Putin launches huge nuclear missile drills and sends MIG with hypersonic missile over Mediterranean

9 months ago
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Vladimir Putin is putting on a show of military strength today with huge new nuclear drills involving ballistic missiles, submarines, tank convoys and ship-based missiles - as Western analalysts warn he is 'poised' to invade Ukraine within days. 

Putin and Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko watched the drills - that appear designed to deter action by the West - in the situation room in the Kremlin and released a photo of them together.

 It came as world leaders gathered in Munich and Boris Johnson warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine could cause 'the destruction of a democratic state' and 'the shock will echo around the world'.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference today, the Prime Minister said the 'omens are grim' from Russia on the possibility of an invasion in the coming days, and that the world could not 'underestimate the gravity of this moment'. 

Russian troops on Ukraine's border are "uncoiling" and "poised to strike", US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Saturday during a visit to Lithuania.

"They are uncoiling and are now poised to strike," he said, adding that troops were "moving into the right kinds of positions to be able to conduct an attack". 

The Russians are also continuing their 'false flag' operations in Eastern Ukraine, seemingly designed to provoke conflict. 

 Thousands of Ukrainian refugees are starting to stream into Russia today after Vladimir Putin's allies ordered a mass evacuation of two separatist republics as part of a suspected 'false flag' operation to provide the pretext for an invasion.

Up to 700,00 civilians are being evacuated from the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after rebel leaders yesterday claimed Ukraine was about to attack the areas.

Hours later a car bomb rocked Donetsk in an alleged 'assassination attempt' of a top Putin-allied official, which Western intelligence agencies believe was faked as part of the 'false flag' deception.

Later two explosions at a 'gas pipeline' rocked the separatist city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine in another suspected false flag attack.

Meanwhile,. Ukraine's president has called on the West to stop their 'appeasement' of Russia and warned sanctions will not work on Moscow once the bombing starts, to a standing ovation from world leaders.

Volodymyr Zelensky told a security forum in Munich that his country deserves stronger international support after acting as a buffer against Russian expansion.

The conference had echoes of the 1938 summit in Munich in which leaders agreed a policy of appeasement against Adolf Hitler's Germany in an effort to prevent an imminent war.

Zelensky said today: 'Ukraine has received security guarantees for abandoning the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal. We have no weapons. And no security ...

'But we have a right - a right to demand a shift from a policy of appeasement to one ensuring security and peace.'

He added: 'For eight years, Ukraine has been a shield. For eight years, Ukraine has been holding back one of the greatest armies in the world.' 

The Kremlin nuclear drills also involved Mig fighter bombers armed with  hypersonic missiles patrolling  over the Mediterranean from their bases in Syria.

The Russian leader is personally overseeing the nuclear exercises involving 'strategic forces' which will include practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko is joining Putin in the situation room in the Kremlin to watch over the strategic drills.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today's drills 'should not cause anyone concern' and said Russia had informed the proper channels.

Russia holds huge strategic drills every year but today's manoeuvres include the Black Sea Fleet, based on the Crimean Peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Meanwhile, top Ukrainian military officials came under a shelling attack during a tour of the front of the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and were forced to flee to a bomb shelter before leaving the area.

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko oversee joint military drills from the situation room in the Kremlin

Tanks move during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

Smoke and flame rise over a field during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

A handout still image taken from handout video made available by the Russian Defence ministry press-service shows launch of a cruise missile of the operational-tactical missile system 'Iskander' from at the Kapustin Yar training ground, Russia, 19 February 2022

A Russian nuclear submarine sails in an unknown location during exercises by nuclear forces involving the launch of ballistic missiles, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022

A Tu-22M3 Russian bomber flies over the Mediterranean after taking off from the Hemeimeem air base in Syria in Putin's latest show of force

Mr Boris jetted to the annual summit in Bavaria to make a plea to avoid 'unnecessary bloodshed' by diplomatic means if the West speaks with 'one voice'. Pictured: The Prime Minister meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Military helicopters fly over tanks and armored vehicles moving during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

False flag suspicions were also fueled by time stamps on the videos announcing the evacuations, that show they were taped by rebel leaders two days before being released

Up to 700,00 civilians are being evacuated from the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after rebel leaders yesterday claimed Ukraine was about to attack the areas. A woman says goodbye to her father through a bus window in Donetsk

Local residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic are placed in tents in the refugee camp in Rostov on Don, Rostov region, Russia

Russian and Belarusian servicemen conduct joint drills at a firing range in the Brest region of Belarus

Tank army units loaded onto a troop train return from recent routine drills to permanent deployment sites

Fighter jets fly during the joint military drills of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at a firing range in the Brest Region

Local residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic wait in a bus to enter Russia at the customs post 'Matveev Kurgan' in Rostov region

The head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic Denis Pushilin announced a general mobilisation

Russia has also sent a MIG-31K and a Tu-22M3 bomber over the Mediterranean in another show of force amid the rising tensions. 

