NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as Western "hysteria" in response to its build-up of troops on the Ukraine border.
The US Department of Defense in Washington said about 8,500 American troops were put on heightened alert and were awaiting orders to deploy to the region, should Russia invade Ukraine.
Tensions are high after Russia massed an estimated 100,000 troops in reach of its neighbour's border, surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south.
Russia denies planning an invasion and Moscow is citing the Western response as evidence that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of aggression.
President Joe Biden, pushing for transatlantic unity, held an 80-minute secure video call with a number of European leaders on Monday from the White House Situation Room to discuss the Ukraine crisis.
Biden told reporters "I had a very, very, very good meeting" with the Europeans, which included the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Poland. He said there was "total unanimity."
A White House statement said the leaders "discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO's eastern flank."
Welcoming a series of deployments announced by alliance members in recent days, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said NATO would take "all necessary measures."
"We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defence," Stoltenberg said in a statement.
He told a news conference that the enhanced presence on NATO's eastern flank could also include the deployment of battlegroups in the southeast of the alliance.
So far, NATO has about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.
US officials said the Pentagon was finalising efforts to identify specific units that it could deploy to NATO's eastern flank.
One of the officials said up to 5,000 could be deployed, while a NATO diplomat said Washington was considering gradually transferring some troops stationed in western Europe to eastern Europe in the coming weeks.
Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes or ships to eastern Europe, NATO said. Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
A Polish official said Warsaw would draw the line at sending troops to Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West of "hysteria" and putting out information "laced with lies".
"As for specific actions, we see statements by the North Atlantic Alliance about reinforcement, pulling forces and resources to the eastern flank. All this leads to the fact that tensions are growing," he said.
"This is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is all happening because of what NATO and the US are doing and due to the information they are spreading."
Global stock markets skidded as the prospect of a Russian attack quashed demand for riskier assets such as bitcoin, and bolstered the dollar and oil. The rouble hit a 14-month low against the dollar, and Russian stocks and bonds tumbled.
Russia has used its troop build-up to draw the West into discussions after presenting demands to redraw Europe's security map. It wants never to admit Ukraine and to pull back troops and weapons from former Communist countries in eastern Europe that joined it after the Cold War.
Washington says those demands are non-starters but it is ready to discuss other ideas on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.
Russia is awaiting a written US response this week after talks last Friday - the fourth round this month - produced no breakthrough.
'PAINFUL, VIOLENT AND BLOODY'
He repeated Western warnings that invading Ukraine would be "a painful, violent and bloody business" for Russia.
The United States and the European Union, wary of Russia's intentions since it seized Crimea and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, have told Russia it will face crippling penalties if it attacks again.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels warned Russia it would face "massive" consequences, but are divided over how tough to be on Moscow and did not say what the consequences might be.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told EU President Charles Michel, who was also on the call with Biden, that it was important for Kyiv that the EU showed unity.
"Ukraine will not fall for provocations, and together with its partners, will remain calm and restrained," his office said.
The European Commission, the EU executive body, proposed a 1.2-billion euro ($1.36-billion) financial aid package to help Ukraine mitigate the effects of the conflict.
A Russian delegation source said political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany would meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which some 15,000 people have been killed since 2014. Previous efforts have failed to yield any breakthrough.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave the strongest hint yet Monday that he would like to pay less for Twitter than his $44 billion offer made last month.
Musk told a Miami technology conference that a viable deal at a lower price would not be out of the question, according to a report by Bloomberg News, which said it viewed a livestream video of the conference posted by a Twitter user.
Also at the All in Summit, Musk estimated that at least 20% of Twitter's 229 million accounts are spam bots, percentage he said was at the low end of his assessment, according to the report.
The appearance came a few hours after Musk began trolling Twitter CEO Paraj Agrawal, who posted a series of tweets explaining his company's effort to fight bots and how it has consistently estimated that less than 5% of Twitter accounts are fake.
In all, the day's events bolstered theories from analysts that Musk either wants out of the deal or is seeking a lower price, largely due to a huge decline in value of Tesla stock, some of which he has pledged to finance the Twitter acquisition.
Twitter shares closed Monday down just over 8% at $37.39, below where the stock was just before Musk disclosed that he was Twitter's largest shareholder. Musk made the offer to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share on April 14.
On Friday Musk tweeted that his plan to buy Twitter was placed on temporary hold as he tried to pinpoint the number of fake accounts on the social media platform. The Tesla and SpaceX CEO said the hold was pending details of Twitter's calculation that fake accounts are less than 5% of its users.
In tweets on Monday, Agrawal acknowledged Twitter isn't perfect at catching spam. He wrote that every quarter, the company has made the estimate of less than 5% spam. “Our estimate is based on multiple human reviews of thousands of accounts that are sampled at random, consistently over time,” Agrawal wrote.
