'Putin can still step back': Russian tanks and artillery seen moving into Ukraine 'attack positions'

‘Putin can still step back’: Russian tanks and artillery seen moving into Ukraine ‘attack positions’

Vladimir Putin can still ‘step back’ from starting the biggest war in Europe since 1939, world leaders said on Monday – even as Russian tanks and artillery were seen massing near the border with Ukraine, and Russian troops carried out large-scale exercises in Belarus that analysts fear could be the precursor to war.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the nation on Monday night and appealed for calm – urging his country’s 44 million people to wave flags from their houses on Tuesday in what he termed a national day of unity, and at 10am all sing the national anthem in a show of solidarity and resilience.

Zelensky’s team on Monday also tried to downplay the president’s previous suggestions that Putin had chosen Wednesday to invade, with adviser Mykhailo Podoliak saying that Zelensky was not being literal when he said that the attack would be on Wednesday.

The 44-year-old former comedian was being ironic, Podoliak said, and was referring to media reports that said Wednesday had been chosen by Moscow.

Russia's defense ministry on Monday released photos of their tanks deploying in the Leningrad region

Russia’s defense ministry on Monday released photos of their tanks deploying in the Leningrad region

The Russian tanks are seen on exercise near the Baltic Sea on Monday, even as Moscow says that it is not too late for diplomacy

The Russian tanks are seen on exercise near the Baltic Sea on Monday, even as Moscow says that it is not too late for diplomacy

'Putin can still step back': Russian tanks and artillery seen moving into Ukraine 'attack positions'

Zelensky said he was ‘told’ that Wednesday would be the day of the attack as he announced the national day of unity.

He also pledged to increase funding of military service personnel, accelerate the development of defenses and create an information system to apprise citizens of the security situation.

Yet while Zelensky tried to reassure his nervy country, world leaders were frantically engaged in last-minute diplomacy, in a bid to stave off conflict.

Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, said Europe is ‘on the edge of a precipice’ — but added, ‘there is still time for President Putin to step back.’

France’s foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told French television that ‘all elements’ were in place for a strong Russian offensive, but ‘nothing shows today’ that Putin has decided to launch one.

Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, was in Kiev on Monday – and flies to Moscow to meet Putin on Tuesday – and said that the Russian leader should not underestimate the resolve of Ukraine’s allies.

‘If Russia violates the territorial integrity of Ukraine again, we know what to do,’ Scholz said.

‘In the event of military escalation, we are ready for very far-reaching and effective sanctions in coordination with our allies.’

He said there are ‘no sensible reasons’ for the buildup of more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders to the north, south and east, and he urged more dialogue.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is seen on Monday at a press conference with Olaf Scholz, Germany's chancellor

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, is seen on Monday at a press conference with Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor

Scholz (left) was in Kiev on Monday, and on Tuesday will fly to Moscow to meet Putin

Scholz (left) was in Kiev on Monday, and on Tuesday will fly to Moscow to meet Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and German chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) met Monday at the Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine. Scholz visited Ukraine as part of a flurry of Western diplomacy aimed at deflecting Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) and German chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) met Monday at the Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine. Scholz visited Ukraine as part of a flurry of Western diplomacy aimed at deflecting Russian invasion

Scholtz's visit Monday comes before he heads off to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin as a report emerged that it's 'highly unlikely' President Joe Biden will accept Zelensky's request he visit Ukraine

Scholtz’s visit Monday comes before he heads off to Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin as a report emerged that it’s ‘highly unlikely’ President Joe Biden will accept Zelensky’s request he visit Ukraine

Valentyna Konstantynovska, 79, takes part in a training session on Sunday organized by members of Ukraine's national guard for civilians in Mariupol - a Black Sea port city that is close to the frontlines with Russia

Valentyna Konstantynovska, 79, takes part in a training session on Sunday organized by members of Ukraine’s national guard for civilians in Mariupol – a Black Sea port city that is close to the frontlines with Russia

A child is taught how to load and unload bullets from an AK-47 magazine during a training sessions on Sunday for civilians organized by Ukraine's national guard in the city of Mariupol

A child is taught how to load and unload bullets from an AK-47 magazine during a training sessions on Sunday for civilians organized by Ukraine’s national guard in the city of Mariupol

