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Putin claims Ukraine will 'deploy weapons' if it enters NATO

Vladimir Putin has claimed that Ukraine will 'deploy weapons' against Russia if it is allowed to join the NATO military alliance.

Speaking for the first time since his call with Joe Biden, Putin would not say whether he was going to invade Ukraine but warned that simply permitting Kiev to pile more troops and arms at the frontier would amount to 'criminal inaction.'

'We cannot but be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine's possible admission to NATO, because this will undoubtedly be followed by the deployment of appropriate military contingents, bases and weapons that threaten us,' he said.

Putin stressed that NATO expanding eastwards is a 'very sensitive' issue for Russia.

'It is one of the key questions in preserving Russia's security,' he added. 

Putin has dispatched almost 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in what Moscow claims is only a response to the Western-backed nation's own buildup of military hardware. 

Russia's President Vladimir Putin is seen in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi on Tuesday

Biden speaking with Putin during the virtual summit to address the tensions over Ukraine on Tuesday

Ukrainian troops out on the border in the Donetsk region on Tuesday. Ukrainian troops have been battling Russian-backed separatists for the last eight years in the territory.

Russia now has 50 battalions comprising up to 94,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border with another 80,000 - 100,000 sitting in reserve and will be ready to invade within weeks, the US has warned

Biden held a virtual summit with the Russian president on Tuesday to warn that US troops would back Ukraine in a fight and a repeat of the 2014 annexation of Crimea would not be allowed to happen.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy today welcomed the 'personal role' Biden was playing to help defuse tensions. 

Zelenskiy told a news conference he hoped that Ukraine and Russia could agree a new ceasefire and prisoner exchanges when their representatives held talks on the conflict in Ukraine's easterly Donbass region. 

Ukrainian troops have been battling Russian-backed separatists for the last eight years in the territory.

'In general, I think it is positive that the president of the United States spoke with the president of the Russian Federation,' Zelenskiy said.

'The most important thing that we see now is that there is a personal real reaction and personal role of President Biden in resolving this conflict, the war in the east of our state.'

US National Security Advisor Jack Sullivan last night claimed that Biden 'looked President Putin in the eye and told him today that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now.' 

A White House statement after the call said that Biden had voiced the 'deep concerns' of both the US and European allies about the build-up of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. 

The President 'made clear that the U.S. and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.' 

The Kremlin trashed Sullivan's version of event, claiming that Biden caved into Putin's demands and denying that the US President issued the Russian leader with a warning not to invade.

Foreign affairs aide Yuri Ushakov said Biden agreed to 'detailed consultations' with Putin going forward on what military support was being given to Ukraine and NATO's efforts to 'conquer' the territory for itself.

Ushakov, 74, a former ambassador to the US, taunted the Americans by denying that a Russian invasion was even raised in the online talks. 

'This was not even mentioned,' he said. 'To send troops to Ukraine - how, what is it? As some kind of invasion or what? It was not even mentioned!'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visiting positions on the frontline with pro-Russian militants in the Donetsk region on Monday

Ukraine's official Twitter account posted this meme on Tuesday with a dark joke about the 'headache' it got from 'living next to Russia'

Ukrainian soldiers walk at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Katerinivka, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Tuesday

And Ushakov played down the West's ability to bend Moscow with sanctions. 'Sanctions are not a new thing, they have been in place for a rather long time, but unfortunately, there is no positive effect from them either for the US or for Russia,' he added.  

The economic sanctions, which could target Russia's biggest banks and Moscow's ability to convert its national currency roubles into dollars and other currencies, are designed to dissuade the Russian President from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.   

In the White House press conference, Sullivan was asked what the response would be if there was a 'military escalation' into Ukraine by Russia.

He said the US expected  that Baltic allies including Romania, Poland and others, to be increasingly concerned about their own security.

'They will be seeking, we expect, additional capabilities and potentially additional deployments and the United States will be looking to respond positively to those things in the event that there is a further incursion into Ukraine,' Sullivan answered.

Reservists from Russia's Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd, a city in southwest Russia

He also said that sanctions would be likely to include the stopping of Russian lucrative gas exports through its Nord Stream 2 pipeline. 

As Biden and Putin spoke, Ukrainian officials grew more anxious about the tens of thousands of Russia troops that have been deployed near the border.

Just hours before the start of the call, Ukrainian officials claimed Russia had further escalated the smouldering crisis by sending tanks and snipers to war-torn eastern Ukraine to 'provoke return fire' and lay a pretext for the potential invasion. 

Ukraine has warned of a 'bloody massacre' and five million Ukrainian refugees fleeing into Europe if Russia decides to invade Kiev.  

Satellite images have revealed huge new camps of Russian troops, tanks and artillery along the border as Putin continues massing his forces on Europe's doorstep.   

Tensions along Europe's eastern border have been simmering since Putin annexed Crimea back in 2014, and have been threatening to boil over ever since Moscow began massing forces in the region starting in April this year. 

Reservists from the country's Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd

The aviation regiment near Chelyabinsk held warplane training In the sky over Shagol airbase

Reservists from the country's Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd

The UK has joined Western leaders in vowing to form a 'united front' over Russian hostility toward Ukraine, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to use all 'economic and diplomatic tools at the UK's disposal'.   

UK Foreign Minister Vicky Ford said the cost of Russia invading Ukraine would be 'catastrophically high' and the UK is considering an extension of 'purely defensive' support for Kiev.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Russia will be hit with tougher EU sanctions if its military threatens Ukraine.   

The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring intentions to invade Ukraine. 

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.