Entire continent of Europe on verge of war, Belarus President Lukashenko warns

ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo reports on the escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine

The entire continent of Europe is on the verge of war over the Ukraine crisis Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has claimed at a press conference alongside Vladimir Putin.

President Putin, who will personally oversee massive nuclear drills on Saturday, told the press conference that joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus are "purely defensive" and did not represent a threat to any other country.

That is not a view shared by Western allies, including the UK and US, who think an aggressive invasion of Ukraine could be launched at any moment.

President Lukashenko labelled such warnings from the west as irresponsible, adding that people were already fleeing the Russian-speaking Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Allies Lukashenko and Putin held a joint press conference. Credit: AP

Tensions reached a high on Friday as Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine announced earlier that civilians in the Donetsk region of Ukraine were being evacuated to Russia.

In an emergency broadcast Denish Pushilin, the head of the separatist government in the Donetsk region, said women, children and the elderly will be evacuated first, and that Russia had prepared facilities to accommodate them.

However, the metadata of the video of Pushilin appears to show the video was recorded two days ago.

Videos shared online showed thousands of people fleeing the area.

Mr Putin ordered his emergencies minister to fly to the Rostov region bordering Ukraine to help organise the exodus and ordered the government to offer a payment of 10,000 rubles to each evacuee, equivalent to about half of an average monthly salary in the war-ravaged Donbas.

There was also a car bombing in Donetsk, but there is very little information about the blast although it is believed no one was hurt.Members of the UK and US intelligence community said these actions are part of a Russian 'false flag operation.'

Speaking on Friday, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said: "Everything that we're seeing including what we've seen in the last 24/48 hours is part of a scenario that is already in play of creating false provocations."

What is a false flag operation?

A false flag is a form of deception used to justify a conflict and make it appear like the attacker is in fact defending itself.

Usually, the aggressor stages a political or military action carried out with the intention of blaming an opponent for it.The most famous false flag operation was used by the Nazis at the start of World War Two.

The night before they invaded Poland, SS soldiers pretended to be Polish and stormed a radio tower inside Germany near the border. they broadcast a short message to say it was now in Polish hands.

Hitler used a speech the next day citing the attack as a justification for invading Poland.

Tensions have escalated to such a point the already reduced British embassy has temporarily relocated from Kyiv to Lviv in the west.

US President Joe Biden said the invasion threat remains “very high” because Russia has moved more troops toward the border with Ukraine instead of pulling them back.

“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine,” Mr Biden told reporters. He said the US has “reason to believe” that Russia is “engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in,” but did not provide details.

Mr Lukashenko warned: "We are on the verge of a conflict that will involve the whole continent."

"We see that the irresponsibility of a number of Western leaders has led to the situation and we see that this irresponsible or irrational behaviour of our neighbours has led to this situation."

A kindergarten building after alleged shelling by separatists forces in Stanytsia Luhanska Credit: Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation via AP

Boris Johnson will join members of the international community, including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, but Vladimir Putin will remain in Russia to personally oversee the military drills.

Russia's Defence Ministry said the drills will involve multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles.

The ministry said it planned the manoeuvres some time ago to check the readiness of Russia's military command and personnel, as well as the reliability of its nuclear and conventional weapons.

Despite Russian assurances an invasion is not being planned, Western allies are worried about an estimated 150,000 troops — including about 60% of Russia’s overall ground forces — concentrated near Ukraine’s borders.

Where are Russian forces situated?

Mr Johnson, Ms Truss and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace are all expected to attend the international security conference in Germany this weekend.

The PM said on Thursday: "We are strengthening the eastern frontier of Nato and I'll be going to the European Security Conference in Munich a little bit later on over the weekend to talk about what we are going to do to unify the West."

Both Ms Truss and Mr Wallace are scheduled to appear on panels at the conference.