Putin moves his elite paratroopers to Ukrainian border in Belarus in yet ANOTHER troop build-up amid invasion fears - while US sends Kiev 300 lethal Javelin anti-tank weapons and warns Russia is planning to go in by mid-February
- Video footage has emerged appearing to show Russian paratroopers and equipment headed for the border
- Russian tanks, trucks, military equipment and unit carriages were spotted loaded on a southwest bound train
- US has shipped 300 Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, latest part of a $200million military aid package
- Javelins are infrared guided missiles, designed to fly high into the air before slamming down on their targets -making them especially deadly against tanks because armour is thinnest on the top
- Ukraine has also been sent American Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and British-made NLAW anti-tank weapons
- Weapons are designed to inflict punishing losses on Putin's forces so he thinks twice about plans to invade
Russia has for the first time moved elite paratroopers close to its border with Ukraine amid fears of a military operation to grab capital Kiev.
A train with the crack troops and their equipment was spotted moving west towards the potential war zone and appears to be the 217th Guards Parachute Regiment of the 98th Airborne Division.
The deployment was seen passing through Russia's Bryansk region which borders both Ukraine and Belarus, as shown in a video posted on TikTok.
An analysis by respected independent Russian researchers known as the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) indicates the tarpaulin-covered armoured vehicles in the video are BMD-4M airborne combat vehicles and BTR-MDM airborne armoured personnel carriers.
'The train includes five passenger carriages, which can carry more than 250 people,' said the CIT.
It was also loaded with eight shortened two-axle Kamaz-43501 trucks, as used by Russia's Airborne Troops.
The train originated from Tekstilny station in Ivanovo region, according to railway records, which is close to where the elite airborne forces are based, said the analysis.
'This is the first confirmed video of paratroopers moving closer to the border with Ukraine,' said CIT.
'In any large-scale attack on the territory of Ukraine, the Airborne Forces should play a decisive role.'
They would act 'either in a landing operation to capture strategic objects in the rear, or as shock infantry'.
It comes as an 80-tonne shipment of US anti-tank missiles arrived in Ukraine - just the latest delivery of high-tech weapons aimed at inflicting maximum death and destruction on Putin's forces if he decides to invade.
A plane loaded with 300 Javelin missiles worth some $50million landed in capital Kiev late Tuesday, the third part of a $200million shipment of American military aid that is being sent to help its ally.
The shipment also contained grenade launchers and ammunition, as well as other non-lethal weapons systems, and comes in addition to anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons already sent by the UK, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Javelins are American-made missiles that use infrared technology to lock on to targets, rising high into the air before slamming down - making them especially deadly against tanks because their armour is thinnest on top, though Javelins can also be used to blow up buildings.
In addition to the Javelins, Ukraine has been given American Stinger missiles which use similar technology to take out aircraft and helicopters, as well as British-made NLAWs - another kind of anti-tank rocket.
While such weapons are unlikely to tip any conflict decisively in Ukraine's favour, they are designed to inflict punishing losses on Putin's forces to make any invasion as costly and bloody for Moscow as possible.
Russia has massed some 127,000 troops along with tanks and artillery on Ukraine's border, issuing a list of security demands that has prompted a flurry of high-level diplomatic talks in an attempt to head off an all-out war.
