Biden and Putin to talk as Ukraine tensions soar: Live news | Ukraine-Russia crisis News

US President Joe Biden is set to speak with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday after the United States warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin in days.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he would speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, adding that Washington and its allies would swiftly impose severe economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has told its citizens in Ukraine not to expect a military evacuation if a Russian invasion ensues, after warning them to leave the country on Friday.

Hello, and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the Ukraine-Russia crisis. I am Linah Alsaafin with the latest updates.

Russia holds military exercise near Ukraine’s border

Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting near an airfield in southern Belarus close to the Ukrainian border, said Russian military exercises appear to be taking place at the site.

“We have seen dozens of Russian trucks coming out of the air field around half an hour ago. There is military activity here for sure – we’ve heard helicopters taking off, we’ve heard what seems to be shooting exercises, “she said.

“On the other hand, it’s also quite calm here in this area. In the village nearby everything is ordinary and people are going about their normal business. ”

Russia pulls some diplomatic staff out of Ukraine

Russia said it has pulled some of its diplomatic staff out of Ukraine for fear of “provocations” from Kyiv or its allies amid mounting warnings of a possible Russian invasion of its neighbor.

“Fearing possible provocations from the Kyiv regime or other countries we have indeed decided to optimize staffing at Russian missions in Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a press release.

Zakharova did not say whether that meant a reduction in staff numbers but said the embassy and consulates in Ukraine continued to perform their key functions.

Ukraine says ‘critically important to remain calm’

Ukraine urged its citizens to keep calm and avoid panicking in the face of mounting worries that Russia was preparing to invade.

“At the moment, it is critically important to remain calm, to consolidate within the country, to avoid destabilizing actions and those that sow panic,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The armed forces of Ukraine are constantly monitoring the situation and are ready to rebuff any encroachment on its territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Western intelligence warn Kyiv could be a ‘possible target’ of invasion

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler said intelligence sources from western powers are saying Russian forces “could be considering surrounding the capital Kyiv”.

“Here in the capital city, authorities are reopening bomb shelters that were built during the Cold War by the Russians,” she said, speaking from Kyiv. “Those bomb shelters would be ready, says the mayor of Kyiv, should they be needed.”

Butler said residents of the city know that the situation is “extremely tense” and that there is a sense that it could be “a lot more critical than before”.

Ukraine's biggest national flag on the country's highest flagpole and the giant 'Motherland' monument are seen at a compound of the World War II museum in KyivUkraine’s biggest national flag on the country’s highest flagpole and the giant ‘Motherland’ monument are seen at a compound of the World War II museum in Kyiv, Ukraine, December 16, 2021. [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

More than 30 Russian ships start drills near Crimea – RIA

More than 30 ships from the Russian Black Sea fleet have started training exercises near the Crimea peninsula as part of wider navy drills, RIA news agency reported.

RIA said that more than 30 Russian ships have left the ports of Sevastopol and Novorossiisk “in accordance with the plans of the drills” near Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

RIA said the aim of the drills was the defense of the Crimean coast, the outposts of the Black Sea fleet as well as the economy sector and naval communications.

Biden and Putin to talk as Ukraine warnings mount

Presidents Biden and Putin are set to hold talks on Saturday as Washington detailed increasingly vivid accounts of a possible attack on Ukraine.

Putin requested for the telephone call to take place on Monday, a White House official said, but Biden wanted to conduct it sooner.

Putin, jostling for influence in post-Cold War Europe, is seeking security guarantees from Biden to block Kyiv’s entry into NATO and missile deployments near Russia’s borders.

Washington regards many of the proposals as non-starters but has pushed the Kremlin to discuss them jointly with Washington and its European allies.

Blinken says he will speak to Russia’s Lavrov

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he will speak to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov about Russia’s response to US proposals to resolve the crisis.

“If Russia is genuinely interested in resolving this crisis of its own making through diplomacy and dialogue, we’re prepared to do that,” he said in a news conference in Fiji.

“But it must take place in the context of de-escalation. So far, we’ve only seen escalation from Moscow. “

UK tells its citizens in Ukraine not to expect military evacuation

British nationals who choose to stay in Ukraine should not expect a military evacuation if conflict with Russia ensues, junior defense minister James Heappey told Sky News.

“British nationals should leave Ukraine immediately by any means possible and they should not expect, as they saw in the summer with Afghanistan, that there would be any possibility of a military evacuation,” he said.

On Friday, the UK government advised British nationals to leave Ukraine immediately while commercial means were still available and advised against all further travel to the country.

You can see updates from Friday, February 11 here.

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