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Sunday, May 22, 2022

'The Anglo-Saxons need a war': Russia blames WEST for Ukraine crisis

'The Anglo-Saxons need a war': Russia blames WEST for Ukraine crisis

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a call to Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov after 'extremely detailed' invasion plans stoked fears of war in Eastern Europe.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demanded the US share intelligence which suggests Russia is planning to invade his country on Wednesday - as the first British families begin arriving to the UK after being urged to flee the potential future war zone.

The alleged invasion plans, reported by German newspaper Der Spiegel, are said to detail specific routes that might be taken by individual Russian units and were analysed by the Secret Service, the CIA and the Pentagon before being handed over to President Joe Biden's government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an emergency call with Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov to discuss the crisis today, after the 'extremely detailed' plans stoked fears of war in eastern Europe.

He warned his Russian counterpart that further aggression from Moscow would be met with a 'resolute, massive and united transatlantic response'.

Mr Blinken had said earlier today that the crisis had reached a 'pivotal moment', adding that there continues to be 'very troubling signs of Russian escalation', including new forces arriving close to Ukraine's borders.

But speaking during a live broadcast this afternoon, Mr Zelensky told the US: 'If you have 100 percent-certain information about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, please share it with us'.

He added that he realised 'such risks do exist' and that his country remains ready to take any measure necessary and 'from any border.'

Thousands of British, American and other European citizens - including many embassy staff - have now been told to get out of Ukraine while they still can, as they were warned there would be no military evacuation in the wake of a Russian attack.

The first haul of visibly relieved British families arrived at UK airports today, including a medical student from Birmingham and a couple with a young daughter, who landed at Gatwick.

It comes as the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence reported seven incidents of ceasefire violations in the rebel-held Donetsk region over the past 24 hours, accusing Russian-backed forces of 'opening fire' on the outskirts of Pisky.

And tensions could worsen yet further from Sunday, when a crucial stage in the Russian military exercises around Ukraine begins in the Black and Azov Seas on the country’s southern coast.

The manoeuvres, scheduled to last a week, will completely block international shipping to and from the Sea of Azov as the Russian naval blockade will put a stranglehold on the narrow Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has claimed the movements of Russian ships in the Black Sea are in compliance with international maritime law, but the potential for a full-scale amphibious assault on Ukraine has not been lost on NATO observers.

The Ukrainian coast of the Sea of Azov is the perfect bridgehead for Moscow because no other nations’ ships can enter that stretch of water because the Kremlin controls Kerch Strait.

But the West's fears of an invasion were branded 'alarmist' and a symptom of US 'hysteria' by leading Russian figures on Saturday - just as sabre-rattling drills were launched by Putin in neighbouring Belarus.

The country's foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram: 'The White House's hysteria is more revealing than ever. The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At all cost.

'The provocations, disinformation and the threats are their favourite method for resolving their own problems.'



Haider Ali, 21, from Birmingham, is all smiles as he arrives safe and sound at Gatwick from Ukraine, where he studies at a medical university

Relieved: Paul Meakin, his wife Svetlana and their daughter arrive at Gatwick from Kiev, Ukraine, after being urged to leave the country amid mounting tensions with Russia



Helicopter fires missiles beneath clear blue skies during a Russian-Belarusian joint military drill on Saturday

Russian Air Force takes part in military drill above skies of Belarus - Ukraine's neighbour - on Saturday


However in the same breath, she revealed Russia was reducing diplomatic staff in Ukraine because it feared 'provocations' from the Kiev authorities or 'third countries' - in another alarming sign that an invasion is edging closer.

It has long been suspected that Russia could use the cloak of an 'attack' in rebel-held, pro-Russian areas as an excuse to send in troops.

Ms Zakharova added: 'In the wake of possible provocations by the Kiev regime or third countries, we have, indeed, made a decision on some optimisation of the staff of Russian overseas missions in Ukraine.

'We want to highlight that our embassy and consulates will keep performing their basic functions.'

The Ukrainian MoD urged people via Twitter to 'remain calm' today, as hundreds joined anti-Putin rallies on the streets of Kiev, holding up signs reading: 'Invaders must die' and 'Say no to Putin.'

It came as Britain made clear that its embassy in the capital would remain open despite a reduction in staff and travel advice for all UK citizens to leave ahead of a feared Russian attack.

Ambassador Melinda Simmons said: 'I am staying in Kiev and continue to work there with a core team. The embassy remains operational.'

The US embassy will also run on a skeleton crew after it ordered all non-emergency Kiev staff to leave Saturday 'due to the continued threat of Russian military action'.

Despite mounting fears, Russia's ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told Newsweek magazine that warnings of an invasion were 'alarmist' and repeated that his country was 'not going to attack anyone.'

The White House said Biden and Putin would discuss the crisis by phone today - just hours after thousands of Brits and Americans were warned to get out of Ukraine while they still can, as tensions reached boiling point amid fears that Putin could launch an 'aerial bombardment' of Kiev, risking a high civilian death toll.

Spain, The Netherlands, Kuwait, Germany and several other countries have now told their citizens to leave, including Belgium, who on Saturday warned there would be 'no guarantee of evacuation' following a 'sudden deterioration', as 'communication links including internet and telephone lines could be seriously affected' and air travel hampered.

Images released today showed Russian and Belarusian forces testing snow-camouflaged 'hurricane' and 'tornado' rocket launcher systems, while a major Russian sea drill, featuring deadly warships, was launched in the Black Sea.

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, branded the Ukraine crisis 'our Cuban missile crisis moment' as he called for British-led NATO divisions to be in the country.

The Conservative MP told Times Radio on Saturday: 'An invasion is imminent. Once that happens, because of the grain the comes out of Ukraine for the world, (that will) affect food prices across the world.

