VLADIMIR Putin has given orders to prepare for an invasion of Ukraine with 200,000 troops and 500 warplanes in striking distance, according to grim US intelligence reports tonight.
It comes as satellite images are said to show new camps of Russian soldiers on the border and the US warned cities across Ukraine could be blitzed in the “imminent” attack.
New satellite pictures are said to show several Russian troop camps on the Ukraine border[/caption]
This evening French President Emmanuel Macron pleaded for peace in a two-hour phone call with Putin.
But the Kremlin but blamed Kyiv for the escalating crisis, with a chilling statement on “provocations of the Ukrainian security forces” after fresh clashes in the disputed Donbas region.
Nato fears Putin will use alleged attacks in Russian-speaking areas as an excuse for a “fully fledged” assault and occupation of the whole country.
Boris Johnson later spoke to Mr Macron and discussed his call with Putin.
Downing Street said they “underscored the need for President Putin to step back from his current threats” and “agreed next week would be crucial for diplomacy.”
Earlier it was reported Russia has issued orders to low-level battle commanders stationed with a huge force on Ukraine’s eastern frontier.
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Washington spies reckon 75 per cent of the conventional Russian Army is within striking range along with 500 fighter and fighter-bomber aircraft.
US intelligence now believe the order from Russian high command has been given to “proceed with an invasion”, reports CBS.
Russian forces outnumber the Ukrainian defenders, intelligence sources said reported CNN, as the bulk of Putin’s armies are now within 50 miles of the border.
It comes as pictures showed Russian tanks and armoured vehicles marked with a letter “Z” moving towards Ukraine’s border today.
In yet another ominous sign of looming war, vehicles were understood to have been marked with distinctive white letter inside a square box to avoid friendly fire once action begins.
It UK and US tactics in the First Gulf War when the allied invasion forces sent to liberate Kuwait marked vehicles with a distinctive upturned chevron.
It comes as:
- Boris Johnson warns the Russian invasion of Ukraine would “biggest war since 1945“
- Videos continue to show Russian armour moving – with a new clip showing 200 tanks on the march near Ukraine
- Russia was said to have begun “Operation Z” – as tanks marked with the symbol moved close to Ukraine
- Putin could drop his 44 ton Father of All Bombs weapon in a blitz of Ukraine
- It was warned the UK is fighting with “one hand tied” against a resurgent Russia and China
- Britain has moved its embassy in Kyiv some 336 miles away as the tensions rage
- Pro-Russian rebels ordered an evacuation from the Donbas – accusing Ukraine of planning an attack
After weeks of tensions, frantic diplomatic efforts continued to avert what Mr Johnson warned would be the “biggest war in Europe since 1945”.
Putin is seen as having an axe aimed squarely at Kyiv – and the West is urging him to step back from the brink.
He has 200,000 troops – along with tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles – surrounding the former soviet state, including some in Belarus to Kyiv’s north.
“The intelligence says Russian troops have received orders now to proceed with the invasion,” said CBS national security reporter David Martin on Face The Nation.
“Not only are they moving up closer and closer to the border into these attack positions.
“But the commanders on the ground are making specific plans for how they would maneuver in their sector of the battlefield.”
Earlier Mr Johnson warned “illogical” Putin is “heading for disaster” and faces a “bloody” war if he goes ahead with the feared invasion.
And foreign secretary Liz Truss warned that the Baltic states could be next on Putin’s hit list.
US President Joe Biden committed to meeting with Putin “at any time” to stop war, and meanwhile Vice President Kamala Harris said she hoped there was a “diplomatic path”.
“We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe,” she said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added: “Everything we are seeing suggests that this is dead serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion. We will do everything we can to try to prevent it before it happens.”
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Elsewhere today, Russia extended military drills near Ukraine’s border in the puppet state of Belarus.
Putin also has ongoing naval drills off the coast in the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov.
The presence of the Russian troops raised concern that they could be used to sweep down on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, a city of about 3 million people less than a three-hour drive away.
Mr Johnson has threatened to impose economic sanctions on Russia should it invade Ukraine – but said it “may not be enough”.
The PM said: “We have to accept at the moment that Vladimir Putin is possibly thinking illogically about this and doesn’t see the disaster ahead.
“I think it’s vital for us all now to get over what a catastrophe it would be for Russia. I believe it will be a bloody conflict.”
A member of the Georgian Legion, a paramilitary unit formed to fight against the Russians, shows how to use a gun to civilians[/caption]
Russian tanks move during military drills in Belarus as tensions rage[/caption]
Civilians train to defend themselves from Russia in Ukraine[/caption]
People evacuated from the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine[/caption]
Russian marines carry out war games in Belarus[/caption]
The PM urged Putin to “engage in serious diplomatic conversation” now to avoid the “biggest war in Europe since 1945”.
Finnish president Sauli Niinistö warned the world situation is now “almost colder” than during the heights of the Cold War.
Putin has been accused of trying to stage a fake crisis in a pro-Russian breakaway eastern region of Ukraine to give a bogus excuse to attack.
All eyes are now are now on the relatively small region, which is currently under the control of two pro-Russian rebel groups, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).
The two separatist regions are accusing Ukraine of planning a major offensive against them.
Russian officials have also said that Crimean “volunteers” are moving in to help protect the LPR and DPR.
Shelling has been reported across the region as Ukraine, Russia and the separatists point fingers at each other over the clashes.
Both separatist groups ordered mass evacuations on Friday as they accused Ukraine of planning a wide scale attack – including alleging Kyiv was going to blow up a chemical plant.
And now both have also declared the “full mobilisation” of their military forces.
It is feared that Putin could use the rising chaos in the Donbas as pretext to move in his troops.
Western intelligence officials have repeatedly suggested that Vlad could use a “false flag” – a staged attack or threat to give them an excuse to invade.
Russia has also been stoking accusations of “genocide”, with Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claiming that life in the Donbas is “hell” for ethnic Russians.
In a new suspected stunt, the pro-Moscow rebel authority in Donetsk claimed to have detained a Ukrainian spy who was said to be confessing to Kyiv’s aims to overrun the Donbas.
Named Anton Matsanyuk, he “confirmed that Kyiv intends to use all its strike power in the forcible seizure of the Donbas,” said a report.
The alleged saboteur conveniently confirmed a plan touted in recent days by Russia of a Ukrainian plan to invade Donetsk and Luhansk.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said: “Every indication indicates that Russia is planning a full-fledged attack against Ukraine.
“We all agree that the risk of an attack is very high.”