Russian-backed separatists call for civilian evacuation from the eastern Ukraine, as an escalation fuels invasion fears

This comes amid an increase in shelling in the region, and tensions rising again after the West disputed Moscow’s claims of a troop withdrawal.

Russian-backed separatists call for civilian evacuation from the eastern Ukraine, as an escalation fuels invasion fears

Russian-backed separatists fighting for eastern Ukraine announced Friday that they would be evacuating the residents of their region to Russia. This raised fears that Moscow might use an escalation to invade the long-running conflict.

This move is taking place amid a spike in shelling in this area that has stoked new global alarm. Tensions are rising again after the United States and its allies challenged Moscow's claims of an troop pullback near its borders.

Moscow announced large-scale drills that would involve its nuclear forces, starting Saturday. They will be overseen by President Vladimir Putin and will serve as a timely reminder of Russia's nuclear power in an era when Europe is facing its most serious security crisis since the Cold War.

President Joe Biden stated Friday that the U.S. believes Putin is intent on invading Ukraine. However, he stressed that Russia can still choose diplomacy.

"As of right now, I believe he has made the decision." After a meeting with NATO leaders and European leaders on Russian aggression against Ukraine, Biden stated that there was reason to believe it. For his assessment, he cited U.S. intelligence.

Biden said, "It's not too late for de-escalate" and that it was possible to return to the bargaining tables.

According to a U.S. defense officer, Russia has now placed between 40-50 percent of its forces around Ukraine in an attack position. According to the official, they are still many miles away from the border and have reached this level of readiness within the last 48 hours.

However, Friday's main concern was the eastern Ukraine.

Denis Pushilin (head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic) announced the evacuation via a social media video. Without proving it, he claimed that Kyiv planned to launch a military attack on the area in the country's eastern where the Moscow-supported separatists are fighting government forces since 2014. Leonid Pasechnik (leader of the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic") gave a similar order.

Later, Russian state media reported that Putin ordered payment of 10,000 rubles ($130), hot meal and medical care for those who crossed the border.

There was no evidence that Kyiv planned such an attack. Ukraine claims its forces had to be more careful after Russian-backed separatists began to violate cease-fires, which they believe was a plot to provoke Ukraine.

In a statement, Valerii Zaluzhnyi (Ukraine's military chief) said that Russia's attempts "to aggravate the already tense security environment" was rejected. He said that Russia had launched a campaign to spread disinformation, increase the shelling of Ukrainian positions, civilian infrastructure, and escalate security.

According to an Associated Press journalist on the scene, his comments were made at the same time as a blast that destroyed a car in front of a Donetsk government building in eastern Ukraine.

The wreckage could be seen at the offices of "Donetsk People's Republic" and Denis Sinenkov (the head of Donetsk rebels' army) claimed it was his vehicle, according to Interfax news agency.

Later, a spokesperson for Ukraine's foreign minister stated that Ukraine had not planned or conducted any sabotage activities.

For weeks, the U.S. warned of a "false Flag" operation that Russia could use to justify an attack on Ukraine.

Later, the defense ministry of Ukraine tweeted that it had information that Russian forces had planted explosives inside buildings in Donetsk. It urged people not to use public transport and to stay at home.

The State Department announced that the Secretary of State Antony Blinken would meet with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, next week in Europe. This is provided Russia doesn't attack its neighbor.

Kamala Harris , Vice President, also reiterated U.S. support of NATO and efforts to strengthen its defenses in a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The meeting took place in Munich.

Harris stated at the beginning of the meeting, "As members of NATO we feel very strongly and will always be committed the principle of territorial integrity und sovereignty."

Harris met with several world leaders Friday and will participate in further talks at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Senior administration officials said that Harris had met with Blinken several times on Friday in order to coordinate strategy.

The conference will also feature the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zilenskyy. However, the Biden administration is worried that Putin might exploit his absence. Four people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Zelenskyy spokesperson said that he planned to attend, but was "observing" the situation which was getting more dramatic. They also added that if there were "a dramatic escalation of some worrying messages", then he might reconsider his decision.


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