Thousands of British, American and other European citizens - including many embassy staff - have now been told to get out of Ukraine while they still can, as they were warned there would be no military evacuation in the wake of a Russian attack.

Two camouflaged tanks toll through the Gozhsky training ground during military exercises held by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus in the Grodno region, Belarus, on Saturday

Smoke fills the air during a military drill between Russia and Belarus in the Grodno region of Ukraine's neighbour on Saturday

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Saturday that the Ukraine crisis had reached a 'pivotal moment', adding that there continues to be 'very troubling signs of Russian escalation', including new forces arriving around Ukraine's borders.

Ukrainians hold up flares as they unfurl a banner reading 'Ukrainians will resist' and 'say no to Putin' during a rally in the capital Kiev on Saturday




Snow camouflaged Tornado rocket launcher systems are put to the test in sub-zero Belarus on Saturday amid mounting fears of Ukraine invasion

An intelligence report has suggest Putin wants to invade Ukraine on Wednesday

Britain made clear today that its embassy in Kiev would remain open despite a reduction in staff, and travel advice for all UK citizens to leave ahead of a feared Russian attack.

Russian troops continue to amass along Ukraine's borders as US President Joe Biden prepares to call Vladimir Putin today

Brits, Americans and other Europeans living in Ukraine have been told to get out while they still can amid rising tensions

V-200 Polonez multiple launch rocket systems take part in the Allied Resolve 2022 joint military drills by Belarusian and Russian troops


Belgians were warned on Saturday to leave Ukraine as there was 'no guarantee of evacuation' if Russia invades

Soldier mounts a 'hurricane' rocket launcher system during drill in Belarus

Russian soldier behind the wheel of a rocket launcher system during drills in Belarus on Saturday

'Oil and gas prices will be affected as well, and European security will then be threatened further, so we have to ask ourselves, what should we do instead?

'What are the calculations, and yes, there is this looking Putin in the eye wondering what would happen.

'This is our Cuban missile crisis moment'.

He said the consequences of allowing Ukraine to fall would see a 'new era of instability with a Russia and China axis developing' while the West is 'shrinking in size' and authoritarianism is on the rise.

He added that he was 'really concerned about what's going on in No 10' over the Ukraine crisis.

He criticised an absence of international leadership, saying: 'Where is the United Nations Security Council resolutions?

'Where is the determination not to put Nato troops around the country as we're doing at the moment, but actually inside the country as well...?

'I know this is something that the MoD (Ministry of Defence) would like to do, but they are hampered by political resolve, by a political appetite to lean into this'.

He added that it would be 'misguided' to think sanctions against Russia would work, and that: 'We haven't understood the bigger strategic picture.'

'I'm again really concerned about what's going on in No 10,' he said, 'We're playing catch-up and I'm afraid it's all too late.'

It comes after the Foreign Office this week updated its advice to tell UK nationals to 'leave now while commercial means are still available' amid mounting concerns they could get caught up in fighting - including a deadly 'aerial bombardment of Kiev' - should Putin give the go-ahead to his 130,000 troops currently massed near Ukraine's borders.

The urgent government update came less than 24 hours after the US also issued an evacuation order, as western analysts raised the alarm that Vladimir Putin was about to send in his forces.

The European Union also told non-essential staff from its diplomatic mission in Ukraine that they should leave the country, but stopped short of issuing a full evacuation order.

Meanwhile, armed forces minister James Heappey today said British troops helping with training in Ukraine will be leaving the country this weekend.

Having sent UK personnel to train Ukrainians on the anti-tank missiles supplied by Britain, Mr Heappey said: 'All of them will be withdrawn.

'There will be no British troops in Ukraine if there is to be a conflict there.'

People take part in the Unity March, which is a procession to demonstrate their patriotic spirit amid growing tensions with Russia, in Kiev, Ukraine, on Saturday

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Kiev on Saturday, vowing to 'resist' any attempt at occupation from Russian forces

Hundreds waved Ukrainian flags as they marched against Putin in Kiev on Saturday

Protestors against Russian threats hold up a sign saying: 'Say no to Putin' in Kiev on Saturday

Ukrainian law enforcement officers take part in special tactical training exercises held by police, the National Guard and security services at the Kalanchak training ground in the Kherson region on Saturday

Ukrainian law enforcement officers take part in special tactical training exercises held by police, the National Guard and security services at the Kalanchak training ground in the Kherson region on Saturday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends special tactical training exercises at the Kalanchak training ground in the Kherson region, on Saturday


He said he hoped assurances from Moscow that Russia is not planning to invade remain true but noted the country could now launch an attack 'very, very quickly'.

He told BBC Breakfast: 'That's not to say what Ben Wallace heard in Moscow yesterday may not be true. Clearly the only route to a peaceful outcome is if talks continue and I think if talks continue there has to be a willingness to believe what each side says to each other.

'But my point is not mutually exclusive to observe there are now weapons systems and combat aircraft in place that could mount an attack very, very quickly and therefore we are doing what is appropriate to allow UK citizens in Ukraine to plan for the worst.'

Mr Heappey suggested sending British troops to Ukraine would play into the Kremlin's hands, as he ruled out the prospect in event of war.

He added: 'Putin and his colleagues would very much like to be able to say what they may do is a consequence of Western aggression in Ukraine.

'So it's very important to us, to everybody frankly involved, that we're very clear we won't play an active part in Ukraine.'

Pressed if there will be no UK combat troops in Ukraine in the event of war, he said: 'It's absolutely essential that people in Moscow hear that, yes.'

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said the Ukrainian military is 'increasingly capable to defend themselves' and advised that Britain training them up is better assistance than sending troops.

The chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'We're enabling them to have the ability to fight themselves, and having served in combat in countries around the world I can tell you that training local forces to fight for themselves is a significantly better defensive technique than putting troops in.

