Putin oversees nuclear drills, U.S. says Russian forces ‘poised to strike’ Ukraine

By Polina Nikolskaya and Tom Balmforth

DONETSK, Ukraine/MOSCOW, Feb 19 (Reuters) – Russia’s strategic nuclear forces held exercises overseen by President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, and Washington accused Russian troops massed near Ukraine’s border of advancing and being “poised to strike”.

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.

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.

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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.

Venting his frustration at a security conference in Munich, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the global security architecture was “almost broken”. He urged the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and Turkey to meet to draw up new security guarantees for his country.

“The rules that the world agreed on decades ago no longer work,” Zelenskiy said. “They do not keep up with new threats … This is a cough syrup when you need a coronavirus vaccine.” read more

World Bank President David Malpass told Zelenskiy on Saturday the bank was readying funding to Ukraine of up to $350 million. read more


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”. read more

In his most pointed prediction so far, Biden said on Friday he was convinced that Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine in the coming days, and Austin said on Saturday the nuclear forces exercises were stoking concerns around the world.

“President Biden continues to monitor the evolving situation in Ukraine, and is being updated regularly about events on the ground by his national security team,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “They reaffirmed that Russia could launch an attack against Ukraine at any time.”

G7 foreign ministers called on Russia to choose the path of diplomacy. “As a first step, we expect Russia to implement the announced reduction of its military activities along Ukraine’s borders. 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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