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“At any time”, US warns against Russia’s attack on Ukraine; Biden to hold meet today

By Saima Siddiqui 
Updated Date

Donetsk: The US accused Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s border of advancing and being “poised to strike”, as Russia’s strategic nuclear forces held exercises overseen by President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.

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With Western fears of war rising, the White House said U.S President Joe Biden’s national security team told him they still believed Russia could launch an attack in Ukraine “at any time” and he planned to convene his top advisers on Sunday to discuss the crisis.

Foreign ministers from the G7 group of rich nations said they had seen no evidence Russia is reducing its military activity in the area and remained “gravely concerned” about the situation.

After Kyiv and Moscow traded accusations over new shelling near the border, France and Germany urged all or some of their citizens in Ukraine to leave. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russian forces were beginning to “uncoil and move closer” to the border.

“We hope he (Putin) steps back from the brink of conflict,” Austin told a news conference in Lithuania, saying an invasion of Ukraine was not inevitable.

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Russia ordered the military build-up while demanding NATO prevent Ukraine from ever joining the alliance but says Western warnings that it is planning to invade Ukraine are hysterical and dangerous. Moscow says it is pulling back, but Washington and allies say the build-up is mounting.

Washington and NATO say Moscow’s main demands are non-starters, but in Ukraine fears are growing over Putin’s plans.

The Kremlin said Russia successfully test-launched hypersonic and cruise missiles at sea during the nuclear forces drills. Putin observed the exercises on screens with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko from a “situation centre”.

G7 foreign ministers called on Russia to choose the path of diplomacy. “As a first step, we expect Russia to implement theannounced reduction of its military activities along Ukraine’sborders. We have seen no evidence of this reduction,” they said in a statement.

Zelenskiy said he had an “urgent” phone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron and discussed possible ways of immediate de-escalation and political-diplomatic settlement. Macron is due to speak with Putin on Sunday.

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The nuclear drills follow manoeuvres by Russia’s armed forces in the past four months that have included a build-up of troops — estimated by the West to number 150,000 or more — to the north, east and south of Ukraine.

New helicopters and a battle group deployment of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and support equipment have been moved to sites in Russia near the border, according to U.S.-based Maxar Technologies, which tracks developments with satellite imagery.

Multiple explosions were heard overnight into Sunday in the centre of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, a Reuters reporter said. The blasts’ origin was not clear. There was no immediate comment from separatist authorities or Kyiv.

“It’s really scary. I’ve taken everything I could carry,” said Tatyana, 30, who was boarding a bus with her 4-year-old daughter.

Russian news agencies said 10,000 evacuees had arrived in Russia. Separatist leaders say they aim to evacuate 700,000 people.

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