'The reality is that the Ukrainians already have some 145,000 in their army, they have another - depending on how you count - 100-odd thousand border guard reserves and people like that so they have a significantly larger army even than we do and they are increasingly capable to defend themselves.'

But looking to assuage fears of World War Three, former cabinet minister Sir Malcolm Rifkind said he is 'sceptical' that Russia will launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He told Times Radio: 'I look at Putin not as a wild fanatic; he's not an Adolf Hitler about to launch all-out war just for the sheer nastiness of it.

'He's a cool, calculating politician who resents the fact that Ukraine is independent; he would like to regain control, either physical control or political control of that country.

'But he knows that he has to carry Russian public opinion with him, and why I'm sceptical as to a full-scale invasion.

'That would involve, even if the Russians were to win, that would involve not just immediate but ongoing, serious casualties of Russian forces as the Ukrainians fought back.'

The former Tory foreign secretary and defence secretary added that there was 'still a serious possibility' that Russian President Vladimir Putin might send troops into part of the country, which would most likely be the land bridge between Donbas and Crimea.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would speak to Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday in a last-ditch attempt to head off a possible invasion.

'We continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving around Ukraine's borders,' Blinken said in a press conference in Fiji.

'If Russia is genuinely interested in resolving this crisis of its own making through diplomacy and dialogue, we're prepared to do that,' he said.

'But it must take place in the context of de-escalation. So far, we've only seen escalation from Moscow,' he said.

'This is a pivotal moment. We're prepared for whatever should happen,' he said.

The top US diplomat reiterated that Washington and its allies will 'swiftly' impose punishing sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, which he said could now start 'at any time'.

'We don't know whether President Putin has made that decision,' he said.

'But we do know that he has put in place the capacity to act on very short notice.'

On Friday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington believes Vladimir Putin could invade Ukraine any day, and issued a warning to Americans in the country: Get out immediately because the U.S. will not be coming back to rescue anyone.

'We encourage all American citizens who remain in Ukraine to depart immediately,' Sullivan said.

'We want to be crystal clear on this point.

'Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event in the next 24 to 48 hours.

'The risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands.

'If you stay you are assuming risk, with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave and there is no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.'

Pictured: The Russian and Belarusian armed forces take part in Allied Determination-2022 military drill in Belarus on February 10, 2022. Thousands of Britons were tonight told to leave Ukraine immediately over fears of an imminent invasion by Russian forces that Washington spy chiefs warned could be ordered in a matter of days

Videos purportedly showing atomic canons being moved towards Ukraine sparked fears Putin may be sending nuclear armed military hardware within striking distance of major cities. The video - showing huge 2S7 Pion guns (file photo) - was captured in Vesela Lopan, Bolgorod in Western Russia and just 10 miles from the Ukrainian border

Britons have been told to leave Ukraine immediately over concerns of a possible invasion by Russian forces. Pictured: Servicemen of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus take part in joint military exercises in Belarus on Friday

Pictured: Russian tanks during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus as part of an inspection of the Union State's Response Force, at a firing range in Belarus, February 11

Russia is holding massive war games in neighbouring Belarus and insisting that the highly strained relations is not its fault

The Foreign Office updated its advice on Friday evening to tell UK nationals to leave Ukraine 'now while commercial means are still available' as Russia intensified its war games on its borders with Ukraine

This handout video grab released by the Russian Defence Ministry on February 11, 2022 shows tanks during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus

Russia is operationally ready to conduct a wide range of military operations in Ukraine and the Kremlin just needs to make the call, the head of Norway's military intelligence service said Friday. Pictured: The Russian and Belarusian armed forces take part in Allied Determination-2022 military drill in Belarus on February 11



US soldiers line up during the visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, near the Black Sea port city of Constanta, eastern Romania, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022

Military aid in the form of missiles delivered as part of the United States of America's security assistance to Ukraine, is unloaded from a plane at the Boryspil International Airport outside Kiev, Ukraine February 11, 2022


Further to this, PBS reporter Nick Schifrin tweeted on Friday: 'US officials anticipate a horrific, bloody campaign that begins with two days of aerial bombardment and electronic warfare, followed by an invasion, with the possible goal of regime change.'

And late on Friday night, Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko urgently warned the city's citizens about the danger of a Russian attack.

The former heavyweight boxing champion's statement - the first serious warning to the city's population- was issued late last night on social media.

The mayor released a statement on Telegram about preparations underway in case of attack.

They included securing communications in case the internet or phone network went down, increasing bomb shelter capacity, stockpiling fuel & agreeing plans for evacuation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson voiced fears 'for the security of Europe' during a call with world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, whilst in a sign of the increasing tensions, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was yesterday involved in testy exchanges with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who is currently in Russia, warned an invasion could come 'at any time', echoing Washington's warnings that the Kremlin has amassed enough troops at the border to call an attack.

Meanwhile, videos purportedly showing atomic canons being moved towards Ukraine sparked fears Putin may be sending nuclear armed military hardware within striking distance of major cities.

The video - showing huge 2S7 Pion guns - was captured in Vesela Lopan, Bolgorod in Western Russia and just 10 miles from the Ukrainian border, according to The Sun.

Known as the 'Soviet atomic cannon', the devastating weapon is one of the most powerful artillery cannons ever built.

It can carry up to four 203 mm nuclear shells, which have the potential to annihilate large areas.

In a chilling press conference earlier this week, Putin warned that were Ukraine to join NATO, the risk of nuclear war would increase.

Russia has demanded that the alliance completely rules out Ukraine from ever joining.

In the FCDO's updated advice, the government has said: 'British nationals in Ukraine should leave now while commercial means are still available.

'Since January 2022, the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine's borders has increased the threat of military action.

