Forces Minister: 'Putin continues to prepare for an invasion'
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World leaders have suggested that a rise in attacks between Ukrainian forces and Russian separatists in the Donbas region are a possible ploy to give Russia reason to invade its neighbour. There are claims from both sides that shelling has increased in the region with Russian separatists describing it as a “large-scale provocation”. They accused Ukrainian government forces of opening fire on their territory ‒ forcibly taken from Ukraine in 2014 ‒ four times in the past 24 hours.
Ukraine says that, even though its forces have been targeted, it has not fired back.
The tensions come as Russia continues to carry out activity along its shared border with Ukraine, having deployed over 100,000 troops.
Russia denies claims it is preparing to invade Ukraine, but others say President Vladimir Putin wants to extend his country’s sphere of influence in its former territories.
While almost all of the attention has been placed on the potential for conflict, Putin’s personal life and its secretive nature have too been pushed under the spotlight.
The former KGB agent is famously close-mouthed when it comes to any aspect of his private life and family.
He once told a reporter, who asked about suggestions he was planning on marrying the gymnast Alina Kabayeva: “I am, of course, aware of the cliché that politicians live in glass houses.
“But even in these cases, there must be some limits.
“I always disliked people who go around with their erotic fantasies, sticking their snot-ridden noses into another person’s life.”
Despite his bid to keep a tight lid on his privacy, however, snippets of information have escaped him over the years.
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In 2000, his then-wife Lyudmila Putina, an Aeroflot stewardess, revealed how they had met and how she was not impressed by his overall appearance.
They met through mutual friends in the Eighties and went on a blind double date to a theatre.
She said Putin was “poorly dressed” and “very unprepossessing”.
Lyudmila added: “I wouldn’t have paid any attention to him on the street.”
They married in 1983 but divorced in 2014.
She has spoken about their lives on a number of occasions, including during a 2002 biography of Putin, published in Foreign Policy, in which she revealed she had given birth to their first child alone.
She said she called a taxi to take her to the hospital because he was away on a business trip.
Upon his return, she claimed Putin ordered that the baby girl would be called Maria after his mother, even though his wife preferred Natascha.
Lyudmila said: “I was in tears.
“But then I realised there was no choice in the matter and my daughter was going to be Maria.”
Lyudmila is said to have become distraught when she learned that her husband was going to become acting president in 2000.
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An interview given by his daughters — Maria and Katerina — was later transcribed into a collection of interviews with Putin, his family and friends, called ‘First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’, and offers a snapshot of the family just as they entered the bubble of power.
In the book, 14-year-old Katerina complains that they have been taken out of school — now teachers come to the family home to teach her.
She said: “We have guards when we go to the movies.
“There’s a guy who sits there watching the movie, but I think he’s guarding us at the same time.
“Usually, we don’t even notice the bodyguards.
“Even when we go somewhere with our friends, they stay nearby, but they try not to get in the way.
“We’ve called them over to drink coffee with us a thousand times, but they don’t want to.”
She said she “flipped out when I heard that Papa was going to become acting president.”
Katerina added: “When Mama told me this, I thought she was joking.
“Then I realised that she wouldn’t joke about such a thing.”
Lyudmila admitted she “cried for a whole day” when she learned of Putin’s appointment, because, she said: “I realised that our private life was over.”
These transcripts offer rare glimpses of the family which has since reclined into anonymity.
Meanwhile, talking about the ongoing small-scale conflict seen in the Donbas, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “We are concerned that Russia is trying to stage a pretext for an armed attack against Ukraine, there is still no clarity, no certainty about the Russian intentions.”
US President Joe Biden said Washington has “reason to believe that they [Russia] are engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in”.
He said there is “every indication” that “they’re prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine” and he believes an invasion will begin within “several days”.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the reported attacks in the eastern Donbas are “a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion… this is straight out of the Kremlin playbook”.
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