Sergei Lavrov, speaking on Russian state TV last night, accused western leaders of risking a third world war by supplying heavy weapons to Ukraine with the goal of ‘wearing down the Russian army’ – an aim he described as an ‘illusion’.
Accusing NATO and its allies of attempting to bully Russia on the international stage, Lavrov said that tensions between east and west are now worse than during the Cuban missile crisis at the height of the Cold War.
Asked directly about the possibility of a nuclear war, he replied: ‘The risks are very significant. I do not want the danger to be artificially inflated [but] it is serious, real. It cannot be underestimated.’
Lavrov said: ‘During the Cuban Missile Crisis there were not many “written” rules. But the rules of conduct were clear enough.
‘Moscow understood how Washington was behaving. Washington understood how Moscow was behaving. Now there are few rules left.
He added: ‘In those years, there was a channel of communication that both leaders trusted. Now there is no such channel. Nobody is trying to create it.’
America did set up a ‘deconfliction line’ to Moscow in the early days of the Ukraine war, but said the Russia side stopped answering.
Lavrov also repeated warnings that shipments of western weapons into Ukraine will be considered legitimate targets by Russia – a day after missiles struck the country’s train network in an apparent attempt to stop the deliveries.
he spoke as western nations shift focus in Ukraine from supplying small arms and defensive weapons such as anti-tank and anti-aricraft missiles, to providing heavier arms such as tanks, helicopters, aircraft and long-range artillery.
The move comes in response to calls from Kyiv to provide its armed forces with the means to recapture territory occupied by Russian forces, in the wake of atrocities carried out by Putin’s men in places such as Bucha and Irpin.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin travelled to Kyiv on Sunday for a face-to-face meeting with President Zelensky to discuss supplies, before pledging another multi-million dollar shipment.
Austin will also chair a meeting of more than 40 defence ministers at Ramstein air base in Germany today, aimed at securing additional supplies and coordinating efforts between allies to ensure Ukraine has everything it needs.
Ahead of the meeting, Austin stated the goal is to ensure Ukraine ‘can win’ the war against Russia and ‘weaken’ the country to the point where it cannot repeat its invasion a second time.
Ahead of the meeting, German media reported that the country will end weeks of dithering and agree to supply heavy arms to Ukraine in the form of 50 Gepard anti-aircraft systems.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday night that he regards Russia’s scaremongering as a sign of weakness.
Russia had lost its ‘last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine,’ Kuleba wrote on Twitter after Lavrov’s interview. ‘This only means Moscow senses defeat.’
British armed forces minister James Heappey agreed with that assessment today, saying he does not see an imminent threat of escalation in Ukraine and dismissing Lavrov’s comments as ‘bravado’.
‘Lavrov’s trademark over the course of 15 years or so that he has been the Russian foreign secretary has been that sort of bravado. I don’t think that right now there is an imminent threat of escalation,’ Heappey told BBC Television.
‘What the West is doing to support its allies in Ukraine is very well calibrated … Everything we do is calibrated to avoid direct confrontation with Russia.’
Heappey told Sky News that while NATO had been reinforcing its eastern flank, it was not, as an organisation, providing military aid.
‘The donor community is not NATO,’ Heappey said. ‘The donor effort is something that has been brought together by countries that are yes, many of them are from NATO, but others are from beyond … it is not NATO that is doing the military aid.’
During a visit to Kyiv on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised more military aid for Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department on Monday used an emergency declaration to approve the potential sale of $165 million worth of ammunition to Ukraine.
The Pentagon said the package could include artillery ammunition for howitzers, tanks and grenade launchers.
Moscow’s ambassador to Washington told the United States to halt shipments, warning Western weapons were inflaming the conflict.
Lavrov said: ‘NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy. War means war.’
Russia’s two-month-old invasion of Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has left thousands dead or injured, reduced towns and cities to rubble, and forced over 5 million people to flee abroad.
Moscow calls its actions a ‘special operation’ to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West says this a false pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin.
The United States is due to host an expected gathering of more than 40 countries this week for Ukraine-related defence talks that will focus on arming Kyiv, U.S. officials said.
Britain said all tariffs on goods coming into the country from Ukraine under an existing free trade deal will be axed and it would send new ambulances, fire engines, medical supplies and funding for health experts to help the emergency services.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday that it had declared 40 German diplomatic staff ‘personae non gratae’ in a retaliatory move after Berlin expelled the same number of Russian diplomats.
Russia has yet to capture any of the biggest cities. Its forces were forced to pull back from the outskirts of Kyiv in the face of stiff resistance.
‘It is obvious that every day – and especially today, when the third month of our resistance has begun – that everyone in Ukraine is concerned with peace, about when it will all be over,’ President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late on Monday.
‘There is no simple answer to that at this time.’
Having failed to take the capital Kyiv, Moscow last week launched a massive assault in an attempt to capture eastern provinces known as the Donbas, which if successful would link territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.
Ukraine’s general staff said on Tuesday that Russia’s offensive continued in the eastern Kharkiv region with Russian forces trying to advance towards Zavody.
Russia’s defence ministry earlier said its missiles destroyed six facilities powering the railways that were used to deliver foreign weapons to Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. Reuters could not verify the report.
The head of Ukraine’s state rail company said that one railway worker had been killed and four injured by Russian missile strikes on five Ukrainian railway stations on Monday.
Ukrainian forces have repelled five Russian attacks and killed just over 200 Russian servicemen, said the Ukrainian military command in the southern and eastern sectors.
Five tanks were also destroyed, along with eight armoured vehicles, it said in a statement.
Russia is probably attempting to encircle heavily fortified Ukrainian positions in the country’s east, the British military said in an update on Tuesday.
Reports say the city of Kreminna has fallen, with heavy fighting in the south of the city of Izium, as Russian forces try to advance towards the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, Britain’s defence ministry said on Twitter.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod province, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said Ukraine had fired on two villages, and at least two people were wounded. Reuters was unable to verify the Ukrainian or Russian reports.
Russian forces were continuing on Monday to bomb and shell the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where fighters are hunkered down in a city ravaged by a siege and bombardment, Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych said.
Moscow said it was opening a humanitarian corridor to let civilians out of the plant but Kyiv said no agreement had been reached.