'The Embassy remains open but will be unable to provide in-person consular assistance. British nationals should leave while commercial options remain.'

A Foreign Office spokesman said: 'The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority, which is why we have updated our travel advice.

'We urge British nationals in Ukraine to leave now via commercial means while they remain available.'

According to The Guardian, sources said the UK is not preparing an emergency airlift for British citizens because there are still commercial flights operating daily and the land border with Poland is open.

It is believed that the number of British citizens in Ukraine is in the low thousands, but many have strong ties to the country and are unlikely to leave.

The Foreign office's advice comes a day after US President Joe Biden urged all American citizens to leave the country.

Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Latvia, Norway and the Netherlands also told their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, while Israel said it was evacuating relatives of embassy staff.

The White House said Friday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come within the week, possibly within the next two days, and urged Americans to leave the country now.

A call between Biden and Putin will take place on Saturday, a US official said Friday night, as top US General Mark Milley spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart General Valery Gerasimo.

The pair 'discussed several security-related issues of concern,' an official said.

Meanwhile, a senior official said that the US is sending 3,000 more troops to Poland, as President Biden met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders on Friday to brief them on developments.

The new wave of US troops join 1,700 who already are assembling there to support NATO allies.

A Ukrainian tank moves during military drills close to Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, February 10, 2022

Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was involved in testy exchanges with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, with no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States did not have definitive information that an invasion has been ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but Washington warned that he has now amassed the necessary forces

Admiral Tony Radakin (L) and Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov (R) shake hands as UK Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace (2nd L), and Defence Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu (2nd R), look on inside the Russian Ministry of Defence building on February 11, 2022 in Moscow


The official, who provided the information on condition of anonymity before an official announcement, said the additional soldiers will depart their post at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the next couple of days and should be in Poland by early next week.

They are the remaining elements of an infantry brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. A further 8,500 U.S. troops are already on alert.

It also emerged on Friday that U.S. and European officials are finalising an extensive package of sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine that targets major Russian banks, but does not include banning Russia from the SWIFT financial system, according to U.S. and European officials.

A diplomatic source said the strategy now was to intensify efforts to spell out the cost to Putin of invasion.

'The message has to be that he cannot win,' the source told DailyMail.com.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States did not have definitive information that an invasion has been ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But he said all the pieces were in place for a major military operation that could start 'rapidly'.

'The risk is high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that prudence demands that it is the time to leave now,' Mr Sullivan said.

'We are not saying that a decision has been taken by President Putin,' Mr Sullivan added.

'What we are saying is that we have a sufficient level of concern based on what we are seeing on the ground, and what our intelligence analysts have picked up, that we are sending this clear message.'

He added that the possibility of an invasion taking place before the end of the Winter Olympics on February 20 is a 'credible prospect' and a 'very, very distinct possibility'.

He said new Russian forces were arriving at the border and they are in a position to 'mount a major military operation in Ukraine any day now', which could include a 'rapid assault on the city of Kiev' or on other parts of the country.

Speaking from the White House, Mr Sullivan said Russia could choose 'in very short order to commence a major military action against Ukraine', but stressed the US does not know whether Mr Putin has made a final decision.

Mr Sullivan said the 'threat is now immediate enough' to urge Americans to leave Ukraine 'as soon as possible and in any event in the next 24 to 48 hours'.

He did not mince words for those who choose to remain: 'The president will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could have left now but chose not to.'

Sullivan spoke shortly after Biden and six European leaders, the heads of NATO and the European Union held talks on the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

In a call lasting around 80 minutes, Downing Street said Mr Johnson urged Nato allies to make it clear to Moscow there is a 'heavy package of economic sanctions ready to go'.

'The Prime Minister told the group that he feared for the security of Europe in the current circumstances,' a No 10 spokeswoman said, in an account of the call that included French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, as well as EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

Mr Johnson warned that the penalties would be 'extremely damaging' to Russia's economy and urged that allies must reinforce Nato's eastern frontiers.

Russia is holding massive war games in neighbouring Belarus and insisting that the highly strained relations is not its fault.

Moscow denies planning to invade Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified 'military-technical' action unless a series of demands are met, including promises from NATO never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw forces from Eastern Europe.

The West has said those main demands are non-starters. The EU and NATO alliance delivered responses this week on behalf of their member states.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it wanted individual answers from each country, and called the collective response 'a sign of diplomatic impoliteness and disrespect'.

The U.S. is set to send 3,000 more troops to Poland in the coming days to try to reassure NATO allies, fource U.S. officials told Reuters news agency on Friday.

Earlier, Mr Blinken outlined what he said were 'very troubling signs of Russian escalation.

'We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time – and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,' he said.

Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace Friday warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine will have 'tragic consequences' as he continued the diplomatic blitz in Moscow.

He stressed the importance of keeping lines of communication open as he held talks with counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

Officials reportedly believe that the Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and could launch an offensive next week. Above: A Ukrainian soldier is seen manning defensive positions in his country on Friday

A Ukrainian soldier is seen out of Svitlodarsk, Ukraine on February 11, 2022

US Navy fighter jets fly during the visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, near the Black Sea port city of Constanta, eastern Romania, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022

British nationals have been urged by the Foreign Office to leave Ukraine immediately 'while commercial means are still available'. Pictured: A Russian tank takes part in drills in a photograph released by the Russian Defense Ministry

At a press conference after the meeting Mr Wallace said he had been assured that Russia has 'no intention' of invading - but pointed out that the huge military build-up on the border meant it could do so 'at any time'.

'I heard clearly from the Russian government that they had no intention of invading Ukraine,' Wallace told reporters in Moscow. He added: 'We will judge that statement on the evidence.'

He said he was becoming less optimistic about defusing the situation, observing that the 'direction of travel' was against a diplomatic resolution.

