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Russia warns of serious nuclear war risks

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Russia has told the world not to underestimate the considerable risks of nuclear war that it says it wants to reduce, and it warns that conventional Western weapons are legitimate targets in Ukraine, where battles are raging in the east.

“The risks now are considerable,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s state television according to a transcript of an interview on the ministry’s website.

“I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it.”

Mr Lavrov had been asked about the importance of avoiding World War III and whether the current situation was comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, a low point in US-Soviet relations.

Russia had lost its “last hope to scare the world off supporting Ukraine,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter after Mr Lavrov’s interview.

“This only means Moscow senses defeat.”

During a visit to Kyiv on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin promised more military aid for Ukraine.

The US State Department on Monday (local time) used an emergency declaration to approve the potential sale of $US165 million ($230 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 US to halt shipments, warning Western weapons were inflaming the conflict.

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

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 five 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 US would host an expected gathering of more than 40 countries this week for Ukraine-related defence talks that would focus on arming Kyiv, US officials said.

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 Zelensky 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. If successful, it would link territory held by pro-Russian separatists in the east with the Crimea region that Moscow annexed in 2014.

Russia’s defence ministry said its missiles destroyed six facilities powering the railways that were used to deliver foreign weapons to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region. Reuters could not verify the report.

The head of Ukraine’s state rail company said 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.

Reuters was not able to immediately verify the reports.

Russian forces continued on Monday to bomb and shell the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where fighters were 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. However, Kyiv said no agreement had been reached.

– AAP