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.
The overall number of Covid cases has surged past 524 million amid a rise in new infections in parts of the world.
According to Johns Hopkins University (JHU), the total case count mounted to 524,539,523 while the death toll from the virus reached 6,280,921 Wednesday morning.
The US has recorded 82,720,354 cases so far and 1,000,167 people have died from the virus in the country, the data shows.
India's Covid-19 tally rose to 43,125,370 on Tuesday, as 1,569 new cases were registered in 24 hours across the country, showed the federal health ministry's data.
Besides, 19 deaths from the pandemic registered across the country since Monday morning took the total death toll to 524,260.
So far, 42,584,710 people have been successfully cured and discharged from hospitals, of whom 2,467 were discharged during the past 24 hours.
In North Korea, six more deaths and 269,510 newly detected fevers were reported Tuesday, the North’s emergency anti-virus headquarters said. Around 1.48 million people are down with fever and 56 dead in a matter of days, state media said.
After maintaining a widely disputed claim to be coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea announced Thursday that it had found its first Covid-19 patients since the pandemic began, reports AP.
Meanwhile, the Chinese mainland on Monday reported 162 locally transmitted confirmed Covid-19 cases, of which 77 were in Shanghai, according to the National Health Commission's report Tuesday.
Following the recovery of 476 Covid-19 patients who were discharged from hospital on Monday, there were 5,359 confirmed cases receiving treatment in hospitals across the Chinese mainland.
Concerns grew on Wednesday for the welfare of more than 250 Ukrainian fighters who surrendered to Russian forces at the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol after weeks of desperate resistance.
The surrender brought an end to the most devastating siege of Russia's war in Ukraine and allowed President Vladimir Putin to claim a rare victory in his faltering campaign, which many military analysts say has stalled.
Buses left the steelworks late on Monday in a convoy escorted by Russian armoured vehicles. Five arrived in the Russian-held town of Novoazovsk, where Moscow said wounded fighters would be treated.
Seven buses carrying Ukrainian fighters from the Azovstal garrison arrived at a newly reopened prison in the Russian-controlled town of Olenivka near Donetsk, a Reuters witness said.
Russia said at least 256 Ukrainian fighters had "laid down their arms and surrendered", including 51 severely wounded. Ukraine said 264 soldiers, including 53 wounded, had left.
Russian defence ministry video showed fighters leaving the plant, some carried on stretchers, others with hands up to be searched by Russian troops.
There were some women aboard at least one of the buses in Olenivka, Reuters video showed.
While both sides spoke of a deal under which all Ukrainian troops would abandon the steelworks, many details were not yet public, including how many fighters still remained inside, and whether any form of prisoner swap had been agreed.
The Kremlin said Putin had personally guaranteed the prisoners would be treated according to international standards, and Ukrainian officials said they could be exchanged for Russian captives.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Kyiv aimed to arrange a prisoner swap for the wounded once their condition stabilised.
Russian Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said there had been no deal, tweeting: "I didn't know English has so many ways to express a single message: the #Azovnazis have unconditionally surrendered."
TASS news agency reported a Russian committee planned to question the soldiers, many of them members of the Azov Battalion, as part of an investigation into what Moscow calls "Ukrainian regime crimes".
High-profile Russian lawmakers spoke out against any prisoner swap. Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's lower house, said: "Nazi criminals should not be exchanged."
Lawmaker Leonid Slutsky, one of Russia's negotiators in talks with Ukraine, called the evacuated combatants "animals in human form" and said they should be executed.
Formed in 2014 as an extreme right-wing volunteer militia to fight Russian-backed separatists, the Azov Regiment denies being fascist or neo-Nazi. Ukraine says it has been reformed and integrated into the National Guard.
Natalia, the wife of a sailor among those holed up in the plant, told Reuters she hoped "there will be an honest exchange". But she was still worried: "What Russia is doing now is inhumane."
BATTLE FOR DONBAS
The denouement of the battle for Mariupol, which came to symbolise Ukrainian resistance, is Russia's biggest victory since it launched what it calls a "special military operation" to "denazify" the country on Feb. 24.