But Mr Wallace also insisted there was 'absolutely no deafness' in his discussions, after Moscow's foreign minister swiped about his 'deaf and mute' conversation with Liz Truss yesterday.

The trip is the latest effort to turn down the temperature on the crisis and persuade Vladimir Putin to step back from the brink.

Talks in Berlin between Ukraine and Russia, joined by France and Germany, at first held hope for some progress as they lasted into Friday morning, but at the end, nothing palpable emerged.

'Unfortunately, almost nine hours of talks have ended without any significant results,' Russian deputy chief of staff Dmitry Kozak said. It remained unclear when and how the next attempt at a breakthrough would be made.

President Biden said the situation 'could go crazy quickly' and US troops will not be sent to help because that risks triggering a world war.

The head of Norway's military intelligence service said on Friday that Russia's forces are in position and ready to invade Ukraine.

The Russians 'have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine', vice admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said.

'Now, it is up to President Putin to choose if he wants to proceed or not', he added.

Stensones made his remarks at the presentation of the Norwegian intelligence services' annual threat assessment report.

According to him, Russia has 'more than 150,000 combat troops' massed at the Ukraine border, along with the country's 'most advanced weapons' and all the necessary logistics.

A satellite image taken by Maxar Technologies shows a Russian deployment at Zyabrovka airfield in Gomel, Belarus, less than 15 miles from the border with Ukraine

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of a the tent camp and equipment at Oktyabrskoye airfield in Crimea, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows equipment and new deployments at Novoozernoye in Crimea on February 9, 2022

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows atillery training at Novoozernoye in Crimea on February 9, 2022


'It's very difficult to say if (an offensive) is likely or unlikely, because it is solely up to the Russian president to make the decision', he said.

U.S.-based Maxar Technologies - which has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces - said satellite images taken on Wednesday and Thursday showed large new deployments of troops, vehicles and warplanes at several locations in western Russia, Belarus and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

According to the Military Times, 500 troop tents and hundreds of armoured vehicles were shown at Oktyabrskoye airfield - an abandoned airfield found north of Simferopol, the Crimean peninsula's second largest city.

Other images showed training activities, artillery deployments and a new deployment in Slavne, also in Crimea.

And north of Ukraine in Belarus, military vehicles and helicopters were also identified at an airfield near Gomel, about 15 miles from its border with its southern neighbour.

Troops are also stationed near Rechitsa in Belarus, some 28 miles from Ukraine.

The satellite images also showed additional equipment had arrived at a Kursk training area in western Russia - a new development since Maxar began releasing images of Russia's military build-up in December.

Conflict has been festering in eastern Ukraine since 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv forces.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday warned again of the 'real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe'.

Moscow has announced sweeping drills in the Black and Azov seas in the coming days and closed large areas for commercial shipping, drawing a strong protest from Ukraine on Thursday.

Russian naval forces and troops, including units brought in from all over the vast country, now surround Ukraine to the south, east and north.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba voiced hope that the West would react to the Russian move, saying that 'we have engaged our partners to prepare a coordinated response.'

Ukraine's military chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, reported to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Friday that the authorities plan to quickly engage 1.5 million to 2 million people in training for the army reserve.

Russia's troop concentration includes forces deployed on the territory of its ally Belarus for massive joint drills involving firing live ammunition.

The UK has put 1,000 troops on standby in case of a humanitarian crisis in the east if the current Russian military build-up leads to war.

It has also pledged extra help for NATO allies, with 350 Royal Marines arriving in Poland to coincide with the Prime Minister's visit on Thursday.

Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine but NATO is alarmed by the build-up of more than 100,000 troops on the borders with its neighbour.

Mr Wallace told a press conference on Friday afternoon: 'I was clear about the tragic consequences that any invasion of Ukraine could have for all people – both Ukrainian, Russian and the security of Europe.

'We listened to the assurances given by minister Shoigu that they would not invade Ukraine and we urged dialogue as a way through to address any concerns the Russian Government may have.'

The UK and Russian teams having their discussion on Ukraine in Moscow on Friday

The trip follows Boris Johnson's visits to Belgium and Poland yesterday, where he insisted Vladimir Putin (pictured) must not be allowed to 'bully' the region


The Russians 'have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine', Norway's vice admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said on Friday

According to Stensones, Russia has 'more than 150,000 combat troops' massed at the Ukraine border, along with the country's 'most advanced weapons' and all the necessary logistics

Pictured: The Russian and Belarusian armed forces take part in Allied Determination-2022 military drill in Belarus on February 11, 2022


But Mr Wallace said: 'The disposition of the (Russian) forces that we see, over 100,000 in both Belarus and Ukraine, obviously gives that size of force the ability to do a whole range of actions, including an invasion of a neighbouring country at any time.

'Mainly because of the readiness it is now at, it is an active, obviously, exercise, certainly in Belarus, and of course that is an option that those forces could have.

'We obviously have made it very clear in Nato that an invasion would have tragic consequences, and we are here and I'm here today, for example, to seek a way of whatever we can to de-escalate that tension.

'I heard clearly from the Russian government that they had no intention of invading Ukraine.'

In a downbeat assessment, Mr Wallace said: 'I think the direction of travel has been against the direction of the diplomatic travel over the last few weeks.

'We've seen continued build-up of forces as we've seen a build up of diplomacy, and you would hope that, actually… one goes up, one goes down – and I think that is why my optimism is not as (optimistic) as I used to be, or can be.

'And I'm hoping that the beginning today is an effort to try and see if there is a way forward to make sure we do de-escalate.

'We'll keep trying. I think the international community is trying very hard – obviously President Macron's visit, Prime Minister Johnson spoke to President Putin… recently as well. And indeed, I think the new Chancellor of Germany is coming to visit next week.