- Biden said Ukraine invasion would be the 'biggest since World War Two' and that Putin could be personally targeted by sanctions, prompting the Kremlin to warn that would destroy America's relations with Russia
- NATO said it has almost completed a written response to Russia's security demands which is due to be delivered this week, a make-or-break moment for security talks
- F-16 fighter jets under command of NATO arrived in Estonia, with four more F-16s flying from Denmark to further reinforce the Baltic region
- Presidential advisers from Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris for so-called 'Normandy talks' aimed at ending the war with Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's east
- Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow is ready to quickly take 'retaliatory measures' if its security demands aren't met, saying it will not wait forever for a response
- The US embassy in Ukraine urged its citizens to 'consider departing now', saying the situation could quickly deteriorate and it cannot guarantee their safety
- US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman suggested the invasion is likely to come before mid-February, though could be delayed by the Beijing Winter Olympics to avoid upsetting Xi Jinping
- Russia continued to deploy forces to border regions, with paratroopers and fighter jets sent to Belarus - ostensibly for training exercises due to take place next month
Russia has for the first time moved elite paratroopers close to its border with Ukraine amid fears of a military operation to grab capital Kiev. A train with the crack troops and their equipment was spotted moving west towards the potential war zone and appears to be the 217th Guards Parachute Regiment of the 98th Airborne Division
The deployment was seen passing through Russia's Bryansk region which borders both Ukraine and Belarus, as shown in a video posted on TikTok. An analysis by respected independent Russian researchers known as the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) indicates the tarpaulin-covered armoured vehicles in the video are BMD-4M airborne combat vehicles and BTR-MDM airborne armoured personnel carriers
An American shipment of 300 anti-tank Javelin missiles worth $50million landed in Kiev overnight, the third batch of a $200million military aid package designed to bring death and destruction to Russia's forces if Putin invades
Ukrainian ground crews unload part of the military shipment, which also included grenade launchers and other hardware. It will now be distributed to troops on the frontline, as they face off against 127,000 Russian troops and tanks
The Javelins come in addition to previous shipments of American Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which are designed to shoot down planes and helicopters, as well as British-made NLAWs which are another kind of anti-tank weapon
American Javelin missiles are unloaded from an American transport plane in Kiev overnight, designed to inflict punishing losses on Putin's force if he decides to invade
Diplomats from Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine are meeting in Paris today for talks in the so-called 'Normandy format', which was originally aimed at ending the war between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels who have been fighting in the east since 2014.
Talks got underway this morning with a press conference due in the afternoon, and while little is expected in the way of a breakthrough it is hoped the discussions can buy some extra time so a compromise can be found.
Jean-Yves Le Drian. the French foreign minister, told senator that France is working 'flat-out' with its European allies to find ways to de-escalate the situation and avoid war.
'The Ukraine situation is very tense but we are taking all the necessary initiatives to trigger a de-escalation process,' Le Drian said.
Russia is demanding that Ukraine be banned from ever joining NATO and that troops are withdrawn from former Soviet states. The alliance has described those as non-starters, but are hoping Moscow can be talked down into accepting limited concessions.
In the meantime, Russia has continued to move troops around border zones and rattle its sabres - with more soldiers and fighter jets deployed to Belarus today.
Moscow says paratrooper units have been deployed - joining artillery forces and marines that have already been stationed there, ostensibly for joint military drills to be held next month.
The Russian defence ministry added that Sukhoi-35 fighter jets are also being moved. The build-up of forces in Belarus is particularly threatening to Ukraine, because it puts them within easy striking distance of Kiev.
Researchers from Conflict Intelligence Team tracked what appears to be the same paratroopers travelling through Russia by train towards the front, along with armoured vehicles.
'The train includes five passenger carriages, which can carry more than 250 people,' analysts said, adding that it also spotted BMD-4M armoured troop transports and smaller BTR-MDM transports.
'This is the first confirmed video of paratroopers moving closer to the border with Ukraine,' analysts added.
Separately, Russian artillery forces in the southern Rostov region that borders Ukraine were set to carry out live-fire drills as part of a combat readiness inspection of the Southern Military District.
In the far north, Russian warships entered the Barents Sea to practice protecting a major shipping lane in the Arctic, the Northern Fleet said. Moscow announced sweeping naval exercises last week.
The US and its European allies have promised swift and severe punishment for Russia in the event that Ukraine is attacked, including unprecedented sanctions targeting its economy.
Joe Biden has even suggested that Vladimir Putin could be personally targeted with financial penalties, putting him on a slim list of despots and demagogues - including the likes of Bashar al Assad, Muammar Gaddafi and Nicolas Maduro - who have been hit in the past.
