More than 30 ships from the Russian Black Sea fleet have started training exercises near the Crimea peninsula, as Belgium and Kuwait join a list of growing countries urging their citizens to leave Ukraine.
Russia's navy has launched large-scale exercises in the Black Sea even as Moscow dismissed as "hysteria" a US warning that a Russian attack on Ukraine could begin within days.
"Over 30 vessels from the Black Sea fleet took to the sea from Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in accordance with the exercise plan," the Russian defence ministry said Saturday morning.
"The aim of the exercise is to defend the coast of the Crimea peninsula, the bases of the forces of the Black Sea fleet as well as the country's economic sector ... from possible military threats," the ministry added.
This comes as Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Moscow pulled some of its diplomatic staff out of Ukraine for fear of "provocations" from Kiev or its allies.
The Ukrainian government meanwhile urged citizens to stay calm and united, saying the armed forces are ready to repel any attack on the country.
"It is now critical to remain calm and united within the country, and avoid actions that undermine stability and sow panic," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
Belgium, Kuwait advise their nationals to leave Ukraine
The US on Friday warned that Russia could invade Ukraine "any day now" and urged Americans in Ukraine to leave the country "as soon as possible."
Russia's ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov told Newsweek magazine that the US warnings were "alarmist" and repeated that his country was "not going to attack anyone."
However, Belgium and Kuwait, alongside several European countries, also joined the US to call on their citizens to leave Ukraine.
"Nationals who are currently in Ukraine and whose presence is not strictly necessary in the country are strongly advised to leave the country," the Belgian foreign ministry said on its website on Saturday.
It said it strongly advised against travel to the country, adding that an evacuation could not be guaranteed.
Kuwait also urged its citizens in Ukraine to leave the country and that people postpone any plans to visit Ukraine.