'I think it is very important that we give the Russian government, give them all a chance to provide the reassurance they are seeking about the intentions of Nato, but also to give us the airtime to hear from them their assurances that they have no intention of invading Ukraine as well.'

He said there was 'absolutely no deafness or blindness' in his talks with Mr Shoigu, characterising them as 'constructive and frank' discussions which he hopes will create a better atmosphere between the two sides.

Asked about Mr Lavrov's characterisation of his meeting with Liz Truss as a conversation between 'deaf and dumb', Mr Wallace said: 'I think minister Lavrov is a master at these types of engagements and making those types of comments.

'In our discussion there was absolutely no deafness or blindness, we as defence ministers bear the responsibility of the consequences of what happens in conflict.

'We deal with the facts and we deal with the issues we have because it is in both our interests to resolve that.

'I think we have had a constructive and frank discussion and I hope it has contributed to a better atmosphere but also to de-escalation, but there is still considerable way to go between the two of us.'

US President Joe Biden announced last week that he was sending 1,000 soldiers to Romania and 2,000 to Poland.

Those arriving in Romania are being transferred from a base in Germany.

Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon fighters arrived in Bulgaria on Friday as part of efforts to secure NATO's eastern flank

The aircraft with 130 Spanish personnel will be stationed at the southern Graf Ignatievo air base and 'perform enhanced air policing tasks' with the Bulgarian air force until March 31, the Bulgaria's defence ministry said in a statement


France's President Emmanuel Macron has also said he's ready to send hundreds of troops to Romania under NATO command.

Romania, a NATO member since 2004, already hosts around 900 US troops, as well as 140 Italian and 250 Polish troops.

Bulgaria, Romania's southern neighbour, said four Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon fighters arrived Friday as part of efforts to secure NATO's eastern flank.

The aircraft with 130 Spanish personnel will be stationed at the southern Graf Ignatievo air base and 'perform enhanced air policing tasks' with the Bulgarian air force until March 31, the Bulgaria's defence ministry said in a statement.

As a NATO member, Bulgaria is required to keep at least one squadron of 12 aircraft in good fighting order.

But the inability to maintain enough of its ageing fleet of Soviet-built MiG-29 fighters prompted Sofia in 2016 to authorise NATO to help protect its airspace.

Ben Wallace warns Putin's generals of 'tragic consequences' during Moscow talks as he says military build-up means Russia could invade Ukraine 'at any time' - but insists he is listening after foreign minister's 'deaf and mute' barb at Liz Truss yesterday

Ben Wallace Friday warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine will have 'tragic consequences' as he continued the diplomatic blitz in Moscow.

The Defence Secretary stressed the importance of keeping lines of communication open as he held talks with counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

At a press conference after the meeting Mr Wallace said he had been assured that Russia has 'no intention' of invading - but pointed out that the huge military build-up on the border meant it could do so 'at any time'.

He said he was becoming less optimistic about defusing the situation, observing that the 'direction of travel' was against a diplomatic resolution.

But Mr Wallace also insisted there was 'absolutely no deafness' in his discussions, after Moscow's foreign minister swiped about his 'deaf and mute' conversation with Liz Truss yesterday.

The trip is the latest effort to turn down the temperature on the crisis and persuade Vladimir Putin to step back from the brink.

US president Joe Biden is holding a call with Mr Johnson and other Western leaders to take stock of the situation later.

The head of Norway's military intelligence service has warned Russia is operationally ready to conduct a wide range of military operations in Ukraine, and the Kremlin just needs to make the call.

Boris Johnson visited Belgium and Poland yesterday, where he insisted Vladimir Putin must not be allowed to 'bully' the region and warned Europe faces its biggest security crisis in decades.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss was involved in testy exchanges with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, with no sign of a breakthrough.

It comes as the Government confirmed preparations to allow the UK to 'toughen and expand' its sanctions against Russia have come into force.

The UK could now impose sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals in a range of significant sectors, such as the chemical, defence, extractives, ICT and financial services industries.

The UK andRussian teams having their discussion on Ukraine in Moscow today



The UK has put 1,000 troops on standby in case of a humanitarian crisis in the east if the current Russian military build-up leads to war. It has also pledged extra help for NATO allies, with 350 Royal Marines arriving in Poland to coincide with the Prime Minister's visit on Thursday.

Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine but NATO is alarmed by the build-up of more than 100,000 troops on the borders with its neighbour.

Mr Wallace told a press conference this afternoon: 'I was clear about the tragic consequences that any invasion of Ukraine could have for all people – both Ukrainian, Russian and the security of Europe.

'We listened to the assurances given by minister Shoigu that they would not invade Ukraine and we urged dialogue as a way through to address any concerns the Russian Government may have.'

But Mr Wallace said: 'The disposition of the (Russian) forces that we see, over 100,000 in both Belarus and Ukraine, obviously gives that size of force the ability to do a whole range of actions, including an invasion of a neighbouring country at any time.

'Mainly because of the readiness it is now at, it is an active, obviously, exercise, certainly in Belarus, and of course that is an option that those forces could have.

'We obviously have made it very clear in Nato that an invasion would have tragic consequences, and we are here and I'm here today, for example, to seek a way of whatever we can to de-escalate that tension.

'I heard clearly from the Russian government that they had no intention of invading Ukraine.'

In a downbeat assessment, Mr Wallace said: 'I think the direction of travel has been against the direction of the diplomatic travel over the last few weeks.

'We've seen continued build-up of forces as we've seen a build up of diplomacy, and you would hope that, actually… one goes up, one goes down – and I think that is why my optimism is not as (optimistic) as I used to be, or can be.

'And I'm hoping that the beginning today is an effort to try and see if there is a way forward to make sure we do de-escalate.