The warplane is deployed with the new ultra high speed Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles.

The 24-foot-long, one-ton Kinzhal - or Dagger - can carry conventional or nuclear warheads, and Russia boasts it has no match among Western defences.

The hypersonic Kinzhal has a range of 1,250 miles and could pummel Ukrainian troops and defences without flying close to the country. 

Russia is believed to have around 20 Kinzhal-compatible MiG-31Ks in total.

Video footage has also emerged which graphically demonstrates the sheer intensity of the bombardment that Russian-backed forces have unleashed on Ukraine in the last two days.

In night-time footage taken from the port city of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, just a few miles from the front line, shells could be heard raining down almost incessantly on Ukrainian positions for five hours.

The distant flashes from the exploding 122mm and 152mm heavy artillery and mortars on the video posted on censor.net were reminiscent of WW1 trench warfare.

One resident of the city posted on Facebook: 'No-one in Mariupol is sleeping tonight.'

According to the Ukrainian government there were a total of 66 ceasefire violations by the pro-Russian rebels overnight, involving hundreds of shells.

In a separate incident at a front-line checkpoint at Schastia, which ironically means 'Happiness' in Ukrainian, more incoming shells blasted onto a car park in daytime CCTV footage provided by the Ukraine government.

Shelling also damaged a pumping station in Donetsk Oblast, threatening water supply to 46 towns and villages in the Ukrainian-controlled parts of the region, Ukraine's authorities reported.  

This photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, shows a MiG-31K fighter of the Russian air force carrying a Kinzhal hypersonic cruise missile parked at an air field during a military drills

An airman checks a Russian Air Force MiG-31 fighter jet prior a flight with Kinzhal hypersonic missile during a drill in an unknown location in Russia, in this still image taken from video released February 19, 2022

A Belarusian Army military helicopter flies over tanks and armored vehicles moving during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

Military jets drop bombs flying over a field during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

Smoke rise over a field during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

Tanks move during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus military drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022

A Russian paratrooper takes part in a force inspection at the Obuz-Lesnovsky firing range in Belarus today

The Russian leader is personally overseeing the nuclear exercises involving 'strategic forces' which will include practice launches

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today's drills 'should not cause anyone concern' and said Russia had informed the proper channels

Civilians train with members of the Georgian Legion, a paramilitary unit formed mainly by ethnic Georgian volunteers, to fight against the Russian aggression in Ukraine

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine have ordered a full military mobilisation amid growing fears in the West that Russia is planning to invade the neighbouring country

 Boris Johnson has warned an invasion of Ukraine could cause 'the destruction of a democratic state' and 'the shock will echo around the world'. Pictured: The Prime Minister meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Amid the new drills today, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said the troops on the border are 'uncoiling' and 'poised to strike' during a visit to Lithuania.

'They are uncoiling and are now poised to strike,' he said, adding that troops were 'moving into the right kinds of positions to be able to conduct an attack'. 

Meanwhile Boris Johnson warned an invasion of Ukraine could cause 'the destruction of a democratic state' and 'the shock will echo around the world'.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference today, the Prime Minister said the 'omens are grim' from Russia on the possibility of an invasion in the coming days, and that the world could not 'underestimate the gravity of this moment'.

Mr Boris jetted to the annual summit in Bavaria to make a plea to avoid 'unnecessary bloodshed' by diplomatic means if the West speaks with 'one voice'.

In a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Mr Johnson said: 'If Ukraine is invaded and if Ukraine is overwhelmed, we will witness the destruction of a democratic state, a country that has been free for a generation, with a proud history of elections.

Local residents of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic arrive to the refugee camp in Rostov on Don, Rostov region

People sit in a bus for their evacuation in Donetsk on February amid fears of an imminent invasion with troops massed on the border

Thousands of Ukrainian refugees are streaming into Russia today after Putin's allies ordered a mass evacuation

It comes as thousands of Ukrainian refugees are streaming into Russia today after Putin's allies ordered a mass evacuation of two separatist republics as part of a suspected 'false flag' operation to provide the pretext for an invasion. 

