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The Department of Defense issued a chilling warning on Thursday that a Russian invasion into Ukraine 'could be imminent' amid a drastic increase in combat forces at the former Soviet state's borders.

'We continue to see, including in the last 24 hours, more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians in, again, the western part of their country and in Belarus,' Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference.


Kirby also revealed that troops from Fort Bragg, Fort Carson and Fort Campbell have been placed on heightened alert to deploy to Eastern Europe as tensions in the region compound. 

The US State Department has said it anticipates an attack on Ukraine launched by the Kremlin in as early as mid-February.

Asked about the Defense Department's timeline, Kirby said: 'We have always said and said for quite some time, another incursion by Russia could be imminent -- and imminent means imminent.'

He declined to give a specific timeline but added that there was no 'final decision' by Vladimir Putin to send his military into Ukraine.

'We believe here at the department, there is still time and space for diplomacy,' Kirby said. 

Earlier this week Kirby revealed that 8,500 U.S.-based troops would be placed on high alert to deploy to NATO countries in Eastern Europe in the event the Western alliance activates its Response Force.

He said on Thursday that those units include service members from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, the 18th Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell and 4th Infantry at Fort Carson, Colorado.

The teams would be made up of medical support, aviation support, logistics support and combat formations, Kirby said.

He stressed again that the units are on heightened alert and have no order to deploy at present. 

The world has been holding its breath today, waiting for Vladimir Putin to respond after he was sent two letters dismissing his top security demands around Ukraine.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, said Thursday that the Russian strongman is still mulling over letters from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO chief Jens Stoltenburg which are thought to have ruled out the possibility of Ukraine being banned from the alliance and the removal of troops from ex-Soviet states. 

Blinken's letter was delivered to Moscow's foreign ministry late last night, handed over in-person by ambassador John Sullivan who was pictured leaving the building as snow fell, clutching a black leather folder in his hand.

While giving little ground on Russia's main demands, Blinken said the letter does present 'serious' offers to de-escalate tensions - thought to include controls on nuclear arms and limits on military exercises.

Peskov said there is 'little room for optimism' after an initial reading and that Moscow's main concerns are being ignored, but left the option of further talks open - at least for now. 'We won't rush with our assessments,' he said. 

Separately, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the letter contains some elements that could lead to 'the start of a serious talk on secondary issues' but 'contains no positive response on the main issue,'

Lavrov said top officials will now submit their proposals to Putin, and that his response would come 'soon'.

With the threat of war hanging heavy in the air, Russia's troop build-up on Ukraine's border continued today as Ukrainian troops were pictured training with British NLAW anti-tank weapons that were delivered last week as part of a package of UK military aid.

British instructors have been sent to train the Ukrainians to use the rockets, and Kiev's troops were seen carrying them around a fake combat zone as they prepared for a Russian attack. NLAWs are disposable missile launchers that use tracking technology and high-explosive warheads to take out tanks, such as the ones used by Russia.

It comes after it was revealed that UK warships and fighter jets could be on the move within days towards eastern Europe in an attempt to deter a Russian attack.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace - who is in Berlin today ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart in Moscow - is understood to have requested a range of options from military chiefs.

That includes deploying British troops to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary alongside thousands of American soldiers heading to the region. Washington has asked its allies to contribute manpower. 

The move is significant because it was expected to come only after an attack on Ukraine.

'We need a supplementary pause. We hope that this process will have results in two weeks,' Kozak said.

An aide to French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that the talks had been about resolving the separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine, not the threat of a Russian invasion.

France and Germany have joined the United States in warning Russia against an invasion but have been less direct about sanctions.

Germany's new coalition government has sent mixed signals on whether it would sever the soon-to-open Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which will circumvent Ukraine to provide gas to Europe's largest economy.

Amid warnings that tensions with the West could push Russia to squeeze supplies, Australian officials said Canberra stood ready to ship natural gas to Europe.

'We haven't received a formal request, but we are indicating that, of course, we are ready to support our friends,' Resources Minister Keith Pitt told media in Sydney.

US President Joe Biden, who spoke with European leaders by video-conference on Tuesday, said any Russian military attack on Ukraine would trigger 'enormous consequences' and could even 'change the world.'