'We'll keep trying. I think the international community is trying very hard – obviously President Macron's visit, Prime Minister Johnson spoke to President Putin… recently as well. And indeed, I think the new Chancellor of Germany is coming to visit next week.

'I think it is very important that we give the Russian government, give them all a chance to provide the reassurance they are seeking about the intentions of Nato, but also to give us the airtime to hear from them their assurances that they have no intention of invading Ukraine as well.'

He said there was 'absolutely no deafness or blindness' in his talks with Mr Shoigu, characterising them as 'constructive and frank' discussions which he hopes will create a better atmosphere between the two sides.

Asked about Mr Lavrov's characterisation of his meeting with Liz Truss as a conversation between 'deaf and dumb', Mr Wallace said: 'I think minister Lavrov is a master at these types of engagements and making those types of comments.

'In our discussion there was absolutely no deafness or blindness, we as defence ministers bear the responsibility of the consequences of what happens in conflict.

'We deal with the facts and we deal with the issues we have because it is in both our interests to resolve that.

'I think we have had a constructive and frank discussion and I hope it has contributed to a better atmosphere but also to de-escalation, but there is still considerable way to go between the two of us.'

Meanwhile, Norwegian vice admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said the Russians 'have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine'.

'Now, it is up to President Putin to choose if he wants to proceed or not', he said.

During his overseas engagements, Mr Johnson indicated further military support could be offered to Ukraine if Russia invades. But he made it clear that Britain could not intervene militarily if Ukraine was attacked.

In a pooled clip for broadcasters at a military base in Warsaw, he said: 'The UK has been supplying some defensive weaponry in the form of anti-tank missiles, we have been training Ukrainian troops. That is as far as we can go at the moment.

'Ukraine is not part of NATO. What we are sticking up for is the right of Ukraine like any other sovereign independent country to aspire to that.'

At an earlier press conference, speaking alongside NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, the Prime Minister called on Russia to engage in meaningful talks because it was 'far better to begin a discussion now than to have a catastrophe'.

The UK has already supplied 2,000 anti-tank missiles, body armour, helmets and combat boots to Ukraine and Mr Johnson indicated he could go further.



Mr Johnson poses for a photograph with British troops in front of a Union flag during a visit to Warszawska Brygada Pancerna military base near Warsaw

A satellite image shows a close-up of troops and equipment at Oktyabrskoye air base, Crimea


Asked if he could authorise military support to an insurgency in Ukraine in the event of an invasion, he said: 'We will consider what more we can conceivably offer. The Ukrainians are well prepared, there are things we've offered that they, in fact, don't seem to need because they think they have them in enough numbers already.

'It's possible, I don't want to rule this out, but at the moment we think the package is the right one.

But I want to stress it would be an absolute disaster if it was to come to that and if there was to be serious bloodshed on Ukrainian soil.'

In Moscow, Ms Truss had a difficult encounter with Mr Lavrov. He characterised the meeting as a 'conversation between deaf and dumb', but Miss Truss said: 'I was not mute in our discussions earlier, I put forward the UK's point of view on the current situation and the fact that as well as seeking to deter Russia from an invasion into Ukraine, we are also very resolute in pursuing the diplomatic path.'

She added: 'There is still time for Russia to end its aggression towards Ukraine and pursue the path of diplomacy.

But in the discussions and a joint press conference Mr Lavrov launched a series of barbs, dismissing 'ultimatums and moralising' from the West and comparing their conversation to a 'deaf and a mute'


'But NATO is very clear that if that path is not chosen there will be severe consequences for Russia, Ukraine and the whole of Europe.'

Ms Truss called for Russia to pull its troops back from the border to ease tensions.

'There is no doubt that the stationing of over 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border is directly put in place to threaten Ukraine,' she said. There had also been 'cyberattacks and other attempts to undermine the activities of a sovereign nation'.

Ms Truss said: 'If Russia is serious about diplomacy they need to move those troops and desist from the threats.'

The visit to Moscow was the first by a foreign secretary in four years, with the relationship between the UK and Russia severely strained by incidents including the 2018 Salisbury nerve agent attack.

In a sign of the chilly atmosphere at the talks, Mr Lavrov said 'ideological approaches, ultimatums and moralising is a road to nowhere' and accused Miss Truss of being ill-prepared for the negotiations.

Rejecting Miss Truss's call for forces to pull back, Mr Lavrov said: 'The demands to remove the Russian troops from the Russian territory cause regret. We don't want to threaten anyone. It's us who are facing threats.'

But he indicated force levels would fall once military exercises had been completed, at which point 'the West will likely claim that it has forced Russia to de-escalate'.

Russia's troops are all in position and ready to invade Ukraine as soon as Putin makes the call, Norway's military intelligence chief warns

By Chris Jewers for Mail Online and AFP

Russia's forces are in position and ready to invade Ukraine, and the Kremlin just needs to make the call, the head of Norway's military intelligence service said Friday.

The Russians 'have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine', vice admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said.

'Now, it is up to President Putin to choose if he wants to proceed or not', he added.

Stensones made his remarks at the presentation of the Norwegian intelligence services' annual threat assessment report.

According to him, Russia has 'more than 150,000 combat troops' massed at the Ukraine border, along with the country's 'most advanced weapons' and all the necessary logistics.

'It's very difficult to say if (an offensive) is likely or unlikely, because it is solely up to the Russian president to make the decision', he said.

Western nations believe Russia is preparing an imminent invasion of Ukraine, though Moscow has denied it despite the vast military build-up around Ukraine's east.

Conflict has been festering in eastern Ukraine since 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv forces.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday warned again of the 'real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe', while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a Russian invasion could come 'any time'.

His warning came as Russia - continuing its military build-up - moved six amphibious assault vessels into the Black Sea, augmenting its capability to land marines on Ukraine's southern coast.