A member of Ukraine's Special Forces Unit Azov, part of the National Guard, shows a woman on Sunday how to aim an AK-47 rifle while laying down during a training session in the city of Mariupol

A member of Ukraine’s Special Forces Unit Azov, part of the National Guard, shows a woman on Sunday how to aim an AK-47 rifle while laying down during a training session in the city of Mariupol

Ukrainian troops take part in tank training in the Kharkiv region, close to the border with Russia, last week

Ukrainian troops take part in tank training in the Kharkiv region, close to the border with Russia, last week

In Moscow, Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, held a meeting for the cameras at which Lavrov appealed for more time for diplomacy.

The talks ‘can’t go on indefinitely, but I would suggest to continue and expand them at this stage,’ Lavrov said.

He noted that Washington has offered to conduct dialogue on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures.

Lavrov said possibilities for talks ‘are far from being exhausted.’

‘I would propose continuing and intensifying them,’ he said.

Putin responded: ‘Good.’

Lavrov then, front of the cameras, told Putin he had directed his diplomats to demand ‘security guarantees’ from the West, such as a legally binding pledge that Ukraine will never join the NATO alliance.

‘Our initiative shook up our Western colleagues and became the reason they have no longer been able to ignore many of our previous appeals,’ Lavrov told the Russian leader.

Putin is seen on Friday chairing a meeting, ahead of his phone call with Joe Biden on Saturday

Putin is seen on Friday chairing a meeting, ahead of his phone call with Joe Biden on Saturday

COVID-anxious Vladimir Putin again deployed an extremely long table to keep his distance as he took stock with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Monday

COVID-anxious Vladimir Putin again deployed an extremely long table to keep his distance as he took stock with his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Monday

President Joe Biden, seen here with first lady Jill Biden, spoke with British PM Boris Johnson Monday. The U.S. is urging Russia to pursue diplomacy to avert a crisis over its possible invasion of Ukraine

President Joe Biden, seen here with first lady Jill Biden, spoke with British PM Boris Johnson Monday. The U.S. is urging Russia to pursue diplomacy to avert a crisis over its possible invasion of Ukraine

U.S. officials continue to say the administration believes Putin has not made a final decision whether or not to invade

U.S. officials continue to say the administration believes Putin has not made a final decision whether or not to invade

This handout video grab released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Monday shows Su-30SM fighter jet 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 near Brest

This handout video grab released by the Russian Defense Ministry on Monday shows Su-30SM fighter jet 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 near Brest

Russian servicemen drive tanks during military exercises in the Leningrad Region, Russia, in this handout picture released on Monday

Russian servicemen drive tanks during military exercises in the Leningrad Region, Russia, in this handout picture released on Monday

The U.S. announced Monday that it was relocating personnel from the embassy in Kiev, as Russia continued military exercises

The U.S. announced Monday that it was relocating personnel from the embassy in Kiev, as Russia continued military exercises

Lavrov also said that Russia had prepared a 10-page response in its written back-and-forth with NATO and the United States over the Kremlin’s security demands.

The United States reacted coolly to Lavrov and Putin’s show.

‘The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage constructively,’ said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary.

‘However, we are clear-eyed about the prospects of that, given the steps Russia is taking on the ground in plain sight.’

U.S. officials said the Russian military continued apparent attack preparations along Ukraine’s borders.

A U.S. defense official said small numbers of Russian ground units have been moving out of larger assembly areas for several days, taking up positions closer to the Ukrainian border at what would be departure points if Putin launched an invasion.

Satellite images taken over the last 48 hours show increased Russian military activity in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia, including the arrival of helicopters, ground-attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets at forward locations.

The photos also show ground forces leaving their garrisons and combat units moving into convoy formation, according to Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imagery company that has been monitoring the Russian buildup.

U.S. troops, meanwhile, flew from Fort Bragg in North Carolina to the region. 

