Russia’s foreign minister has warned Western powers not to underestimate the “real” risk of nuclear conflict if they continue to send weapons to Ukraine in what he says is an undeclared proxy war.
A few hours after his remarks, explosions were heard within Moldova’s sovereign borders. Ukrainian officials believe Russia is launching “false flag” operations in the pro-Russian rebel-held enclave of Transnistria to justify the extension of their imperial attacks to another nation.
The warning from Sergei Lavrov in a state television interview late Monday night represents a dramatic rhetorical escalation from the Kremlin in light of an increasingly confident international response to the Ukraine crisis.
His comments received a sharp response from Lavrov’s counterpart in Kiev, Dmytro Kuleba, who said that Russia had lost its “last hope of scaring the world from supporting Ukraine … This only means that Moscow senses defeat in Ukraine.”
The embarrassing truth behind Putin’s war mistakes
Lavrov, the stony veteran of Russian diplomacy, was asked in the interview about the risk that the Ukraine crisis would develop into a nuclear conflict, which then almost happened with the Cuba crisis in 1962.
“The risks now are significant,” he said. “I do not want to raise these risks artificially. Many would like to. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it,” Lavrov said.
“NATO is basically engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming this deputy. War means war.”
Lavrov spoke the day after US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met face-to-face in Kiev with President Volodymyr Zelensky and promised even more military aid.
After initial hesitation from the Biden administration, reluctant to send weapons into the battlefields of Ukraine, only to end up in Russia’s hands, America is now all-in on its support for Kiev, hoping that victory for Ukraine could neutralize it Russian conventional military threat for a generation.
On Tuesday, Austin was scheduled to host a meeting of 40 Allied defense ministers at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to coordinate the international response to Russian aggression and guarantee a stable supply of heavy weapons, air defense systems and ammunition to the Ukrainian army. .
The Russian invasion began two months ago, on February 24, after President Vladimir Putin ordered a “special operation” to “de-Nazify” Ukraine and liberate Russian-speaking cities.
The original plan, as formulated by Putin and his generals, was that the Ukrainian capital Kyiv should be in Russian hands within three or four days, with Zelensky either killed or fled the city.
Five weeks later, with thousands of Russians killed and its forces destroyed by the tactically superior Ukrainian defenders, Russia was forced to concede defeat in the battle for Kiev and refocus its offensive more clearly in southern and eastern Ukraine to take control of the Donbas and create a land bridge from southern Russia along the Black Sea coast to Odesa.
Another element of Russia’s war plans became clearer last week when a Russian general, Rustam Minnekaev, let go that the proposed “land corridor” would extend all the way to Moldova and completely cut off Ukraine from access to the sea.
Under those plans, Russia’s military control would extend all the way into the breakaway region of Moldova in Transnistria, where Russian-backed separatists declared independence 30 years ago and where Russia still has a military base.
Moldova, which is constitutionally neutral, has done its best not to be drawn into the conflict – but Russia appears determined to pull in the former Soviet republic, which lies just west of Ukraine.
On Monday, assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades at an empty security service building in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria. Officials in Moldova and Ukraine dismissed it as a Russian “false flag” operation. An on-site RPG launcher of a type used by Russia and not Ukraine clearly bore a “Z” symbol.
Early Tuesday, explosions destroyed two nearby communications towers used to rebroadcast Russian radio and television stations around the region – not targets that the Russians would choose for a provocation.
The breakaway region, which has been funded by Russia for decades, has a population of nearly half a million, a third of whom identify as Russian, but with large Moldovan and Ukrainian minorities. Long queues quickly built up at the main border crossing with Moldova after Tuesday’s attack, driven by fears that the Russians could try to mobilize locals to help fight in Ukraine.
Later Tuesday, Putin was due to meet in Moscow with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – much to the chagrin of the Ukrainian government, which says he has no mandate to negotiate on their behalf.
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