Vladimir Putin has been rushed to Moscow ahead of a surprise announcement to mark one year of the war in Ukraine.
The dictator’s motorcade was spotted racing to the Kremlin under cover of darkness.
Footage caught the convoy of cars passing through the capital around 1am.
There is high security outside Gostiny Dvor hall, close to Red Square, ahead of Putin’s address which is expected around 9am GMT.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state television: ‘At such a crucial and very complicated juncture in our development, our lives, everyone is waiting for a message in the hope of hearing an assessment of what is happening, an assessment of the special military operation.’
Flight prices out of Russia soared today as news spread about Putin’s special announcement.
Russians reportedly fear an expansion of mobilisation or a widespread declaration of war – as opposed to the ‘military operation’ phrasing the Kremlin has previously used.
Hardliners such as TV propagandist Margarita Simonyan, head of RT state broadcaster, spoke ominously of ‘anticipating jubilation’ ahead of Putin’s Moscow address to the Federal Assembly.
Vladimir Putin’s speech is expected around 9am (Picture: AP)
Opposition blogger Maxim Katz, 38, wrote: ‘The cheapest direct flight from Moscow to Yerevan is $650 [£540] – five times the regular price.
‘Every pre-planned speech by Putin over the past year has been akin to a professional holiday for hoteliers, real estate agents, cab drivers, and airlines in the post-Soviet Republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia.
‘We don’t know how many people took a one-way journey.
‘Estimates range from half a million to two million.’
This week will mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022 (Picture: Reuters)
The Glasgow-educated political activist, now exiled, with 1.68 million YouTube subscribers, said: ‘We can say for certain that a million people nationwide are ready to go at a minute’s notice.’
Katz said that across Russia ‘people live with one foot out of the door.’
Putin, 70, has been little seen for several days amid claims he has suffered a health relapse and will need new tests and treatment.
The dictator’s speech followed US president Joe Biden’s visit to Kyiv, just 530 miles from Moscow, and amid Western solidarity in supplying Ukraine with new tanks, missiles and ammunition.
Speaking from Kyiv, Mr Biden commended Ukraine’s ‘astounding’ resilience over the last year, stressing that the ‘whole world sees it’ and that the US will support Kyiv ‘as long as it takes’.
‘That dark night one year ago, the world was literally bracing for the fall of Kyiv…perhaps even the end of Ukraine,’ Mr Biden said at the joint news conference with Mr Zelensky.
‘One year later, Kyiv stands, and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,’ he said, adding: ‘The world stands with you.’
Noting he visited Ukraine six times when he was vice president during the Obama administration, Mr Biden added: ‘Kyiv has captured a part of my heart.’
Mr Zelensky had earlier shared a photograph of himself with his American counterpart on Telegram shaking hands.