Russia has warned Ukraine that the conflict between the two countries can escalate into a third world war due to Kyiv alleged attempts to play at peace talks a day after US officials commented that Ukraine’s military can “beat back Moscow’s invasion”.
“It is real, you can’t underestimate it,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Monday, hinting that that there is a “serious” risk of a third world war if Kyiv continues taking aid from western allies while holding peace talks with Moscow.
Accusing Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of “pretending” to hold peace talks while holding backdoor meetings with the US, Lavrov warned him that he will “find a thousand contradictions.” He, however, maintained that Russia with continue its peace talks with Ukraine.
Warning NATO that unofficially helping Ukraine in its war against Russia also counts as participating in that war, Lavrov said, “NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.”
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Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latter has found support from several western countries in forms of arms and ammunitions to fight the Russian army. For months Zelenesky has been urging NATO countries to help Ukraine with fighter jets and artillery, expressing confidence that heavy firepower can help the Ukrainian military drive off Russian soldiers.
Recently, Ukraine had pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces sought to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol
A few NATO countries including the US have now come forward to help Ukraine by providing it heavy weapons and equipment.
On Sunday, US secretaries of state and defense met Zelenskyy in the highest-level visit to the country’s capital by an American delegation since the start of Russia’s invasion.
“The first step in winning is believing that you can win,” Austin told reporters after meeting Zelenskyy.
“We believe that we can win – they can win – if they have the right equipment, the right support,” he said.
Before the session with Blinken and Austin, Zelenskyy said he was looking for the Americans to produce results, both in arms and security guarantees.
“You can’t come to us empty-handed today, and we are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes, we are expecting specific things and specific weapons,” he said.
While the West has funneled military equipment to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has stressed repeatedly that his country needs more heavy weapons, including long-range air defense systems and warplanes.
In an apparent boost for Ukraine, polling agencies said French President Emmanuel Macron would win re-election over far right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has faced questions about her ties to Moscow. The result was hailed by Francs allies in the European Union as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.
Zelenskyys meeting with US officials took place as Ukrainians and Russians observed Orthodox Easter.
Speaking from Kyiv’s ancient St. Sophia Cathedral, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, highlighted its significance to a nation wracked by nearly two months of war.
“The great holiday today gives us great hope and unwavering faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said.
The Russian military reported hitting 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, including fortified positions and troop concentrations, while its warplanes destroyed 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.
Since failing to capture Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control over the eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war. Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on a Mariupol steel plant where an estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters. The Azovstal steel mill where the defenders are holed up is the last corner of resistance in the city, otherwise occupied by the Russians.
Zelenskyy said he stressed the need to evacuate civilians from Mariupol, including from the steel plant, in a Sunday call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Also read: US now sending weapons to Ukraine suitable for Donbas terrain
Mariupol has endured fierce fighting since the start of the war because of its location on the Sea of Azov. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014. More than 100,000 people down from a prewar population of about 430,000 are believed to remain in Mariupol with scant food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate over 20,000 civilians have been killed.
Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves to the west and east of Mariupol. Children in an underground bunker were seen receiving Easter presents in a video released Sunday by the far-right Azov Battalion, which is among the Ukrainian forces at the steel plant in Mariupol.
(With inputs from agencies)