Crack British troops are ready to head to Ukraine “within hours” amid fears of a Russian invasion.

Around 450 Paras are poised to drop into eastern Europe should the current crisis worsen.

The elite soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade conducted a practice jump last year as tensions began to rise, and they could be in the region within 36 hours.

A senior defence chief said: “It’s a waiting game, but all indications suggest Russia is days away from mounting an invasion.

“The Paras could deploy very quickly – this is what they are trained for and they are itching to get involved.”

Meanwhile, the RAF is moving personnel and equipment to support jets in Romania. It comes after Russia detained a Ukrainian diplomat accused of receiving secret information.

Vladimir Putin has amassed more than 95,000 troops along Russia’s border with east Ukraine, which is under the control of Russia- backed rebels. Russian warships are heading to the Caspian Sea.

A five-nation alliance known as the Quint – the UK, US, Canada, Lithuania and Poland – is backing Ukraine and stated that it would “continue to call on Russia to de-escalate”.

The US has announced the deployment of two warships to the Black Sea in an attempt to shore up Ukrainian resistance to the Russians.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy flew into the contested Donbass region and spoke to troops entrenched there against potential military action from Russian-backed rebels.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said our military had trained more than 20,000 Ukrainian troops, adding: “Our Armed Forces continue to support Ukraine.”

In Russia, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned the situation in eastern Ukraine was “very unstable” and made it clear that Russian army personnel were ready to step in to protect the interests of Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine.

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He added that growing tension between the two countries could be the " beginning of the end " for Ukraine.

A massive build-up of Russian troops and landing craft has been reported in the Black Sea region and several BUK missile launchers of the type that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, killing 298 passengers and crew, have also been spotted on the Ukrainian border.

While Peskov stressed that Russia would not fire the first shot in a conflict between the two countries it would follow up Ukrainian aggression “not with a shot in the leg, but in the face".

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