Estimates for the last four quarters were all well under 5%, he wrote. “The error margins on our estimates give us confidence in our public statements each quarter.”
Musk, using his favorite platform, responded with a smiling emoji of poop, then asked how Twitter's advertisers know what they're getting for their money.
Tesla shares closed Monday down nearly 6% at $724.37. They have lost about one-third of their value since the trading day before Musk disclosed his Twitter stake.
Musk did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The All in Summit said in an email that it would post the video of Musk's appearance in the coming days.
The overall number of Covid cases is now fast approaching 522 million amid a rise in new infections in parts of the world.
According to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the total case count mounted to 521,911,280 while the death toll from the virus reached 6,265,362 Tuesday morning.
The US has recorded 82,613,628 cases so far and 999,841 people have died from the virus in the country, the data shows.
India's Covid-19 tally rose to 43,124,879 on Monday with 1078 new cases registered in 24 hours, showed the health ministry data.
Besides, 27 deaths from the pandemic registered across the country since Saturday morning took the total death toll to 524,241.
North Korea has mobilised its military to distribute Covid medications and deployed more than 10,000 health workers to help trace potential patients as it fights a sweeping coronavirus wave, state media KCNA said on Tuesday.
The isolated country is grappling with its first acknowledged Covid-19 outbreak, which it confirmed last week, fuelling concerns over a major crisis due to a lack of vaccines and adequate medical infrastructure.
The state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters reported 269,510 more people with fever symptoms, bringing the total to 1,483,060, while the death toll grew to 56 as of Monday evening, KCNA said. It did not say how many people have tested positive for Covid-19.
"A powerful force" of the army's medical corps was immediately deployed to improve the supply of medicines in the capital Pyongyang, the centre of the epidemic, following an order by leader Kim Jong Un, KCNA reported.
The team's mission was aimed at "defusing the public health crisis" in Pyongyang, it said.
Some senior members of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful politburo visited pharmacies and medicine management offices to check supply and demand, KCNA said in another dispatch, after Kim criticised ineffective distribution of drugs.
"They called for establishing a stricter order in keeping and handling the medical supplies, maintaining the principle of prioritising the demand and convenience of the people in the supply," KCNA said.
Tracing efforts were also intensified, with some 11,000 health officials, teachers and medical students joining an "intensive medical examination of all inhabitants" across the country to locate and treat people with fever.
Still, various sectors of the national economy are maintaining production and construction, while taking thorough anti-virus measures, KCNA added. Kim had ordered that limited activity be allowed in each city and county.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus may spread rapidly in North Korea, which had no vaccination programme and declined international help.
South Korea offered working-level talks on Monday to send medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits, as well as technical cooperation, but said the North had not acknowledged its message.
The US State Department said it was concerned about the outbreak's potential impact on North Koreans, and supports vaccine aid to the country.
"To this end, we strongly support and encourage the efforts of US and international aid and health organisations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of Covid-19 ... and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country," a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson confirmed that the US envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, had a phone call with South Korea's new nuclear negotiator, Kim Gunn, without elaborating. - Reuters
Ukraine's military said on Tuesday it was working to evacuate all remaining troops from their last stronghold in the besieged port of Mariupol, ceding control of the city to Russia after months of bombardment.
The evacuation likely marked the end of the longest and bloodiest battle of the Ukraine war and a significant defeat for Ukraine. Mariupol is now in ruins after a Russian siege that Ukraine says killed tens of thousands of people in the city.
With the rest of Mariupol firmly in Russian hands, hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians had holed up beneath the city's Azovstal steelworks. Civilians inside were evacuated in recent weeks, and more than 260 troops, some of them wounded, left the plant for Russian-controlled areas late on Monday.
"The 'Mariupol' garrison has fulfilled its combat mission," the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said in a statement announcing evacuations.
"The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel... Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time," it added.
Ukraine's deputy defence minister said 53 injured troops from the Azovstal steelworks were taken to a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk, some 32 kilometres (20 miles) to the east.
Another 211 people were taken to the town of Olenivka, in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, Deputy Defence Minister Anna Malyar said. All of the evacuees will be subject to a potential prisoner exchange with Russia, she added.
It was not clear how many troops remained in Azovstal. Ukraine's military said efforts were under way to evacuate those still inside.
Reuters saw five buses carrying troops from Azovstal arrive in Novoazovsk late on Monday. Some of the evacuated troops were wounded and carried out of the buses on stretchers. Some 600 troops were believed to have been inside the steel plant.
"We hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an early morning address. "There are severely wounded ones among them. They're receiving care. Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive."
Arriving in Novoazovsk in a bus marked with Z, a symbol for Russia's invasion, men could be seen stacked on stretchers on three levels. They stared out the windows without reacting. One man was wheeled out, his head tightly wrapped in thick bandages.