Up to 700,00 civilians are being evacuated from the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after rebel leaders yesterday claimed Ukraine was about to attack the areas. 

Hours later a car bomb rocked Donetsk in an alleged 'assassination attempt' of a top Putin-allied official, which Western intelligence agencies believe was faked as part of the 'false flag' deception. 

Later two explosions at a 'gas pipeline' rocked the separatist city of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine in another suspected false flag attack. 

Last night, US President said he is 'convinced' the Russian premier has made up his mind to launch an invasion after amassing almost 200,000 troops on the border. 

In a televised address from the White House, Mr Biden said he has 'reason to believe' it will occur in the 'coming days' and will include an assault on the capital Kyiv.

After weeks of saying the US was not sure if Mr Putin had made the final decision to launch a widespread invasion, Mr Biden said that assessment had changed.

'As of this moment I'm convinced he's made the decision,' Mr Biden said. 'We have reason to believe that.'

He cited the United States' 'significant intelligence capability' for the assessment.

The Ukrainian civilian refugees will be housed in tent cities provided by Putin's government in Russia where they will receive a gift of $132. 

False flag suspicions were also fueled by time stamps on the videos announcing the evacuations, that show they were taped by rebel leaders two days before being released.  

Huge convoys of buses were laid on the for the refugees, after the evacuation was announced in video addresses by the leaders of the breakaway Republics which have also ordered a general mobilisation of all men to the army.

Multiple explosions could be heard on Saturday morning in the north of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, a Reuters witness said. The origin was not immediately clear. Ukraine said earlier that one of its soldiers had been killed. 

Up to 700,00 civilians are being evacuated from the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after rebel leaders yesterday claimed Ukraine was about to attack the areas. A woman says goodbye to her father through a bus window in Donetsk

False flag suspicions were also fueled by time stamps on the videos announcing the evacuations, that show they were taped by rebel leaders two days before being released

False flag suspicions were also fueled by time stamps on the videos announcing the evacuations, that show they were taped by rebel leaders two days before being released.

A boy looks through a bus window waiting to be evacuated to Russia, in Donetsk, the territory controlled by pro-Russian militants, eastern Ukraine

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, has called on all men 'who are in the reserves to come to military conscription offices' following a mass evacuation of women and children in Ukraine's breakaway provinces to southern Russia.

Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the Luhansk separatist region in Ukraine, ordered a general mobilisation shortly afterwards.

Pushilin claimed his region's forces had prevented attacks he said were planned by Ukraine, and that the Ukrainian army had continued manoeuvres.

Separatist authorities on Friday announced plans to evacuate around 700,000 people, citing fears of an imminent attack by Ukrainian forces – an accusation Kiev flatly denied.

Less than 7,000 people had been evacuated from Donetsk as of Saturday morning, the local emergencies ministry said.

The Ukrainian military said it had recorded 12 ceasefire violations by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in the morning after 66 cases in the previous 24 hours. Separatist authorities also reported what they said was shelling by Ukrainian forces of several villages on Saturday. Both sides regularly trade blame for ceasefire violations. 

Kiev has repeatedly denied any plans to regain control of separatist-held areas using force, including the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014. More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukraine's army and Russia's proxies. 

It comes as Ukraine's army claimed today a soldier had been killed in the separatist east and Volodymyr Zelensky is heading to the Munich Security Conference, despite President Joe Biden's warning not to leave Ukraine through fear of an imminent invasion. 

Yesterday Biden said he is now 'convinced' Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and assault the capital.

After weeks of saying that Washington was not sure if Putin had made the final decision, the US President said that his judgment had changed, citing American intelligence. He reiterated that the assault could occur in the 'coming days'. 

His comments followed a day of rising violence that included a humanitarian convoy hit by shelling and a car bombing in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Huge convoys of buses were laid on the for the refugees, after the evacuation was announced in video addresses by the leaders of the breakaway Republics

An explosion was heard in rebel-held Luhansk, one of the main cities in Ukraine's breakaway region of People's Republic of Luhansk, according to reports

In this photo made from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on February 19, 2022, a Russian marine takes his position during the Union Courage-2022 Russia-Belarus drills at the Obuz-Lesnovsky training ground in Belarus

People board a bus during the evacuation of residents to Russia, in the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, February 19, 2022

A car bomb sparked 'false flag' fears after it exploded near the headquarters of the pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic. Just hours later a fireball was seen lighting up the sky after an international oil pipeline running through the key rebel-held city of Luhansk blew up. The blast rocked the Druzhba pipeline which runs from Russia to various points in eastern and central Europe. On Thursday a shell blew a hole through the wall of kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska

People look at a memorial dedicated to late Euromaidan activists along the Alley of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes on February 18, 2022 in Kiev, Ukraine

US President Joe Biden delivers a national update on the situation at the Russia-Ukraine border at the White House in Washington, DC, February 18, 2022

The West must show unity against Putin amid Ukraine war scare, Boris Johnson insists 

Boris Johnson has called for western leaders to unite against Vladimir Putin and show the Russian leader he will pay a 'high price' if he sends his troops into Ukraine.