Moscow has announced sweeping drills in the Black and Azov seas in the coming days and closed large areas for commercial shipping, drawing a strong protest from Ukraine on Thursday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba voiced hope that the West would react to the Russian move, saying that 'we have engaged our partners to prepare a coordinated response.'

Ukraine's military chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, reported to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Friday that the authorities plan to quickly engage 1.5 million to 2 million people in training for the army reserve.

Russia's troop concentration includes forces deployed on the territory of its ally Belarus for massive joint drills involving firing live ammunition.

The Russians 'have all they need to carry everything out, from a minor invasion in the east to minor attacks here and there in Ukraine, or a complete invasion, with, possibly, an occupation of all or parts of Ukraine', Norway's vice admiral Nils Andreas Stensones said on Friday

Pictured: The Russian and Belarusian armed forces take part in Allied Determination-2022 military drill in Belarus on February 11, 2022


Those exercises entered a decisive phase Thursday and will run through Feb. 20. The Ukrainian capital is about 47 miles south of the Belarus border.

U.S.-based Maxar Technologies - which has been tracking the buildup of Russian forces -said satellite images taken on Wednesday and Thursday showed large new deployments of troops, vehicles and warplanes at several locations in western Russia, Belarus and Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

According to the Military Times, 500 troop tents and hundreds of armoured vehicles were shown at Oktyabrskoye airfield - an abandoned airfield found north of Simferopol, the Crimean peninsula's second largest city.

Other images showed training activities, artillery deployments and a new deployment in Slavne, also in Crimea.

And north of Ukraine in Belarus, military vehicles and helicopters were also identified at an airfield near Gomel, about 15 miles from its border with its southern neighbour.

Troops are also stationed near Rechitsa in Belarus, some 28 miles from Ukraine.

The satellite images also showed additional equipment had arrived at a Kursk training area in western Russia - a new development since Maxar began releasing images of Russia's military build-up in December.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows an overview of a the tent camp and equipment at Oktyabrskoye airfield in Crimea, on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows equipment and new deployments at Novoozernoye in Crimea on February 9, 2022

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows atillery training at Novoozernoye in Crimea on February 9, 2022

Servicemen of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus take part in the Union Courage 2022 joint military exercise at the Brestsky training ground in Brest Region, Belarus, in this still image taken from video released February 11, 2022


Britain's defense secretary visited Moscow on Friday in another effort to ease tensions over a possible invasion, which insisted that the standoff with the West wasn't 'our fault.'

Ben Wallace's trip came a day after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held frosty negotiations in Moscow to urge Russia to pull back over 100,000 troops near Ukraine.

Her Russian counterpart scathingly described the talks as a 'conversation between deaf and dumb.'

Russia says it has no plans to invade but wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of NATO.

It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons there and to roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe - demands flatly rejected by the West.

Speaking at the start of his talks with Wallace, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu noted that 'the military-political situation in Europe is growing increasingly tense, and it's not our fault.'

He noted that shipments of weapons to Ukraine by the U.S., Britain and other allies have contributed to the tensions and pointed to the recent deployment of British soldiers to Ukraine, asking why they were sent and how long they will stay.

Speaking to reporters after the talks, Wallace noted that the anti-tank missiles that Britain sent to Ukraine were defensive tactical weapons that do not pose a threat to any neighbor unless it invades.

He said British troops deployed to Ukraine to help train its military to use the British weapons and will leave 'pretty soon' after they accomplish that mission.

Wallace described the talks as 'constructive and frank' and noted his Russian counterpart's assurances that Moscow has no intention to attack Ukraine.

But he also emphasised that the concentration of Russian troops near Ukrainian territory is clearly 'beyond normal exercising,' explaining that about half of Russia's land forces are concentrated around the border with Ukraine.

He reaffirmed that a Russian invasion would have 'tragic consequences' and emphasised the need to maintain contacts between military forces to prevent incidents.

'What is incredibly important, especially at this time with over 100,000 troops at high readiness on the borders of another country, is that we do not get into a position of miscalculation or escalation,' Wallace said.

He stressed that only through 'the ability to talk to each other at times of concern can we pave the way for any de-escalation measures.'

In an interview Thursday with NBC News, U.S. President Joe Biden repeated his warning that any Americans still in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible.

'It's not like we're dealing with a terrorist organization. We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly,' he said.

Biden planned to hold a call with trans-Atlantic leaders later in the day.

Asked whether there were any scenarios that would prompt him to send U.S. troops to Ukraine to rescue Americans, the president said: 'There's not. That's a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another.'

Speaking Friday on a visit to Australia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not detail the reasons behind the latest State Department's security alert urging all American citizens to leave Ukraine.

'We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time and, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,' Blinken added. The Olympic Games are scheduled to end Feb. 20.

Kuleba played down the U.S. advice to Americans to leave, saying that Washington has made similar calls before. He noted that the situation remains volatile.

NATO has stepped up military deployments to bolster its eastern flank, with the U.S. sending troops to Poland and Romania.

The U.S. Navy said Thursday that it has deployed four destroyers from the United States to European waters.

The Navy did not directly tie this deployment to the Ukraine crisis but said the ships provide 'additional flexibility' to the U.S. Sixth Fleet commander, whose area of responsibility includes the Mediterranean, and will operate in support of NATO allies.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg visited a military base in Romania, hailing the ongoing deployment of 1,000 additional U.S. troops that will nearly double their current number there. 'This is a powerful demonstration of trans-Atlantic unity,' Stoltenberg said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by noting that 'NATO keeps building up its presence near Russia's borders and exacerbates the situation around Ukraine to create a pretext for that.'

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising.

Moscow responded by annexing Crimea and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed over 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped halt large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued, and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.

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