Russian forces tightened their grip on knitting Ukraine as the knife-edge region faced a nail-biting final countdown to war.
Efforts to bring Moscow back from the brink of a bloody invasion appear to be increasingly futile and all-out conflict could break out any moment.
Even as world leaders tried to intervene Russian commanders were on Sunday moving up large numbers of attack helicopters, assault troops, tanks and artillery to the frontline.
American intelligence agencies now believe Russian President Vladimir Putin may give the attack order earlier than Wednesday as previously thought.
American CIA and NSA spymasters have harassed the Kremlin with leaks about Russia’s war plans-making it clear they are intercepting military orders.
Sources have told the Mirror this is aimed at undermining the Russian hierarchy, trying to make them think twice before ordering an attack.
ANDREI PUNGOVSCHI/AFP via Getty Images)
As the world braced for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow gathered its largest naval strike force in years in the Black Sea threatening Ukraine’s southern coast.
Thirty Russian warships are gathered in the Black Sea on “exercise” including 13 huge amphibious landing ships capable of carrying 350 marine commandos and ten tanks each.
Ukraine officials slapped a flight ban on all air traffic over the Black Sea.
Around 126,000 Russian troops are on Ukraine’s eastern flank, 80,000 Russian and Belarus soldiers to the north and Kremlin warships to the south, packed with special forces and marines.
Pro-Russian separatists numbering 30,000 in contested Donbas are dug in along with Moscow’s special forces on a 250 mile frontier of trenches as Ukrainian troops prepare for battle.
Russian Spetsnaz special forces in their thousands have been called up in Belarus, and all along the Ukraine border, with GRU spies already Ukraine.
In the UK, shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy urged the Government to learn lessons from the chaotic Afghanistan evacuation and “act swiftly”
Defense secretary Ben Wallace canceled a planned holiday because of the “worsening situation” in Ukraine.
Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Commons defense select committee, has called for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine to deter a Russian attack.
In Kyiv, The Mirror on Sunday witnessed the first signs of a military presence inside the capital Kyiv, as soldiers in combat fatigues were spotted last-minute shopping.
One gave a victory sign as he walked by mirroring the confidence and high morale we have witnessed among the Ukrainian troops in recent weeks.
Ukraine’s military is discreetly hidden all over the country but has hardly been spotted as it is believed they are trying to keep Russian war planners guessing about their locations.
And there are increasing fears of large numbers of Russian covert operatives have infiltrated into Ukraine, making ready to spearhead sabotage attacks.
Ukraine moved to ban entry to most Russians on Sunday amid fears of hit squads and sabotage agents seeking entry to the country.
Reports said that only Russian citizens with proven evidence that they were entering for the funeral of a close relative were being allowed in.
Many Russian officials were using increasingly bellicose language, whipping up tensions and doing little to halt the momentum towards conflict.
Russia’s ambassador to Sweden Viktor Tararintsev said in an extraordinary outburst that Vladimir Putin “doesn’t give as**t” about the risk of western sanctions.
He claimed that Russia has become more resistant to sanctions by boosting exports, whilst many fear Russian aggression will soon turn to all-out warfare.
Russian military doctrine is expected to dictate a horrific pace of attack, possibly targeting Kyiv key buildings with air strikes before tanks surge towards Ukrainian lines.
Ukraine could face attacks from three fronts, from Belarus to the north, Russia, to the east and a massive marine commando strike force storming its southern coast.
If Russian tanks roll across the border with Belarus they could surround Kyiv swiftly, bombarding the city, whose civil defense units have vowed to fight to the death.
It is not known how long Kyiv could hold out for but an armored siege war would cripple the city within days.
Yesterday startling footage emerged of Ka-52 Alligator, Mi-8s and Mi-24 military attack helicopters being moved to key locations in western Russia close to Ukraine.
BELARUS DEFENSE MINISTRY/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Russian manoeuvring now mirrors textbook preparations for an invasion as urgent crisis talks between the US and Russia appear to have failed.
Moscow’s troops were seen moving up deadly BUK missile systems In the Oryol region and a BM-27 Uragan Rocket Launcher was spotted being positioned nearby.
Yesterday US and UK Rivet Joint spy planes were patrolling Ukraine’s borders with Belarus, Russia and all the way down to the Black Sea, monitoring troop formations.
More Russian tanks were seen at Maslovka station in the Voronezh region, which borders Ukraine and many armored battalions were also moving into position.
Russia’s independent Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) which analyzes open source footage said: “This advance of equipment to the border raises particular concerns against the backdrop of US intelligence warnings about an alleged operation against Ukraine next week and the evacuation of foreign embassies from Kyiv.
“We continue to monitor developments.”
They believe Msta-S self-propelled artillery mounts and T-80U tanks, in service with the 4th Guards Tank Division of the 1st Guards, are on the move.
Daniel Leal – Pool/Getty Images)
Moscow’s T-80U tanks “were also seen on trains in Belgorod and in Vesela Lopan, Belgorod region, just nine miles from the border with Ukraine.
The CIT added: “This indicates the transfer to the border of additional equipment of the 1st Guards Tank Army, in addition to the one that was already at the training ground near Voronezh.”
“We definitely cannot rule out that building up this offensive force is nothing more than an infowar. But even if this is the case, it is clearly working.
“What we see on the ground is no different from an actual preparation for an invasion.”
In the Belgorod region, Russia’s horrific Iskander-M mobile short-range ballistic missile system, along with more than a dozen Kamazov interceptor missile systems were moved to the border.
And a large number of Russian attack helicopters were spotted gathering in the regions of Belgorod, Nizhny Novgorod region, Tver, Ulyanovsk and Yaroslavl.
REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo)
It is increasingly feared Russia will set up a pretext for war with a “false flag” operation, self-inflicting and attack on their own separatists to justify an invasion.
British defense secretary Ben Wallace said a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “highly likely” and that Putin could “launch an offensive at any time.”
The Kremlin claimed that the West has invented the threat of invasion in Ukraine, whilst continuing to build up its forces on Ukraine’s borders.
The Mirror’s newsletter brings you the latest news, exciting showbiz and TV stories, sport updates and essential political information.
The newsletter is emailed out first thing every morning, at 12 noon and every evening.
Never miss a moment by signing up to our newsletter here.
Close Putin aide Yury Ushakov insisted: “The facts are that Americans are artificially whipping up hysteria around an alleged Russian plan for the invasion, even providing the dates of such an invasion, but simultaneously boosts Ukraine’s military muscle, earmarking huge financial resources to modernize the Ukrainian army and increasing the number of military instructors being deployed there.”
He warned: “Conditions are being created for the Ukrainian armed forces to take provocative actions amid allegations about an ‘invasion.
“This is how we see the situation.”