VLADIMIR Putin is set to order an attack on Ukraine early tomorrow – after intelligence agencies warned his troop withdrawal announcement could be a ruse.
Highly placed sources said preparations to defend the besieged nation would continue – and that the most likely time for Putin’s order was 3am (1am UK time).
American spooks believe Kyiv’s military and government command and control centres still have a barrage of air strikes before tanks roll over the border.
Russian claimed today to be pulling back around 10,000 troops from its Western and Southern to barracks after military drills.
But around 130,000 remain on Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders with around 40,000 pro-Putin forces in Belarus to the north.
Another 30,000 pro-Russian separatists were facing Ukraine defenders in the captured Donbas enclave.
And preparations continued apace in Kyiv yesterday as anti-aircraft systems were seen moving into position along with columns of National Guard vehicles.
A military source said: “We cannot take anything that Russia says or does at face value. We have to prepare to defend ourselves.”
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Senior sources said a Moscow attack would be “almost certainly from multiple points” over Ukraine’s southern, eastern and northern flanks.
It comes as Britain warned a Russian invasion of Ukraine is highly likely, could be imminent and could become the biggest threat to security in Europe since World War II.
But the Kremlin said the warnings are "baseless hysteria" designed to ramp up tensions in Europe.
Russia denies it is planning to invade, but say it could take unspecified "military-technical" action unless a range of demands are met.
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Liz Truss said the UK would need to see a full-scale removal of Russian troops from the Ukraine border to believe Moscow has no plans for an invasion.
Asked about reports that some Russian troops are expected to return to bases, the Foreign Secretary told LBC: "I haven't seen the reports that you're referring to.
"Certainly, our latest intelligence suggests that an invasion is imminent, that it's highly likely, and that we've seen 100,000 troops stationed around the border.
"Separately, the Russians have claimed that they have no plans for an invasion, but we will need to see a full-scale removal of troops to show that is true."
Bob Seely, a Tory member of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said the Russian troop withdrawals should not be seen as "the end of the story".
He said Moscow still had "many troops around Ukraine" and could "redeploy more at short notice".
Meanwhile, Ukraine claimed its diplomatic efforts with Western allies have been successful.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters today: "We and our allies have managed to prevent Russia from any further escalation.
"It is already the middle of February, and you see that diplomacy is continuing to work."
But Ms Truss said Britain and the West are still "preparing for the worst".
A Western intelligence assessment revealed: “We would expect multiple sequenced attacks and not a single strike.”
It could mean a sudden thrust against Kyiv, using precision strikes.
Other key cities would be encircled by Putin’s tanks and troops while being pounded by planes and helicopter gunships.
The grave assessment came as Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky declared tomorrow a day of unity and urged his people to stand and sing the national anthem at 10am.
He said: “We do not know how to give up and we will not learn to do so. We believe in our own strength and will continue to build the future together. We are united by love for Ukraine."
It comes after Russia staged a frenzy of new military deployments and war games close to the Ukraine border in recent days.
Chilling footage showed hundreds of paratroopers dropped from the sky during drills in the Kostrama region.
And more than 30 warplanes took part in Black Sea naval exercises to destroy simulated enemy submarines in waters close to Ukraine.
- Russia's defence ministry said some troops deployed near Ukraine are returning to bases after completing drills
- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet to defuse tensions
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lead an emergency Cobra meeting
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there continues to be a British "presence" in Kyiv
- The EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the European Union is ready to discuss Russia's security concerns
- Norway will increase its contribution to Nato's forces in Lithuania by between 50 and 60 troops
- Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen discussed the Ukraine situation during a telephone call on Tuesday
- The European Parliament has approved a $1.36 billion EU aid package for Ukraine
- Ukraine said its joint diplomatic efforts with Western allies have managed to avert a feared Russian invasion
Last night Boris Johnson held crisis talks with US President Joe Biden, after saying it was “pretty clear” Russia will invade within days.
He warned an invasion would result in a “protracted crisis with far reaching damage for both Russia and the world".
But a Downing Street spokesman insisted there “remained a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to step back from its threats towards Ukraine”.
No10 said Boris and Biden had agreed to stay in touch as the situation “evolves”.
Reports warned 60 per cent of Russia’s ground forces are in striking range.
The PM cut short a tour of Scotland and was holed up with spy chiefs.
Mr Johnson warned: “This is a very, very dangerous, difficult situation. We are on the edge of a precipice. The signs are… they’re at least planning for something that could take place in the next 48 hours. That is extremely concerning.”
After chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, Ms Truss said an invasion could be imminent and urged all Brits to evacuate by any means they can.
Briefing MPs privately, the Foreign Secretary said she believes invasion to be “highly likely”. Mr Johnson will host further talks for intelligence and military chiefs today.
Ms Truss said this morning: "I'm very worried about the situation. We could be on the brink of a war in Europe.
"That would have severe consequences not just for the people of Russia and Ukraine, but also for the broader security of Europe.
"There is still time for Vladimir Putin to step away from the brink. But there is only a limited amount of time for him to do that."
She warned in the event of an invasion Kremlin troops could reach the capital Kyiv "very, very quickly" from neighbouring Belarus.
Ms Truss said the city would "certainly" be a high priority target.
And she said Moscow is likely to begin any attack with a "false flag operation" such as a faked attack on Russian separatists.
She said: "There could be false claims that they have been provoked to give a pretext for Russian invasion.
"What we have been doing is we've been calling out the Russians, we've been exposing their attempts to put a puppet government into Kyiv.
"Over the next few days there could be an attempt to claim the Ukrainians are attacking them, so the Russians have a justification for invading."
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