Since Russia launched its invasion in February, Mariupol's devastation has become a symbol both of Ukraine's resistance and of Russia's willingness to devastate Ukrainian cities that hold out.
The first evacuations late on Monday came hours after Russia said it had agreed to evacuate wounded Ukrainian soldiers to a medical facility in Novoazovsk.
LVIV EXPLOSIONS, KHARKIV FIGHTING
Moscow calls its nearly three-month-old invasion a "special military operation" to rid Ukraine of fascists, an assertion Kyiv and its Western allies say is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war.
Russia's invading forces have run into apparent setbacks, with troops forced out of the north and the environs of Kyiv in late March. A Ukrainian counterattack in recent days has driven Russian forces out of the area near Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east.
Areas around Kyiv and the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, have continued to come under Russian attack. A series of explosions struck Lviv early on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
On Monday, Ukraine's defence ministry troops had advanced all the way to the Russian border, about 40 km north of Kharkiv.
The successes near Kharkiv could let Ukraine attack supply lines for Russia's main offensive, grinding on further south in the Donbas region, where Moscow has been launching mass assaults for a month yet achieving only small gains.
PUTIN CLIMBDOWN OVER NATO
Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared on Monday to climb down from threats to retaliate against Sweden and Finland for announcing plans to join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.
"As far as expansion goes, including new members Finland and Sweden, Russia has no problems with these states - none. And so in this sense there is no immediate threat to Russia from an expansion to include these countries," Putin said.
The comments appeared to mark a major shift in rhetoric, after years of casting NATO enlargement as a direct threat to Russia's security, including citing it as a justification for the invasion of Ukraine itself.
Soon before Putin spoke, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said Finland and Sweden were making a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences: "They should have no illusions that we will simply put up with it."
Putin said NATO enlargement was being used by the United States in an "aggressive" way to aggravate an already difficult global security situation, and that Russia would respond if the alliance moves weapons or troops forward.
"The expansion of military infrastructure into this territory would certainly provoke our response. What that (response) will be - we will see what threats are created for us," Putin said.
Finland and Sweden, both non-aligned throughout the Cold War, say they now want the protection offered by NATO's treaty, under which an attack on any member is an attack on all.
"We are leaving one era behind us and entering a new one," Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, announcing plans to formally abandon militarily non-aligned status - a cornerstone of national identity for more than 200 years.
For construction worker Yogendra Tundre, life at a building site on the outskirts of the Indian Capital New Delhi is hard enough. This year, record high temperatures are making it unbearable.
As India grapples with an unprecedented heatwave, the country's vast majority of poor workers, who generally work outdoors, are vulnerable to the scorching temperatures.
"There is too much heat and if we won't work, what will we eat? For a few days, we work and then we sit idle for a few days because of tiredness and heat," Tundre said.
Temperatures in the New Delhi area have touched 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) this year, often causing Tundre, and his wife Lata, who works at the same construction site, to fall sick. That in turn means they lose income.
"Because of heat, sometimes I don't go to work. I take days off... many times, fall sick from dehydration and then require glucose bottles (intravenous fluids)," Lata said while standing outside their house, a temporary shanty with a tin roof.
Scientists have linked the early onset of an intense summer to climate change, and say more than a billion people in India and neighbouring Pakistan were in some way at risk from the extreme heat.
India suffered its hottest March in more than 100 years and parts of the country experienced their highest temperatures on record in April.
Many places, including New Delhi, saw the temperature gauge top 40 degrees Celsius. More than two dozen people have died of suspected heat strokes since late March, and power demand has hit multi-year highs.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called on state governments to draw up measures to mitigate the impact of the extreme heat.
Tundre and Lata live with their two young children in a slum near the construction site in Noida, a satellite city of New Delhi. They moved from their home state of Chhattisgarh in central India to seek work and higher wages around the capital.
On the construction site, labourers scale up walls, lay concrete and carry heavy loads, using ragged scarves around their heads as protection against the sun.
But even when the couple finish their day's work, they have little respite as their home is hot, having absorbed the heat of the sun all day long.
Avikal Somvanshi, an urban environment researcher from India's Centre for Science and Environment, said federal government data showed that heat stress was the most-common cause of death, after lightning, from forces of nature in the last twenty years.
"Most of these deaths occur in men aged 30-45. These are working class, blue-collar men who have no option but to be working in the scorching heat," Somvanshi said.
There are no laws in India that prevent outdoor activity when temperatures breach a certain level, unlike in some Middle-Eastern countries, Somvanshi said.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk gave the strongest hint yet Monday that he would like to pay less for Twitter than his $44 billion offer made last month. Musk told a Miami technology conference that a viable deal at a lower price would not be out of the question, according to a report by Bloomberg News, which said it viewed a livestream video of the conference posted by a Twitter user.