VLADIMIR Putin has ordered US officials to leave Russia immediately amid fears he plans to order an invasion of Ukraine.
The Kremlin has massed 100,000 troops, with tanks, artillery and ballistic missiles, within striking distance of its neighbour’s borders.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said US embassy staff who have been in Moscow for more than three years were being ordered to fly home by January 31.
Fresh footage shows the Russian tanks on manoeuvres in a region bordering Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Wednesday Putin could quickly order an invasion of Ukraine if he had a pretext for doing.
He said America was "deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine”.
"We don't know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know he's putting in place the capacity to do so in short order," he said.
Russia has also "intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor" and increased anti-Ukrainian propaganda by more than tenfold to levels not seen since its 2014 invasion of the country.
"The idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia would be a bad joke if things weren't so serious," he said.
He said Putin may "claim provocation for something that they were planning to do all along.”
Kiev’s intelligence chief recently warned Russia could invade by the end of January with a massive assault across ten fronts.
Ukrainian commander Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Kiev's defence intelligence agency, laid out the scale of Vladimir Putin's attack involving some 100,000 soldiers.
Brigadier General Budanov explained the invasion would involve airstrikes and artillery bombardments, reports The Military Times.
That would be followed by an attack from the air involving up to 3,500 paratroopers and special forces.
What is happening between Russia and Ukraine?
RUSSIA and the Ukraine have remained technically at war since 2014.
Ukraine was aligned with Russia as part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, following which it became an independent state.
Both nations remained closely tied – but Ukraine gradually began to distance itself, seeking deeper ties with the West.
The open conflict was triggered by the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014 – when an uprising overthrew the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych.
Vladimir Putin's forces reacted by annexing the region of Crimea from Ukraine – a move which was widely condemned by the West.
The conflict then spiralled when pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine then took up arms against the state.
Russia gave their backing the separatist forces which formed breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Putin's forces then launched a military incursion into these regions as they gave their support to the rebels.
Russia continues to hold Crimea – and claims the region joined them willingly after they a referendum.
Seven years have now passed and the War in Donbass remains at a stalemate.
It is estimated some 14,000 have been killed in the conflict, including more than 3,0o0 civilians.
Ukraine and the rebels signed a new ceasefire in July 2020 – but clashes have been steadily increasing again throughout 2021.
It would then be followed by a mass assault across the border, amphibious landings in Odessa and Mariupol, and a smaller attack from neighbouring Belarus.
Russia however has always denied any aggressive intentions towards Ukraine – branding reports as "hysteria".
Putin said Wednesday his government is seeking guarantees from the West that it not move troops or weapons systems "in close vicinity to the Russian territory”.
The US embassy in Moscow is the last operational US mission in the country, which has shrunk to 120 staff from about 1,200 in early 2017.
The expulsion of diplomats appears to be in retaliation for the US ordering expelling 27 Russian diplomats and their families.
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