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Nations Warn Of Imminent Ukraine Invasion As Russia Troops Stop Withdrawing

Belarus and Russia will continue their joint military exercises, meaning Russian troops will not withdraw as previously announced, Belarusian Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin says, amid growing fears of an invasion of Ukraine.

The decision to extend the drills beyond Sunday intensifies pressure on Ukraine, as Western leaders and the NATO defence alliance warn of an imminent full-scale invasion by Russia.

Khrenin said the troops would remain in Belarus due to rising tensions in Ukraine's disputed Donbass region and "in connection with the increase in military activity near the external borders" of Russia and Belarus.

NATO says the 30,000 troops Russia has in Belarus could form part of a planned incursion.

Russia has repeatedly denied plans to invade Ukrainian territory, despite the massing of around 150,000 troops along the country's borders, according to Western intelligence.

Russia's ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, issued a fresh denial of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Russian soldiers, telling CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday: "There is no invasion and there is no such plans."

Earlier on Sunday, Russian-backed separatists said two civilians had been killed in a shelling incident in a village in the disputed part of eastern Ukraine.

The separatists said the Ukrainian army was behind the attack and that five residential buildings had been destroyed. The information could not be independently verified.

The statement came as both sides in the conflict reported new ceasefire violations on Sunday.

Meanwhile intense diplomatic efforts continued to avert war. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

According to the Elysee Palace, intensive efforts were being made to arrange a meeting between the two sides to ensure the ceasefire in Donbass holds.

Macron and Putin agreed to intensify "the search for solutions in diplomatic channels" during their phone call, according to a Kremlin statement.

Macron then spoke to Zelensky, in their second call in as many days. The Ukrainian leader had previously underlined his country's openness to dialogue, and pledged not to react to provocation by separatists loyal to Moscow.

Despite talk of dialogue, however, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed serious concern that war was imminent.

"We believe President Putin has made the decision, but until the tanks are actually rolling, the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade (him)," Blinken told broadcaster CNN.

"Everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be taking place; all of these false flag operations, all of these provocations, to create justifications," Blinken said.

He said that Biden was prepared to engage with Putin at any time and in any format to help prevent war.

Blinken also said he had reached out to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for talks next week.

People continue to flee the conflict zone, however, according to reports. Some 40,000 refugees arrived in Russia's southern Rostov region and were being accommodated in 92 emergency shelters, state news agency TASS reported, citing Civil Defence Minister Alexander Chupriyan.

Russia-back separatist leaders had called on residents of the Donbass region to leave immediately, saying Ukrainian government troops were planning to attack.

Ukrainian government representatives and the military have repeatedly stressed that they are not planning an offensive against the region.

The potential for conflict was also in focus at the second day of the Munich Security Conference on Sunday.

European Council President Charles Michel said that in the event of a Russian attack, he planned to immediately convene a special summit of European leaders to ensure a united decision on sanctions.

On Saturday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said there was evidence suggesting that Russia planned a full-scale attack on Ukraine.

"No troops are being withdrawn, as Russia says, but new troops are being added," he said, adding that there were indications that Russia was preparing to create a pretext for an attack.