RUSSIAN troops and tanks are massing on the border with Ukraine as fears of a new war loom.
Vladimir Putin is believed to have deployed up to 4,000 soldiers along with tanks and other armoured vehicles as tensions hot up between the two nations.
The world is watching on with baited breath to see what Russia does next as Putin's top diplomat warned a new war could "destroy" Ukraine.
US military officials have held phonecalls with both sides as they attempt to de-escalate the knifedge situation.
And the Pentagon reportedly elevated the alert level of US troops in Europe to its highest status, saying "we're watching the situation very carefully".
Kiev's intelligence services have warned Russia may attempt an armed incursion into Ukraine, reports news agency UNIAN.
Unverified videos shared on social media allegedly show columns of military trucks and trains carrying tanks and howitzers near the border.
Open war between Russia and the Ukraine would force the West into an impossible situation.
Britain, the US and other nations may either have to go up against Putin -with his massive military and nuclear arsenal – or abandon their allies in Kiev.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian for "muscle-flexing" and said they were ready for any confrontation.
"Our army is not just strength and power; it is also wisdom and balance. Our state is unity. We are always ready for any provocations," he said.
Ukraine and Russia have remained technically at war since 2014.
The Kremlin has denied any ill intent – insisting that its own troop were not aimed at anyone.
Russia's foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov however warned any new conflict in Ukraine's war-torn East could end up destroying the ex-Soviet state.
Back in 2014, Putin's forces annexed the strategically key Crimea from Ukraine and pro-Russian groups then took up arms against Kiev.
Russia gave their backing to the separatist forces which formed breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass.
Putin continues to support them militarily with supplies such as ammo and fuel – and the concerning troop movements come as the stalemate conflict has hotted up in recent weeks.
Ukraine had been in a ceasefire with the rebel forces in its East, but this was breached when four of its troops were killed in clashes with pro-Russian forces.
Kiev accused Russia of escalating the situation and helping to prolong the ongoing crisis as Putin's actions have "brought the situation to a dead end".
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov hit back at any allegations they were plotting aggressive moves.
He fumed: "This shouldn’t concern anyone, as such actions do not endanger anyone".
Peskov insisted Russia does not want a "civil war" in Ukraine – and blamed Kiev for committing "provocations" in Donbass.
NATO however accused Russia of inflaming the situation as its actions "undermine efforts to de-escalate tensions".
US defence officials estimate some 4,000 additional troops have been deployed to the border by Russia.
General Mark Milley, the US's highest ranking military officer, spoke on the phone to General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, and Ukraine armed forces Commander in Chief Ruslan Khomchak.
And meanwhile, US State Secretary Antony Blinken spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart and "expressed concern" about the developing situation.
Ukraine has accused Russia of having at least 32,7000 troops in occupied Crimea, and said Putin's officer are commanding some 28,000 separatist troops in the Donbass.
Some in Moscow perceive the Ukrainian territory has always rightfully belonged to Russia since Kiev broke away following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is feared Putin could use a new land grab to energise his support – with his approval rating hitting highs of 70 per cent after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Vlad could attempt to secure his position amid ongoing pressure from protesters over the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who has been thrown in a prison camp.
In February, Russian state TV chief Margarita Simonyan made an impassioned plea for the Kremlin to formally annex the disputed Donbass to bring it "home".
And polls over the years have showed that majority of Russian support the annexation of Crimea, despite it receiving widespread condemnation from the West.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said: "We’re absolutely concerned by recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine."
Newly minted US President Joe Biden could face his first foreign policy challenge amid the tensions, and has already positioned himself against Putin as he branded the Russian leader a "killer".
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