The Kremlin has responded by saying such sanctions would have almost no effect on Russia or the situation in Ukraine, but would be hugely damaging to relations between the two world superpowers.
'Politically, it's not painful, it's destructive,' Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
US Javelin missile vs Russian T-72 tank: How 'curveball' killer is designed to destroy Putin's war machines
The FGM-148 Javelin is a US-made missile that is primarily designed to destroy tanks, using a combination of 'curveball' attack - meaning it comes down on its targets from above - and dual high explosive warheads to take them out.
Javelins, which cost $175,000 each just for the missile, were developed in the 1990s and have been in service since 1996 - coming up against Russian-designed T-72 tanks during the Second Iraq War, where they proved particularly effective.
Russia still uses T-72 tanks - with dozens of T-72Bs now deployed near Ukraine - and while they have undergone several rounds of improvements since Saddam's day, they are still thought to be vulnerable to the missile.
Javelins work by using infrared systems to lock on to their targets, meaning troops do not need to keep aiming after pulling the trigger. Once the missile is fired, it ejects from the tube using a small charge - so it can be fired in a confined space - before the main rockets ignite.
The missile then flies up to 490ft into the air before slamming down on its target from above - known as a 'curveball' shot.
Javelin missiles use a 'curveball' shot - approaching their target from above - which makes them especially deadly against tanks which have less armour on the top. They also have two warheads which are designed to overcome 'reactive' armour that Russia uses
A Russian T-72 tank is pictured on training exercises near Ukraine last week. Visible on the turret are 'reactive' armour plates - the rectangular boxes filled with explosives that detonate when struck, throwing incoming missiles off course
Russian T-72s are known to be fitted with up to 850mm of armour on their bodies, with the Javelin only able to penetrate through 800mm. But the armour on the top is significantly thinner, meaning the Javelin is easily able to breach it.
In order to combat this weakness, Russian tank turrets are typically fitted with 'reactive' armour, made of metal sheets layered with small explosive charges that detonate when they are struck. Simply fitting thicker armour would make the tanks too heavy and slow.
Explosions from 'reactive' armour are too small to damage the tank, but large enough to throw incoming projectiles off course. The system is thought to add as much protection as up to 800mm of conventional armour.
But the Javelin has an answer to this, in the form of a high-explosive 'tandem' warhead. This means it is fitted with two charges that strike the exact same spot in quick succession.
The first is a small charge designed to set off the reactive armour, which is then ineffective. Then a second, much-larger charge, punches through the conventional armour underneath.
Putin's generals are clearly worried about this, because last November T-72 tanks began appearing on the frontlines with Ukraine with strange umbrella-like modifications over their main turrets - seemingly designed to defeat Javelins.
It is unclear whether such armour would even work, and what effects it might have on the tank's ability to manoeuvre and shoot, but most tanks seen on the Russian frontlines in recent weeks don't appear to have it fitted - meaning they are still vulnerable to attack.
Javelins can also be fired conventionally with a range of up to two and a half miles, meaning they can also be used to blow up buildings, shoot troops hiding in tunnels or caves, and can even attack low-flying or hovering helicopters.
And because Javelins are relatively small, lightweight, and can be carried by troops, it means they can be quickly transported to battlefields and deployed without the need to move or deploy accompanying vehicles.
Putin's generals are clearly worried they are vulnerable to Javelins, because in recent months tanks have appeared on the frontlines fitted with makeshift armour over the main turret that appears designed to protect against them - though it is not clear this will work
A Ukrainian soldier aims a Javelin launcher from the top of an armoured vehicle during a military parade in Kiev in 2018. The weapons can also be carried into battle by troops and fired over-the-shoulder
A Pentagon spokesman said the delivery would also include 'anti-armour systems, grenade launchers, munitions, and non-lethal equipment essential to Ukraine's front line defenders'
The US-made FGM-148 Javelin missile uses infrared guidance to track its target and has been used in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria
So far there have been three shipments of military equipment to Ukraine, although the country's Defence Minister confirmed he was expecting at least a fourth. Pictured: Senior Airman Cameron Manson inspects cargo netting onboard a plane at Dover Air Force Base
Vladimir Putin speaks via video-link with Italian business leaders, warning them of the importance of Russia to the country's energy sector amid fears he could choke European supplies if an invasion goes ahead
'Javelins in Kyiv! A new cargo of security aid - launchers & missiles - with a total weight of about 80 tons,' Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted
UK urges allies to send more weapons to Ukraine
British foreign secretary Liz Truss has urged Ukraine's allies to send more military support to Ukraine to help the country fend off the threat of Russian invasion.