The Prime Minister will head to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday to make a plea for 'unnecessary bloodshed' to be avoided by pursuing a diplomatic route to prevent a conflict in eastern Europe.

Only hours before Biden's statement, the UK Foreign Office announced it had decided to 'temporarily' move its diplomats out of Kyiv, relocating them to the west of the country.

The department said British embassy officials will relocate to Lviv, situated near the border with Poland.

With estimates that 150,000 Russian troops are posted around Ukraine's borders, Johnson has previously called the situation 'very grim'.

But in comments made before embarking on his trip to Germany, the Prime Minister said 'diplomacy can still prevail' if the West puts on a united front in terms of agreeing punishing sanctions to slap on Moscow.

'There is still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but it will require an overwhelming display of western solidarity beyond anything we have seen in recent history,' he said.

'Allies need to speak with one voice to stress to President Putin the high price he will pay for any further Russian invasion of Ukraine. Diplomacy can still prevail. That is the message I will take to Munich today as we redouble our efforts to prevent a grave miscalculation which would devastate Ukraine, Russia and the rest of Europe.'

The Bavarian summit will take place against the backdrop of Putin continuing to parade Russia's military might.

The Russian defence ministry has announced it will be carrying out fresh exercises on Saturday involving its strategic nuclear forces.

Putin will observe the drills involving multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in a demonstration that Russia remains a nuclear superpower.

The Russian leader has insisted that the large-scale military exercises with Belarusian forces close to the Ukrainian border are 'purely defensive' and do not represent a threat to any other country.

There are concerns among western allies that the Kremlin could use 'disinformation' and a possible 'false flag' operation to justify an offensive, particularly with growing activity in separatist-held areas of Ukraine.

Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating civilians from the conflict zone with an announcement that appeared to be part of Moscow's efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.

One of Vladimir Putin's closest allies, parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin vowed that Russia would 'defend' its compatriots in the Donbas, hinting at military intervention.

He said: 'Russia doesn't want war.

'Our president Vladimir Putin repeatedly said this earlier and is saying this these days.'

But 'if danger arises to the lives of Russians and compatriots living in the DPR and LPR, our country will defend them.'

This came as pro-Moscow rebels claimed a water-pumping station in Vasilievka was hit by Ukrainian fire.

Ukraine has denied any such attacks. 

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has announced massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and Putin pledged to protect Russia's national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.

Biden reiterated his threat of crushing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it does invade, and pressed Putin to reconsider. He said the US and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a steep price for any invasion.

He said: 'We're calling out Russia's plans. Not because we want a conflict, but because we are doing everything in our power to remove any reason Russia may give to justify invading Ukraine.

'If Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice.'

Earlier on Friday, Biden said he believed Putin had already made up his mind to invade Ukraine. 

He said: 'As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision. We have reason to believe that.'

He said it was based on Washington's 'significant intelligence capability.' But he insisted Putin could change course if he wanted to.

'Russia can still choose diplomacy,' he said. 'It is not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.'

As further indication that the Russians are preparing for a major military push, a US defence official said an estimated 40 per cent to 50 per cent of the ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border have moved into attack positions closer to the border.

That shift has been under way for about a week, other officials have said, and does not necessarily mean Putin has decided to begin an invasion.

The official also said the number of Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups in the border area had grown to as many as 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each group has 750 to 1,000 soldiers.

Lines of communication remain open. The US and Russian defence chiefs spoke on Friday, and US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to meet next week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will attend the Munich Security Conference on Saturday and return home later the same day, a statement from his office said.

Zelenskiy's trip had been under scrutiny due to concern in Western countries that Russia is poised to launch a military offensive against Ukraine and could do so while the president is out of the country.

Boris Johnson has called for western leaders to unite against Putin and show the Russian leader he will pay a 'high price' if he sends his troops into Ukraine.

The Prime Minister will head to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday to make a plea for 'unnecessary bloodshed' to be avoided by pursuing a diplomatic route to prevent a conflict in eastern Europe.