It gives Moscow control of the Azov Sea coast and an unbroken stretch of eastern and southern Ukraine. But the port lies in ruins, and Ukraine believes tens of thousands of people were killed under months of Russian bombardment.
On the diplomatic front, US President Joe Biden will host the leaders of Sweden and Finland at the White House on Thursday to discuss their NATO applications, the White House said. The Nordic countries are optimistic they can overcome objections from Turkey over jointing the 30-nation alliance.
Russia's offensive in the east, meanwhile, appeared to be making little progress, although the Kremlin says all its objectives will be reached.
Around a third of the Donbas was held by Russia-backed separatists before the invasion. Moscow now controls around 90% of Luhansk region, but it has failed to make major inroads towards the key cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk in Donetsk in order to extend control over the entire Donbas.
Ukrainian forces have advanced at their fastest pace for more than a month, driving Russian forces out of the area around Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city.
Ukraine says its forces had reached the Russian border, 40 km (25 miles) north of Kharkiv. They have also pushed at least as far as the Siverskiy Donets river 40 km to the east, where they could threaten Russian supply lines.
Putin may have to decide whether to send more troops and hardware to replenish his weakened invasion force as an influx of Western weapons, including scores of US and Canadian M777 howitzers that have longer range than their Russian equivalents, bolsters Ukraine's combat power, analysts said.
"Time is definitely working against the Russians ... The Ukrainians are getting stronger almost every day," said Neil Melvin of the RUSI think-tank in London.
On demand of allowing them to grow corn and jute on their and beyond the fences, farmers in Cooch Behar close to the Bangladesh-India border blocked a road in front of the local Border Security Force.
The demonstration on Tuesday continued for four hours and was called off following assurance from the officials of the paramilitary force and local administration, reports Kolkata based English newspaper The Telegraph.
Residents of Ghonapara-Krishnapur in the neighbouring country blocked the road that leads to the BSF camp in their area with bamboo poles and squatted with placards.
As per rules, cultivation of any crop that grows taller than three feet on any plot beyond the fences – between the fences and the zero line – is restricted at the Bangladesh-India border for security reasons.
Some 100 farmers of the village have farmland beyond barbed fences.
One protesting farmer said that if BSF did not allow them to cultivate jute or corn, they should pay a compensation of Rs30,000 (some Tk33,800) per bigha.
Earlier, similar protests had cropped up in some other bordering areas of Cooch Behar district while villagers had then alleged that BSF prevented them from cultivating jute even on plots located within the fences.
The allegations had made the administration intervene and the issue was sorted out.
The world's top aircraft lessor AerCap said on Tuesday it booked a pretax charge of $2.7 billion in the first quarter as it recognised a loss on its more than 100 jets that remain stranded in Russia.
AerCap is the latest leasing company to take an immediate hit on its Russian exposure, something the firms had previously been expected to defer until they had more clarity over the amount that could be reclaimed from insurers.
But with lessors and insurers gearing up for a historic battle over record potential claims worth an estimated $10 billion, industry executives said some lessors had been advised by lawyers to take write-downs as soon as possible to buttress claims that could drag through the courts for years.
Dublin-based AerCap had the largest exposure of any lessor, accounting for 5% of its fleet by value. It submitted a $3.5 billion insurance claim in March and said on Tuesday it had not recognized any receivables relating to the claims.
"We have filed insurance claims related to these assets and will vigorously pursue all available remedies to recover our losses," AerCap Chief Executive Officer Aengus Kelly said in a statement, describing the Russian hit as an undoubted setback, but a manageable one.
Over 400 leased planes worth almost $10 billion remained in Russia after a March 28 deadline to cancel the contracts in line with Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
AerCap's charge comprised of an impairment loss and complete write off of flight equipment that remains in Russia. It removed 22 aircraft and three engines that were based outside of Russia when the sanctions were announced, but has 113 aircraft and 11 engines still stuck in the country.
The charge was partially offset by $210 million in payments from letters of credit related to the Russian-based assets. AerCap said it had initiated legal proceedings against one financial institution which rejected its payment demands.
AerCap said that excluding the charge, its first-quarter net income was $540 million and Kelly said he expected to see demand for travel continue to grow as a broad-based recovery progresses.
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.
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.