Ms Truss spoke as she announced she will travel to the country next week 'to offer more support to the Ukrainians' in a bold move which will be seen as the UK stepping up its backing for Kiev.
The trip will inevitably reignite comparisons between Ms Truss and former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Ms Truss memorably channelled Mrs Thatcher in November last year when she posed for photographs while riding in a tank as she issued an early warning to Vladimir Putin not to launch an incursion into Ukraine.
The Foreign Secretary today said the UK has not ruled out hitting Mr Putin with personal economic sanctions if he opts to invade.
'US congressmen and senators who are not quite familiar with this topic are speaking about freezing the assets of representatives of Russia's leadership,' Peskov added, pointing out that high-ranking Russian officials are barred from holding assets abroad and accusing the politicians of lacking 'expert knowledge'.
Ukraine is also continuing to downplay the immediate risk of any invasion, with foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba saying the Kremlin has not massed enough troops for a wide-scale attack and what troops it has brought are not yet battle-ready.
Kuleba said Wednesday that while the concentration of Russian troops near Ukraine poses a threat, 'their number is now insufficient for a large-scale offensive.'
'They are still missing some key military elements and systems to mount a big, full-scale offensive,' Kuleba told reporters.
As others have, he noted that causing alarm could be an end in itself. Russia, he said, hopes to destabilize Ukraine by 'spreading panic, raising pressure on Ukraine's financial system and launching cyberattacks.'
'President Putin would be happy to see that plan succeed so that he doesn't even need to turn to military force to put Ukraine in a vulnerable position,' he said.
His comments were latest from Ukrainian officials who have sought to reassure their citizens.
Speaking late Tuesday in the second televised speech to the nation in as many days, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was 'strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.'
Meanwhile, NATO says it is close to completing its written proposals for Moscow after Russia issued a raft of security demands, and should deliver them this week, alliance diplomats said Wednesday.
'Many of the Russian demands are unacceptable or unrealistic, but the response identifies a number of issues on which it is possible to work on their concerns,' a Western diplomat told AFP.
'The question is whether this is what the Russians want.'
Moscow blindsided the West by publishing two draft treaties for the United States and NATO in December that would see Washington's influence rolled back in eastern Europe.
The demands were issued as tensions soared after Moscow massed some 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine in a move the West warns could be the prelude to a large-scale invasion.
The Kremlin wants NATO to guarantee pro-Western Kyiv will never join the military alliance and commit to pulling back forces from its eastern European flank.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is willing to listen to Russian 'concerns'. But he insists NATO will not compromise on its 'core principles' - including the right of its partners to chose their own path.
He has instead laid out a list of areas that the alliance is willing to discuss with Moscow, including arms control, disarmament, transparency on military activities, and risk-reduction mechanisms.
Stoltenberg told CNN Tuesday that NATO would deliver its proposals to the Kremlin this week 'in parallel' with a separate response being drafted by Washington.
Russia has said it is waiting to see those written responses before deciding whether to proceed with more talks after meetings with US and NATO failed to make a breakthrough.
