A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine has ordered a full military mobilisation amid a spike in violence in the war-torn region that the West fears could be used as a pretext for invasion by Russia.
Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russian separatist government in the Donetsk region, released a statement on Saturday announcing a full troop mobilisation and urging reservists to show up at military enlistment offices.
The announcement came as a mass evacuation of women, children and the elderly from the rebel-held territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to neighbouring Russia got under way.
US president Joe Biden said on Friday he is now “convinced” his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and assault the capital, Kyiv.
After weeks of saying the US was not sure if Mr Putin had made the final decision, Mr Biden said that his judgment had changed, citing American intelligence.
“As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” the US leader said.
“We have reason to believe that.”
He reiterated that the assault could occur in the “coming days”.
The president’s comments at the White House followed a day of rising violence that included a humanitarian convoy hit by shelling and a car bombing in the eastern city of Donetsk.
Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating civilians from the conflict zone with an announcement that appeared to be part of Moscow’s efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has announced massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and Mr Putin pledged to protect Russia’s national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.
Mr Biden reiterated his threat of crushing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it does invade, and pressed Mr Putin to reconsider. He said the US and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a steep price for any invasion.