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, while brushing off the impact, warned that attempts to punish Putin personally would be 'destructive.' 

The United States again encouraged its citizens to leave Ukraine, warning an invasion could be imminent.

But Ukraine's government, hoping to prevent panic, has played down the dangers and sought to offer ways out.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters the Russian troops posed 'a threat to Ukraine' but that the numbers deployed were 'insufficient for a full-scale offensive.'

Andriy Yermak, an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky who took part in the Paris talks, wrote on Twitter that the meeting was 'a strong signal of readiness for a peaceful settlement.'

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Illinois State Police combat expressway shootings with new technology and tactics

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new data investigation into the startling number of expressway shootings in the Chicago area reveals a rapid climb in shootings here in the past three years.

Expressway shootings are high speed crimes, often stretching violence across miles of Chicago roadways. The ABC7 I-Team data team's analysis reveals Chicago interstates are among the worst in the country for shootings, with more than 500 shootings here since 2019.

The I-Team went along for the ride with the new Illinois State Police squad fighting back. On a recent evening, they tracked an SUV that had been reported stolen to a South Side gas station just off the Dan Ryan Expressway. As ISP converged, the SUV driver fled, nearly backing into the squad car the I-Team was in before being pinned in by troopers.

Inside the SUV, they discovered an AR-style semi-automatic rifle. According to troopers, the weapon was in back seat with the 17-year-old passenger when they sped off. A 15-year-old was at the wheel, according to state police.

"Right there, depending on how much ammunition in that weapon being used, it's how many lives saved?" Capt. David Keltner said.

Data analysis reveals that since 2018, I-94 in Chicago has seen the second most expressway shootings in the country. The Eisenhower Expressway is also in the top 10 nationwide.

The I-Team's nationwide data investigation with ABC News and ABC Owned Stations reviewed data collected by the independent research group Gun Violence Archive. The data revealed a 57% spike in shooting incidents on or near expressways from 2019 to 2021. Over that period, the data analysis captures 2,143 incidents, more than 1,200 people wounded or injured and at least 530 people killed.

Those already stunning numbers are likely an undercount due to inconsistent tracking of these incidents nationwide.

"It's almost like a modern form of of dueling," Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said. "This is a serious issue. This is a real phenomenon. This is a new type of crime that we've seen develop over the past few years. But law enforcement is doing everything we can."

To combat the threat, Illinois State Police leaders have moved the state's best troopers to a new squad based in Chicago and installed license plate readers to target stolen vehicles or help investigators locate cars close to shootings.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure people can come and go and move around and go about their lives safely on the Chicagoland area expressways," Kelly said.

"When my sister was shot, there was nobody around," said Alma Hill. "People don't understand, when these guns on the expressway, my sister was just going to work. She was just going to work."

Hill's sister, postal worker Tamara Clayton, was shot and killed on the Dan Ryan on the way to work in 2019. Her case is still unsolved. Hill hopes the new camera funding law named in her honor will help make the streets safer.

"Who would have thought that a postal worker going to work that would start this cascade of events where they're able to solve cases and make arrests," Hill said.

"The problem that we have too is that many rounds that are being put out in incidents, they're also killing a lot of bystanders just in the wrong time and at the wrong spot," said Capt. Keltner.

The night the I-Team rode along, state troopers began pursuing another apparently stolen SUV, but lost the suspects when they ditched the vehicle behind a concrete wall.

"They were tucking it behind the dumpsters trying to hide it away," said Capt. Keltner.

Minutes later, the squad hit on what they said was a new stolen that SUV the suspects were in. Back at the gas station, troopers discovered one of the suspects was already on electronic monitoring and found a new concern with the recovered weapon: high-powered ammo that will go through a bulletproof vest. Now it's off the streets.

"It's a win for us tonight," said Capt. Keltner. "We just need to keep battling, keep making a difference one stop at a time, and locking folks up and recovering those guns so they can't be used for crimes."

Those juveniles are charged with possession of a stolen motor vehicle, fleeing and gun crimes.

Data obtained by the I-Team reveals that in all of 2021, ISP recovered 233 guns. They're already at 119 for 2022. So far this year, there are 11 fewer shootings than last year and no homicides.

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