Only hours before Biden's statement, the UK Foreign Office announced it had decided to 'temporarily' move its diplomats out of Kyiv, relocating them to the west of the country. The department said British embassy officials will relocate to Lviv, situated near the border with Poland.

With estimates that 150,000 Russian troops are posted around Ukraine's borders, Johnson has previously called the situation 'very grim'.

But in comments made before embarking on his trip to Germany, the Prime Minister said 'diplomacy can still prevail' if the West puts on a united front in terms of agreeing punishing sanctions to slap on Moscow.

'There is still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but it will require an overwhelming display of western solidarity beyond anything we have seen in recent history,' he said.

'Allies need to speak with one voice to stress to President Putin the high price he will pay for any further Russian invasion of Ukraine. Diplomacy can still prevail. That is the message I will take to Munich today as we redouble our efforts to prevent a grave miscalculation which would devastate Ukraine, Russia and the rest of Europe.'

The Bavarian summit will take place against the backdrop of Putin continuing to parade Russia's military might.

The Russian defence ministry has announced it will be carrying out fresh exercises on Saturday involving its strategic nuclear forces.

Putin will observe the drills involving multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles in a demonstration that Russia remains a nuclear superpower.

The Russian leader has insisted that the large-scale military exercises with Belarusian forces close to the Ukrainian border are 'purely defensive' and do not represent a threat to any other country. 

The blast, which was first reported by Russian state media, is thought to be the start of Putin's long-predicted false flag operation used to justify an invasion of the country

 The destroyed UAZ military jeep belonged to Denis Sinenkov, head of regional security in Donetsk, in what Russian state media suggested was an assassination attempt

Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a press conference with his Belarus counterpart, following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 18, 2022

An hour before the car bomb went off, separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk had ordered an evacuation of civilians because of what they said was the threat of Ukrainian invasion (pictured, children are evacuated from an orphanage)

Children are pictured after being loaded on to a bus for evacuation out of the city of Donetsk, in separatist-occupied eastern Ukraine, after leaders spread rumours that Kiev's troops were about to attack

There are concerns among western allies that the Kremlin could use disinformation and a possible 'false flag' operation to justify an offensive, particularly with growing activity in separatist-held areas of Ukraine.

Putin will hold a telephone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday as tensions spike in the crisis over Ukraine, Moscow said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the call was 'on the president's schedule'.

With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops now posted around Ukraine's borders, the long-simmering separatist conflict could provide the spark for a broader attack.

Fears of such escalation intensified amid Friday's violence. A bombing struck a car outside the main government building in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. The head of the separatist forces, Denis Sinenkov, said the car was his, the Interfax news agency reported. There were no reports of casualties and no independent confirmation of the circumstances of the blast.

Shelling and shooting are common along the line that separates Ukrainian forces and the rebels, but targeted violence is unusual in rebel-held cities.

Adding to the tensions, two explosions shook the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early on Saturday. The Luhansk Information Centre said one of the blasts was in a natural gas main and cited witnesses as saying the other was at a vehicle service station.

There was no immediate word on injuries or a cause. Luhansk officials blamed a gas main explosion earlier in the week on sabotage.

Monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported more than 600 explosions in the war-torn east of Ukraine on Friday.

Separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that form Ukraine's industrial heartland known as the Donbas announced they were evacuating civilians to Russia.

Pushilin said women, children and the elderly would go first, and that Russia has prepared facilities for them. He alleged in a video statement that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was going to order an imminent offensive in the area.

Metadata from two videos posted by the separatists announcing the evacuation show that the files were created two days ago.

US authorities have alleged that the Kremlin's disinformation campaign could include staged, pre-recorded videos.

Authorities began moving children from an orphanage in Donetsk, and other residents boarded buses for Russia. Long lines formed at gas stations as more people prepared to leave on their own.

Putin has ordered the government to offer a payment of 10,000 rubles (about £95) to each evacuee, equivalent to about half of an average monthly salary in the war-ravaged Donbas region.

By Saturday morning, more than 6,600 residents of the rebel-controlled areas were evacuated to Russia, according to separatist officials, who have announced plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

The explosions and the announced evacuations were in line with US warnings of so-called false flag attacks that Russia could use to justify an invasion.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the threat to global security is 'more complex and probably higher' than during the Cold War.

He told a security conference in Munich that a small mistake or miscommunication between major powers could have catastrophic consequences.

Russia announced this week that it was pulling back forces from vast military exercises, but US officials said they saw no sign of a pullback and instead observed more troops moving toward the border with Ukraine. 

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