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Russia warns of World War III, West boosts arms to Ukraine

With the United States openly calling for Russia's defeat in Ukraine, Moscow warned about the possibility of World War III breaking out. Unfazed, the West is ramping up arms shipments to Kyiv.

(CN) — With the United States saying Russia needs to suffer a crippling defeat, the rhetoric coming from Moscow is getting more heated too with a warning from its foreign minister that the Ukraine conflict could spiral out of control into a new world war. 

The escalating war of words between Moscow and Washington comes at a moment when the battlefield is expanding with more explosions being reported on Russian territory and now also in Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway region inside the tiny country of Moldova, which is sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, Western allies met in Germany on Tuesday to make new pledges of military support to Ukraine. In a significant shift for war-wary German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Germany said on Tuesday it was sending anti-aircraft systems to Kyiv. Scholz and his Social Democrats – who until the outbreak of war viewed close ties to Russia as beneficial – are under immense pressure from coalition partners to do more to hurt Russia. The European Union also is moving toward partially blocking Russian oil and natural gas, which would be another major shift. 

On Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Moscow to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine and help civilians trapped in the war zone get to safety, especially those inside a besieged steelworks’ bunker in Mariupol where Ukrainian forces are surrounded by Russian troops. At a news conference, Guterres said the war risked causing famine in many parts of the world. Guterres was headed to Kyiv next, but there was little hope his trip would yield breakthroughs.    

Inside Ukraine, fighting raged on Tuesday with reports that Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defensive lines in Donbas, eastern regions of Ukraine that Russia is seeking to seize. The battle over Donbas is seen as a decisive phase of the war because a good part of Ukraine’s army is located here, though Ukrainian forces are reportedly outnumbered.  

Independent information from the front lines has been scant, but images from Ukrainian and Russian sources show numerous dead bodies, intense fighting, destroyed equipment, rockets streaking through the sky and soldiers sheltering in extensive trench systems.  

The ominous language issued from the Kremlin about a potential World War III came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Sunday with promises for more weapons to help Ukraine defeat Russia and make it so weak as to be unable to carry out future invasions. 

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin said, a comment that made headlines in Europe by late Monday. His remarks fueled Russian allegations the West is seeking to overthrow Putin and destroy Russia as a state. 

Austin said Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability” and that “we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.” 

Speaking on Russian state television on Monday night, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned about the danger of a third world war, according to Interfax, a Russian state news agency. 

“The danger is serious, it is real, it cannot be underestimated,” Lavrov said on Channel One. He compared the tensions between the West and Russia to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. 

He warned about a lack of clear rules governing the behavior of superpowers because of the dismantling of arms control and nuclear non-proliferation treaties since the end of the Cold War and that a trusted “channel of communication” does not exist today as it did between Soviet and American leaders in 1962. 

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“Now there is no such channel, and no one is trying to create it,” Lavrov said. He added that Washington did not heed warnings from the Kremlin about how it had “pumped weapons into Ukraine” and fueled anti-Russian sentiment there for the past eight years. 

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed Lavrov’s statement as scaremongering. 

“Russia loses last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine. Thus the talk of a ‘real’ danger of WWIII,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “This only means Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine. Therefore, the world must double down on supporting Ukraine so that we prevail and safeguard European and global security.” 

Since Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24, top Ukrainian officials and Ukrainian media have portrayed Russia’s attack as the start of a new world war comparable to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. Ukrainian propaganda also equates Putin with Adolf Hitler – calling him “Putler” – and Russian troops with Nazis, calling them “Ruscists”, a combination of Russian and fascists. Ukrainian propaganda also labels Russians as “orcs” and Russia as “Mordor,” the fictional land of evil in the “Lord of the Rings” books. 

For now, the war seems bound to continue escalating and expanding because both sides appear determined to achieve a military victory.  

On Tuesday, Austin, the U.S. defense secretary, was overseeing talks at the Ramstein airbase in Germany among 40 nations on how to provide Ukraine with more weapons. 

Austin said the U.S. would move “heaven and earth” to “help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion and to build up Ukraine’s defenses for tomorrow’s challenges.” 

Russia has repeatedly warned NATO that it considers weapons shipments to Ukraine as “legitimate targets” and it has struck ammunition depots, rail lines and military bases that it says are part of the military supply chain. On Tuesday, Russia said it struck a bridge near Odessa because it was being used as a route for weapons.  

In his televised comments on Monday night, Lavrov said Ukraine has become a proxy war against Russia for NATO.  

“NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war,” Lavrov said.  

Moldova is now at risk of being drawn into the war. 

Transnistria, a pro-Russian region that broke away from Moldova shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, raised its terrorist threat level to red on Tuesday after it accused Ukrainian militants of staging attacks. Ukraine denied the accusations and alleged that Russia was committing false attacks to create a pretext to further its objective to seize southern Ukraine in order to connect Russia to Transnistria. A top general stated this goal last week. Russian troops have been stationed in Transnistria since the 1990s.  

On Tuesday, Transnistria said a military unit near the city of Tiraspol was attacked and that two Soviet-era radio antenna that relayed Russian radio were destroyed near the border with Ukraine.  

Moldova’s president, Maia Sandu, convened an emergency security council meeting and condemned any attempt to bring war to her country. She said the incidents in Transnistria were designed to escalate tensions.  

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union. 

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