Russia Warns Ukraine Against Provoking World War III

KYIV, Ukraine — Russia’s top diplomat warned Ukraine against provoking World War III and said the threat of a nuclear conflict “should not be underestimated” as his country unleashed attacks against rail and fuel installations far from the front lines of Moscow’s new eastern offensive.

The British Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that Russian forces have seized the Ukrainian city Kreminna, in the Lukansk Region. This was after several days of fighting street to street.

“The city of Kreminna has reportedly fallen and heavy fighting is reported south of Izium as Russian forces attempt to advance towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk from the north and east,” the British military said in a tweet. The British military did not specify how the city fell, which is 575 km (355 miles), southeast of Kyiv. The Ukrainian government didn’t immediately respond.

According to the U.S., more weapons have been sent to Ukraine. This is in addition of the fact that the Western allies are helping make a difference during the two-month-old conflict.

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“Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared Monday after he and the U.S. secretary of defense made a bold visit to Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Blinken said Washington approved a $165 million sale of ammunition — non-U.S. ammo, mainly if not entirely for Ukraine’s Soviet-era weapons — and will also provide more than $300 million in financing to buy more supplies.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin went further, saying the U.S. wants to see Ukraine remain a sovereign, democratic country, but also wants “to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

Austin’s remarks appeared to represent a shift in U.S. strategic goals since earlier it said the goal of American military aid was to help Ukraine win and to defend Ukraine’s NATO neighbors against Russian threats.

Lavrov’s warning to Ukraine

In an apparent response to Austin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia has “a feeling that the West wants Ukraine to continue to fight and, as it seems to them, wear out, exhaust the Russian army and the Russian military industrial war complex. This is an illusion.”

Weapons supplied by Western countries “will be a legitimate target,” Lavrov said, adding that Russian forces were targeting weapons warehouses in western Ukraine.

Lavrov claimed that Ukrainian leaders provoked Russia and asked NATO to join the conflict. NATO has effectively “entered into a war with Russia through proxies and is arming those proxies,” he said. NATO forces are “pouring oil on the fire,” Lavrov said, according to a transcript on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website.

“Everyone is reciting incantations that in no case can we allow World War III,” he said in a Russian television interview.

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Lavrov said he would not want to see risks of a nuclear confrontation “artificially inflated now, when the risks are rather significant.”

“The danger is serious,” he said. “It is real. It should not be underestimated.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that Lavrov’s comments underscore Ukraine’s need for Western help: “Russia loses last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine. Thus the talk of a ‘real’ danger of WWIII. This only means Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine.”

Russia’s new military objectives in Ukraine

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 24th with an apparent goal to take Kyiv as its capital. But the Ukrainians, helped by Western weapons, forced President Vladimir Putin’s troops to retreat.

Moscow is now stating that its goal in the Donbas (the mostly Russian-speaking region of eastern Ukraine) is to seize it. While both sides claim that the campaign is under way, Russia still has not launched an aggressive ground offensive nor made any significant breakthroughs.

Russia refocused its firepower on Monday with warplanes, missiles, and planes attacking far behind the frontlines in an effort to block Ukrainian supply efforts.

Five railroad stations in central and western Ukraine were hit, and one worker was killed, said Oleksandr Kamyshin, head of Ukraine’s state railway. A missile attack was launched near Lviv (a western Ukrainian city close to the Polish border), which has seen many fleeing violence.

Ukrainian authorities claim that at least five civilians were killed during Russian strikes in central Vynytsia.

Russian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov stated that Russia had also demolished an oil refinery and fuel storage depots in Kremenchuk (central Ukraine). According to him, Russian warplanes have destroyed 56 Ukrainian targets.

Philip Breedlove, a retired U.S. general who was NATO’s top commander from 2013- 2016, said the strikes on fuel depots are meant to deplete key Ukrainian war resources. Strikes against rail targets, on the other hand, are a “legitimate” effort to disrupt supply lines, he said.

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“The illegitimate reason is they know people are trying to leave the country, and this is just another intimidation, terrorist tactic to make them not have faith and confidence in traveling on the rails.”

Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the war is settling into a campaign of incremental battlefield losses and gains.

“The two sides are sort of every day weakening each other,” he said.

In Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova beside the Ukrainian border, several explosions believed caused by rocket-propelled grenades hit the territory’s Ministry of State Security. No immediate claims of responsibility were made or injuries reported. Transnistria, a small area of land that is home to approximately 470,000 people, is known as the Transnistria Strip. It is home to approximately 1,500 Russian troops.

Moldova’s Foreign Ministry said “the aim of today’s incident is to create pretexts for straining the security situation in the Transnistrian region.” The U.S. has said Russia might launch “false-flag” attacks against its own side to create a pretext for invading other nations.

Rustam Minnkayev (a Russian military commander) stated last week that the Kremlin wanted total control over southern Ukraine in order to allow Transnistria to enter.

Mariupol continues to be under siege

The estimated 22,000 Ukrainian troops that are currently trapped in Mariupol’s steel plant at the southern strategic port of Mariupol, trying to stop Russian forces from attacking the Donbas, have been tied down. Russian forces carried out new airstrikes against the Azovstal facility to attempt to expel the remaining rebels.

Approximately 1,000 people were said to have taken refuge at the steelworks.

Mariupol’s mayor and city council said that a new mass grave had been identified approximately 10 km (6 miles) to the north of Mariupol. According to Mayor Vadym Bouchenko, authorities are trying to determine the exact number of victims. The new mass grave was found within Russian-controlled territories near Mariupol.

In the two-months since its capture, Mariupol is under attack and has seen intense street fighting. Russia’s capture of the city would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and give Moscow a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

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In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was maintaining its resistance to “make the occupiers’ stay in our land even more intolerable,” while Russia drains its resources.

Britain said it believes 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said 25% of the Russian combat units sent to Ukraine “have been rendered not combat effective.”

According to Ukrainian officials, about 2,500-3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed by the time of mid April.

Gambrell was reporting from Lviv (Ukraine). This report was co-authored by Yuras Karamanau (Associated Press), Lviv, Ukraine and AP staff worldwide

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