Members of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army prepare for deployment to Poland from Fort Bragg on Monday

Members of the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army prepare for deployment to Poland from Fort Bragg on Monday

The US troops are seen walking onto the tarmac of the Pope Field ahead of deployment to Poland

The US troops are seen walking onto the tarmac of the Pope Field ahead of deployment to Poland

A soldier has his temperature checked before boarding the plane from North Carolina on Monday

A soldier has his temperature checked before boarding the plane from North Carolina on Monday

A soldier relaxes ahead of deployment to Poland from North Carolina on Monday

A soldier relaxes ahead of deployment to Poland from North Carolina on Monday

The troops from the 82nd Airborne Division walk onto the tarmac on Monday and toward their plane

The troops from the 82nd Airborne Division walk onto the tarmac on Monday and toward their plane

The soldiers are seen checking their automatic weapons ahead of deployment

The soldiers are seen checking their automatic weapons ahead of deployment

A soldier carries his equipment as he crosses the tarmac in North Carolina

A soldier carries his equipment as he crosses the tarmac in North Carolina

The U.S. troops wait to board their flight in North Carolina on Monday, bound for Poland

The U.S. troops wait to board their flight in North Carolina on Monday, bound for Poland

Soldiers sleep as they wait to board their flight to Europe on Monday from North Carolina

Soldiers sleep as they wait to board their flight to Europe on Monday from North Carolina

Paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division prepare to board a transport plane bound for Europe

Paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division prepare to board a transport plane bound for Europe

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden formally approved the deployment of 3,000 US troops to Poland, Germany and Romania, to reassure U.S. allies.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the deployments included roughly 2,000 troops that would deploy from the United States to Poland and Germany.

In addition, approximately 1,000 troops currently based in Germany were moving to Romania.

Kirby said the moves were not permanent and emphasized: ‘These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine.’

The Biden administration said Saturday that it was pulling 160 Florida National Guard members from Ukraine, where they have been advising the Ukrainian military since November, ‘out of an abundance of caution.’

Kirby said Monday that ‘we have said for a while now that military action now could happen any day.’

‘It is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning,’ Kirby said of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

‘It certainly could happen before the end of the Olympics – maybe even this week,’ he said.

'Putin can still step back': Russian tanks and artillery seen moving into Ukraine 'attack positions'

‘It is entirely possible that he could move with little to no warning,’ Kirby said of Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian attack submarine Rostov-on-Don is pictured sailing into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus strait on Monday, with Turkey's Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Mosque pictured in the background

Russian attack submarine Rostov-on-Don is pictured sailing into the Black Sea via the Bosphorus strait on Monday, with Turkey’s Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia Mosque pictured in the background

An American Osprey aircraft is pictured landing at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland, close to the border with Ukraine on Sunday

An American Osprey aircraft is pictured landing at Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport in Poland, close to the border with Ukraine on Sunday

Ukrainian troops inspect a shipment of American-made Humvee trucks shipped from Lithuania on Sunday, as part of military aid deliveries to help in any conflict with Russia

Ukrainian troops inspect a shipment of American-made Humvee trucks shipped from Lithuania on Sunday, as part of military aid deliveries to help in any conflict with Russia

Russian troops of the Northern Fleet Marine Corps fire an Igla anti-aircraft rocket launcher during training exercises in Murmansk, located in the far north, on February 10

Russian troops of the Northern Fleet Marine Corps fire an Igla anti-aircraft rocket launcher during training exercises in Murmansk, located in the far north, on February 10

Biden has repeatedly stressed that U.S. troops will not be engaged in combat in Ukraine.

In an hour-long call with the Russian president on Saturday, Biden said the United States and its allies would ‘respond decisively’ to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. On Sunday, Biden spoke to Zelensky and stressed the United States’ commitment to Ukraine.

Biden told Zelensky that the U.S. would respond aggressively to any attack, the White House said, through sanctions and other measures to level a high cost for Russia.

Zelensky asked Biden to visit Ukraine, but U.S. officials said a trip is ‘highly unlikely.’

Ukrainian security and defense council chief Oleksiy Danilov downplayed the threat of invasion but warned of the risk of ‘internal destabilization’ by unspecified forces.

‘Today we do not see that a large-scale offensive by the Russian Federation can take place either on (Feb.) 16th or the 17th,’ he told reporters after meeting lawmakers.

‘We are aware of the risks that exist in the territory of our country. But the situation is absolutely under control.’

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