- The US Secretary of Defense hopes that Putin will pull out of the brink of the conflict.
- Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine declare full military mobilization.
- The US president believes that the Ukrainian capital Kiev will be the target of Russia.
DONETSK/MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin launched exercises by strategic nuclear missile forces on Saturday and Washington said Russian troops gathered near the border with Ukraine were “ready to strike”.
As Western nations fear the beginning of one of the worst conflicts since the Cold War, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Russian forces are “starting to unwind and move closer” to the border with their former Soviet neighbor. come.
“We hope he takes a step back from the brink of the conflict,” he told a news conference during a visit to Lithuania, saying an invasion of Ukraine was not inevitable.
Russia ordered the military build-up and demanded NATO that Ukraine stop joining the alliance, but says the predictions it plans to invade Ukraine are wrong and dangerous. It says it is now pulling out, as Washington and allies insist the buildup is ramping up.
Russian-backed separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine previously declared a full military mobilization a day after ordering women and children to be evacuated to Russia, citing the threat of an imminent attack by Ukrainian forces.
Kiev flatly denied the charge, and Washington said it was part of Russia’s plan to create a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.
Multiple explosions were heard in the north of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Saturday morning. Reuters said witness. Its origin was not immediately clear. Ukraine previously said one of its soldiers had been killed.
US President Joe Biden, who has regularly warned of an imminent invasion, said Friday he now believes the capital Kiev will be targeted by Russia, but he doesn’t think Putin is even remotely considering using nuclear weapons. .
“We have reason to believe that Russian forces are planning and planning to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
“From this moment on, I am convinced that he has made the decision.”
The exercises of Russia’s nuclear forces on Saturday included launching ballistic and cruise missiles, the defense ministry said. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the exercises were part of a regular training process and Putin will likely participate from a “situation center”.
Russia ria news agency quoted the Kremlin on Saturday as saying the exercises had begun.