Biden ‘convinced’ Putin plans to invade but says diplomacy ‘always a possibility’…..

US president speaks after consulting with allies as events in and around Ukraine bring it closer to brink of conflict

Joe Biden has said he is convinced that Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine and target its capital, Kyiv, which he said would be a “catastrophic and needless war of choice”. But the US president insisted that until the attack began “diplomacy is always a possibility”.

Biden spoke to the press late on Friday after consulting European and Canadian allies, on a day of fast-moving events in and around Ukraine that brought it closer to the brink of conflict.

Satellite imagery showed new Russian military movements, with helicopters and tanks moving closer to the border in multiple sites around the Ukraine border.

The leaders of Russian-backed breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk claimed to be under Ukrainian attack and ordered the mass evacuation of civilians. A gas pipeline in Luhansk caught fire after explosions late on Friday night. A second blast hit the city about 40 minutes later. Earlier in the day, a car bomb detonated in an empty lot in Donetsk.

Biden said claims of a Ukrainian attack were a fabricated attempt at providing a pretext for an invasion.

“There is simply no evidence these assertions and it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a years-long conflict,” he said, adding that the Ukrainians had held their fire.

“Throughout these tense moments, the Ukrainian forces have shown great judgment, and I might add restraint,” Biden said. “They refuse to allow the Russians to bait them into war.”

Biden said he had come to the conclusion that the Russian leader was set on war.

“As of this moment, I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” he said, explaining his confidence by saying: “We have a significant intelligence capability.”

But Biden added that until an attack began, “diplomacy is always a possibility.”

He confirmed that US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is due to hold talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, next Thursday, “but if Russia takes military action before that day, it will be clear that they have slammed the door shut on diplomacy”.

“They will have they will have chosen a war and they will pay a steep price for doing so,” Biden said. “Make no mistake, if Russia pursues its plans, it will be responsible for a catastrophic and needless war of choice.”

After the evacuation announcements in Donetsk and Luhansk, sirens went off in the cities of the region, supposedly to warn of an impending Ukrainian military assault. Reporters and independent monitors said there was no sign of a Ukrainian attack. Kyiv denied taking any hostile action and Ukrainian intelligence had earlier warned that infrastructure in the Russian-backed regions had been mined to provide a pretext for a Russian offensive.

The metadata on the video evacuation orders by separatist Luhansk and Donetsk leaders showed they had been recorded two days earlier.

US officials increased its estimates of the force massed on Ukraine’s border to 190,000 troops, arrayed in over 120 battalion tactical groups, representing the biggest mobilisation of troops since the second world war. US officials said that about half of them had moved into attack positions.

The US image company Maxar said on Friday that new satellite images showed a large new deployment of helicopters in Belarus and a gathering of tanks and personnel carriers at Millerovo Airfield, 16 miles from the Ukraine border. More helicopters had arrived in Belgorod just to the north of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and in Crimea. Read More

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