Russia warns of nuclear tensions as war rages in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials called for more weapons on Tuesday as the US and other Western defense ministers met in Germany amid Russian warnings that the threat of nuclear war “should not be underestimated” if NATO nations continue to arm the country. besieged.

Speaking on Russian TV after US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said following a visit to Kiev that the The United States wanted Russia to be permanently “weakened” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of increasing tensions.

“I don’t want to artificially elevate those risks. Many would like it. The danger is serious, real. And we shouldn’t underestimate that, “Lavrov said.” NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a prosecutor and is arming that prosecutor. War means war. “

Russia extended its assault on Ukraine’s southern and eastern regions overnight, claiming it had killed 500 “enemy personnel” – a claim that cannot be verified – as Ukraine cited new attacks on civilians and sites. military. Moscow said it hit military targets in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, where routine bombing of residential areas they made civil funerals a part of daily life.

Building heavily damaged by Russian bombing

A building badly damaged by the Russian strikes remains standing in Kharkiv, the second largest city in Ukraine.

(Felipe Dana / Associated Press)

“Russian troops have launched an offensive in all directions,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Arestovych said the Russians were focusing on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the east in the Donetsk area and Kryvyi Rih – Zelensky’s hometown – in the south, near Kherson.

The British Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the Russians also overtook the city of Creminna in the Luhansk region, although Ukraine has not confirmed the fall of the city.

In the city of Zaporizhzhia in central Ukraine, regional officials said two missiles struck on Tuesday, killing at least one person.

In Kherson, which was the first noteworthy city to fall to Russian fighters early in the war, Russia scheduled a vote this week on the creation of an independent so-called “Kherson People’s Republic”.

The move, which Zelensky called a “fictitious referendum,” would follow a long-term Russian strategy to foment unrest in the eastern Donbas region, where pro-Russian separatists have already declared separatist republics in Luhansk and Donetsk. Moscow cites the “liberation” of ethnic Russians as one of its motives for launching its invasion of a neighboring nation the size of Texas.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks on video from Kiev on Monday.

(Ukrainian presidential press office)

The war, now in its third month, has left mass graves and rubble in cities and towns across Ukraine, including Kiev and the southern port of Mariupol, which Russia claimed victory last week even as a group of Ukrainian troops resist remained holed up in a vast steel plant.

Kiev, the capital, which has largely been spared from attacks over the past month as Russia moved its offensive south and east, this week imposed a night curfew amid growing concerns over further violence.

In a nightly video speech, Zelensky said that Ukraine – which has lost some 3,000 soldiers compared to unconfirmed estimates of up to 15,000 Russian deaths – will continue to fight to “make the permanence of the occupiers in our country even more intolerable. earth “running out of Russian resources.

Zelensky and the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, rejected Russian warnings about the nuclear conflict.

“Russia loses the last hope of frightening the world for not supporting Ukraine,” Kuleba tweeted. “Thus, we speak of a ‘real’ danger of the Third World War. This only means that Moscow feels defeat. ”

In Germany, Austin described Ukraine as “fighting a war of necessity to defend its democracy, its sovereignty and its citizens.”

“The invasion of Russia is indefensible, and so are the Russian atrocities“said the Pentagon chief, who has begun meeting with other Western defense officials for a summit at US Ramstein Air Base.

Gathering of Western Defense Ministers in Germany

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, in the rear center, hosts a meeting of Western Defense officials at US Air Base in Ramstein, Germany on Tuesday.

(Michael Probst / Associated Press)

Representatives from over 40 countries, including major European nations, as well as Turkey and Israel, attend the meeting in person. South Africa and Japan participate virtually.

The summit agenda focuses on accelerating the arms supply to Ukraine. Germany, a key member of the group, is expected to announce later Tuesday that it will send air defense tanks to Ukraine for the first time.

Ukrainian leaders, who were unsuccessful in previous attempts guarantee a no-fly zone enforced by NATO to prevent Russian attacks, they redoubled their efforts to demand more and more lethal weapons.

“We say again and again: weapons, weapons, weapons! We need weapons to stand up and defend the values ​​of humanity, “said Lesia Vasylenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, on Tuesday.

The United States, which announced an additional $ 300 million in aid to Ukraine on Monday, has so far pledged billions in material and humanitarian assistance.

Also on Tuesday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is expected to arrive in Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov. Guterres, who says he wants to negotiate a ceasefire, faces difficult prospects in a war that rages relentlessly through multiple trading cycles. Guterres will travel to Kiev on Thursday to meet Zelensky.

The war resulted in a refugee crisis never seen since World War II, with 5.2 million people fleeing Ukraine. More than 8 million are internally displaced.

Kharkiv, which is approximately 25 miles from the Russian border, it was among the most affected citieswith almost daily bombings since the beginning of the fighting on 24 February.

On Tuesday, a street on the outskirts of Kharkiv was packed with hundreds of people lining up in front of the skeletal, barred shell of a half-built church, where aid workers from Noah’s Ark Church organization were distributing food.

“Please don’t push. There is enough food for everyone. Be calm, praise God and glory to Ukraine, “said a man with a cap and sunglasses who stood at the gate to handle the crowd.

Inside were pallets loaded with sacks of potatoes and onions and boxes of apples. To one side were plastic bags with various toiletries and cleaning products. There were also objects that reflected the difficulty of maintaining a semblance of ordinary life in a city punched daily by Russian forces: cleaning supplies, matches, small candles.

“There is a lot of need right now. Some of these people have been lining up since 4 in the morning, ”said Andrey Varakuta, a 30-year-old aid worker. “We do it three times a week. Every time we do that, more and more people show up. “

Bulos reported from Kharkiv and Kaleem from London.