Russian troops surrounding Ukraine, and as I said, Russian forces remain positioned to Belarus to attack Ukraine from the north, including warplanes and offensive missile systems.”
The much feared Russian advance began in the early hours, soon after Putin announced he recognised Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states in a bombastic TV address.
Joe Biden and Boris Johnson condemned the move as an “invasion” and slapped sanctions on Russian banks and Putin’s billionaire cronies.
Meanwhile, Russia announced it was pulling its diplomats out of Ukraine, claiming staff have “received threats”.
The move came as the European Union agreed a package of sanctions against the country, with EU foreign affairs policy chief, Josep Borrell, warning of a “particularly dangerous moment for Europe”.
And with a huge 200,000 strong force ringing Ukraine, the world is on a knife edge waiting for Putin’s next move, which could see the bloodiest conflict in Europe since WW2.
Russia said it was assisting “peacekeeping” in the rebel-held areas following disputed claims of shelling by Ukrainian forces.
But fears the tank movements were only the start of a wider Russian offensive were soon fuelled by announcements from Moscow.
Slapping down Putin’s peacekeeping claims tonight, Mr Biden said “none of us should be fooled” – adding he expects the Kremlin to start a war.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia has recognised the rebel regions in borders that existed when they proclaimed their independence in 2014.
This includes areas in eastern Ukraine which are currently held by Ukrainian forces on the other side of the 250-mile entrenched “contact line”.
What we know so far
- President Vladimir Putin launched an effective invasion of eastern Ukraine
- He ordered tanks across the border into the newly-recognised Donetsk and Luhansk regions
- He’s claimed his tanks are carrying out “peacekeeping functions”
- But the actions could trigger bloodiest conflict since WW2
- The US, UK and EU have announced sanctions against Russia
- Boris Johnson held a dawn Cobra meeting to discuss the UK’s response
Mr Putin himself later said Russia recognizes Donetsk and Luhansk “within borders outlined in their constitutions”.
And in a blatant threat to Ukraine’s existence, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia did not recognise its democratic neighbour’s right to sovereignty.
The staunch Putin loyalist said sovereignty was only for countries that represent all of their people – and he repeated Russian claims that Kyiv had failed to represent its ethnic Russians.
“Nobody can assert that the Ukrainian regime, starting with the state coup of 2014, represents all the people who live on the territory of the Ukrainian state,” he said.
The word “coup” was a reference to the toppling of pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who quit after protests exactly eight years ago to the day.
Putin himself then added to the tension when he asked the Russian parliament for the use of the country’s military abroad.
Meanwhile Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has secretly discussed fleeing the capital Kyiv, CNN reported.
Putin ordered the troops into the rebel areas under the guise of “peacekeepers” – a claim quickly dismissed as “nonsense” by the United States.
White House spokesman Jen Psaki said: “We have anticipated a move like this from Russia and are ready to respond immediately.”
Already the situation is being compared to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when America and Russia were locked in a 13-day standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Read our Russia – Ukraine live blog for the very latest updates
Health Secretary Sajid Javid was asked by the BBC if the situations were comparable, and replied: “I would agree with that analysis. I do think it’s as serious a situation as that.”
And General Sir Richard Sherriff, Britain’s former top Nato commander, said: “This is the most dangerous moment in Europe probably at least since 1962 and the Cuban missile crisis.”
He added Putin’s “invasion of a sovereign country could turn into a catastrophic war on a scale not seen in Europe since 1945”.
The UK’s ambassador to the UN Dame Barbara Woodward said Russia has “brought us to the brink”, warning that the country’s actions “will have severe and far-reaching consequences”.
She said an invasion would unleash “the forces of war, death and destruction” on the people of Ukraine.
And Lord West, former chief of the Royal Navy, warned one wrong move in the Russia and Ukraine crisis could spark a nuclear war.
Fears were growing that Moscow is now poised to move beyond the rebel held pockets to snatch more territory from Ukraine.
Russian MP Leonid Kalashnikov, a Putin loyalist, said his country would recognise the whole of Donetsk and Luhansk regions – rather than just the areas currently under rebel control.
The country’s deputy foreign minister Andrey Rudenko said it has the right to set up military bases in the two areas, as the Kremlin tightens its grip on them.
With tensions mounting, Ukraine said two of its soldiers were killed and 12 others wounded in heavy shelling by rebels overnight.
TANKS ON THE MOVE
The first indication Russian forces were moving cam in footage of Terminator-style Russian forces filmed in Makiivka, in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and the neighbouring Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).
Their arrival was greeted with celebratory fireworks and Russian flags were waved.
The rest of Ukraine is now braced for a massive attack from the north, south and east “at any moment” after Putin declared the besieged nation was “part of Russia.”
It emerged on Tuesday that Moscow is urgently seeking medics to go to work in makeshift hospitals in Rostov, close to the republics.
A doctor said: “Today we have been offered to go work at a temporary hospital in Rostov.
“This is how they said it: ‘The salary will be high, your patients will be the wounded’.”
Another medic said there is an urgent plea for doctors and nurses “with experience working in conflict zones”.
Russian tanks were seen on the streets of Ukraine[/caption]
Fireworks were let off and Russian flags were waved in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic[/caption]
Armoured vehicles began rolling in before dawn[/caption]
People from the Donetsk region left for to temporary residences in Nizhny Novgorod last night[/caption]
Ukrainian high school students being taught how to fire a gun by an ex-soldier[/caption]
Putin said in a rambling televised address on Monday night: “We demand that those who have seized and are retaining power in Kyiv immediately halt all hostilities.
“Otherwise, the Ukrainian ruling regime will be wholly and entirely responsible for the possible continuation of the bloodshed.”
An eyewitnesses spotted huge columns of troops moving through Donetsk in the direction of Yasinuvata even before he finished his hawkish and bellicose rant.
Yasinuvata is just nine miles from the 250-mile First World War-style “contact line” of trenches which has separated Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists for the past eight years.
The president has signed off orders to parliament which made Russia the first country in the world to recognise the two mini-states created when he orchestrated a land grab in 2014.
The last paragraph of his orders to parliament said he was ordering Russian armed forces to “provide peacekeeping on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republic”.
In a further alarming development, Russia’s parliament was also said to be adopting plans to build military bases in self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk – and stay for ten years.
The US has ordered its embassy staff to leave Ukraine immediately in the wake of the revelations.
America has warned Russia is drawing up a “kill list” including gay and ethnic minority Ukrainians if it invades.
But Ukrainian citizens say they’ll take up arms and “fight to the death” to defend their country.
Meanwhile, there was intrigue over how a leading Putin-backing ultranationalist politician had on December 27 predicted the timing of the military move into Ukraine – almost to the hour.
His words suggested a clear plan by the Russian authorities which has been unfolding since the end of last year.
Russsian MP Vladimir Zhirinovsky was accurate almost to the hour in a speech to parliament nearly two months ago.
The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party told MPs: “You will feel it at 4am on February 22.”
Putin’s prime minister Mikhail Mishustin also admitted that he had been working for “many months” assessing how to stop economic damage from Western sanctions from recognition of the two Ukrainian regions.
“We have been preparing for many months for the potential reaction over the recognition of LNR and DPR,” he told the national security council meeting.
Putin himself may be insulated rom the effect of sanctions after amassing huge personal wealth and 1.4 tons of gold bullion.