Joe Biden has suggested that Putin could be personally targeted for sanctions in the event of an attack on Ukraine, something the Kremlin said would 'destroy' relations between the two
A member of Ukraine's armed forces fires an anti-aircraft weapon during drills to test their readiness for a Russian invasion
An anti-aircraft missile is fired from the top of a Ukrainian armoured vehicle during combat readiness drills taking place today
Russian missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov takes part in exercises in the country's Arctic region today, the first part of massive naval drills that will span five seas an involve 140 ships
Russian missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov departs its home port in the country's arctic region to take part in military drills
Russia has been massing forces on Ukraine's border for months, sparking fears that an invasion is imminent - and is now sabre-rattling across Europe including a new set of naval drills due to take place near Ireland (left)
But in a sign that talks could be about to hit a wall, Sergei Lavrov - Russia's foreign minister who has been leading the negotiations - told lawmakers today that Moscow is prepared to quickly take 'retaliatory measures' if its security demands are rejected and NATO continues with what it called 'aggressive' policies.
Speaking to lawmakers Wednesday, Lavrov said he and other top officials will advise Putin on the next steps after receiving written replies from the United States to the demands.
'If the West continues its aggressive course, Moscow will take the necessary retaliatory measures,' he said.
Lavrov also indicated that Russia will not wait forever for a response: 'We won't allow our proposals to be drowned in endless discussions,' he said.
Asked by lawmakers if Russia could expand military cooperation with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Lavrov responded that Moscow has close ties with those countries.
Earlier this month, Lavrov's deputy pointedly refused to rule out the deployment of Russian military assets to Cuba and Venezuela - far closer to the U.S. than Ukraine - if Moscow's security demands aren't met.
NATO said this week it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region and the U.S. ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe. Western nations have also sent planeloads of weapons to help Ukraine strengthen its defenses.
Britain is also promising sanctions, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has urged European nations to do more to support Ukraine.
The U.K. has sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, though it has ruled out sending combat troops.
'We'll be legislating to toughen up our sanctions regime and make sure we are fully able to hit both individuals and companies and banks in Russia in the event of an incursion,' she told the BBC. 'What's important is that all of our allies do the same.'
Amid the soaring tensions, the U.S., Britain, Australia, Germany and Canada have also moved to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv.
America also took the step of advising citizens to leave Ukraine today, saying the situation could deteriorate rapidly and it would be unable to guarantee their safety in the event of a Russian attack.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov (left), attending a meeting of the state Duma in Moscow today amid the tensions
Mr Lavrov speaks in front of the Duma, having previously warned that Russia would not wait forever for an American response to its security demands
A member of the Ukrainian armed forces drives an armoured vehicle through an undislcosed location in the Luhansk region, close to where government forces are fighting Russian-backed rebel groups
A Russian-backed rebel soldier walks through a trench close to the frontlines where a war with the Ukrainian government has been going on since 2014
A Russian-backed rebel soldier mans a machine-gun nest in the Luhansk region close to the border, where fighting has been ongoing since the 2014 invasion of Crimea
Meanwhile US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the timing of the Beijing Winter Olympics - due to take place throughout February - could affect the timing of any Russian attack on Ukraine.
Sherman, who led a U.S. delegation in talks with Russian officials in Europe earlier this month, said she did not know whether Putin had made the decision to invade, but that indications suggested an invasion could come between now and mid-February.
'We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics are beginning on February 4th, the opening ceremony, and President Putin expects to be there.
'I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine,' Sherman said during a virtual conversation hosted by Yalta European Strategy.
'So that may affect his timing and his thinking.'
Putin on Tuesday weighed in on a diplomatic boycott of the Games by the United States and other Western nations over China's human rights record, saying he opposed the 'politicization of sport.'
The United States and its allies have warned Russia of harsh sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine, but some 100,000 Russian troops remain near the border with no signs of de-escalation.
Russia says the crisis is being driven by NATO and U.S. actions, and is demanding security guarantees from the West, including a promise by NATO never to admit Ukraine.
Sherman said the United States was preparing for all kinds of scenarios, including a 'full-on invasion,' but said even a single Russian soldier entering Ukraine would be a very serious matter.
'It breaches all of the principles of international security and says that another country can act with impunity, which has tremendous consequences for Ukraine and Europe,' Sherman said.