Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Wednesday that "World War III will be a devastating nuclear war," during an interview with Al-Jazeera and as Russia's invasion of Ukraine entered its seventh day.
Lavrov additionally stressed that US President Joe Biden had stated that the alternative to the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia would be a third world war.
The foreign minister had warned on Tuesday that Russia finds it "unacceptable" that American nuclear weapons are located in Europe, saying it is "high time to return them to the US," according to TASS. Lavrov repeated claims that Ukraine is planning to acquire nuclear weapons on Wednesday, saying Russia would act to prevent this.
Read more on the Russia-Ukraine War:
- Day 7 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Ukraine foils assassination attempt on Zelensky by Chechen special unit
- Pro-Putin Chechen general who led 'gay purge' killed in Ukraine
- Russia strikes Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site in Ukraine
- $1 million bounty on Putin offered by Russian businessman
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military command to put Russia's deterrence forces - a reference to units which include nuclear arms - on high alert in response to "aggressive statements" from NATO members.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko recently warned that Western sanctions were pushing Russia towards a "third world war."
Ukrainians fight to protect nuclear power plant
Thousands of Ukrainians worked on Wednesday to form a barricade to hold back Russian forces nearing Enerhodar, where Europe's largest nuclear power plant is located, according to the city's mayor.
Anton Herashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry, warned that the fighting near the nuclear power plant in Enerhodar could cause damage to equipment necessary for the safety of the plant. He added that this could cause an incident like the one at Chernobyl or at Fukushima.
"Radiation does not know nationalities," wrote Herashchenko on Facebook, calling on Russian forces to bypass the area.
The Russian Defense Ministry had claimed in recent days to have captured the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, although an update on Wednesday from the IAEA stated only that Russian forces had taken control of the territory around the plant and that the power plant was still under the control of the Ukrainian national operator.
Civilians killed as Russian bombardment continues
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Wednesday that Russian forces managed to take control of the Ukrainian city of Kherson, according to TASS. The Defense Ministry added that Russian forces have destroyed 1,502 Ukrainian military facilities and systems.
An intelligence update by the UK Defense Ministry on Wednesday morning stated that while Russian forces had reportedly moved into Kherson, overall gains across the country have been limited in the past 24 hours.
Russian forces continued to target cities throughout Ukraine, with heavy fighting reported in Kharkiv as Russian paratroopers landed in the Ukrainian city and proceeded to attack the Kharkiv Military Medical Center.
Советник главы МВД Антон Геращенко опубликовал кадры, на которых, по его информации, наносят удар по зданию областного Управления полиции в Харькове. Здание горит. Минобороны России утверждает, что не ведет огонь по гражданским целям.https://t.co/W55myZ8CAm pic.twitter.com/dDjIxeJKSd— Новая Газета (@novaya_gazeta) March 2, 2022
The police department in Kharkiv was reportedly hit by a Russian attack on Wednesday morning, with video reportedly from the scene showing the building on fire. The Faculty of Sociology at Kharkiv National University was also reportedly hit.
At least 21 people were killed and 112 wounded in shelling in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv in the last 24 hours, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said on Wednesday.
Ukraine's State Emergency Service reported on Wednesday that three people were killed and 16 others were injured in a Russian air strike in Zhytomyr overnight. The strike reportedly damaged a maternity hospital.
The Ukrainian state Ukrinform news agency reported that a senior official from the Pentagon stated that over 80% of Russia's combat potential had already been introduced into the conflict in Ukraine, with preparation to attack Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Ukraine's Armed Forces claimed on Wednesday that over 5,800 Russian soldiers had been killed and that Russia had lost 211 tanks, 862 armored vehicles, nine air defense systems, 30 planes, 31 helicopters and three UAVs.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces stated on Wednesday morning that Russian troops were attempting to surround the cities of Sumy, Lebedyn and Okhtyrka and to block Kyiv from the northeast. The military added that Russian troops were preparing for a landing operation from the Black Sea as well.
"Unsuccessful in advancing its forces, the enemy insidiously continues to launch missile and bomb strikes on critical infrastructure in order to intimidate the civilian population, which is courageously side by side with the Armed Forces of Ukraine," said the army on Facebook.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry claimed on Tuesday evening that Russia is planning a provocation to justify the introduction of Belarusian troops into the conflict, adding that about 300 Belarusian tanks were located near the border with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian parliament had claimed on Tuesday that Belarusian troops had already entered Ukraine in the Chernihiv region, north of Kyiv.
The president of Belarus stated on Tuesday morning that Belarus has no further plans to take part in the war in Ukraine, stressing that the Belarusian army has not and will not take any part in the hostilities.
Lukashenko also announced that reinforcements were being sent to Belarus's southern border and that he was deploying five additional battalions to there. "These are highly trained maneuver groups that are ready to stop any provocation and any military actions against Belarus," said the president.
A unit of Chechen special forces sent on a mission to assassinate Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was "eliminated," head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov announced on Ukrainian parliament's official television station Rada TV on Tuesday.
The special unit belonged to the Kadyrovites, a Chechen paramilitary organization aiding Russian forces in their invasion of Ukraine.
Referring to Russia's attack on Babyn Yar - the site of a World War Two massacre of Jews by German occupation troops and Ukrainian auxiliaries - on Tuesday Zelensky said on Wednesday: "This strike proves that for many people in Russia our Kyiv is absolutely foreign."
"They don't know a thing about Kyiv, about our history. But they all have orders to erase our history, erase our country, erase us all," he added in the address made on video.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine will become more brutal, British defence minister Ben Wallace said on Wednesday.
"Anyone who thinks logically would not do what he (Putin) is doing, so we are going to see ... his brutality increase," Wallace told LBC radio.
"He doesn't get his way, he surrounds cities, he ruthlessly bombards them at night ... and he will then eventually try and break them and move into the cities."
Sanctions against Russia continue to expand
The United States closed its airspace to Russian planes as the Russian military attempted to encircle and subdue Ukrainian cities with intensifying bombardments on Wednesday, seven days into an invasion that has sparked massive international sanctions.
During his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, US President Joe Biden announced that America would be closing its air space to all Russian flights.
"We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever," said Biden.
The president also mentioned that the US Department of Justice was assembling a dedicated task force to target the crimes of Russian oligarchs. "Tonight I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime no more. We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts your luxury apartments your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains."
Biden stressed that he is working to ensure that sanctions placed on Russia do not harm the American economy, announcing that the US is working with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. The US will release 30 million barrels from its own Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Russia's central bank kept stock market trading on the Moscow Exchange suspended for a third day in a row on Wednesday, but said it would allow a limited range of operations for the first time this week.
Alphabet Inc's Google said on Tuesday that it has blocked mobile apps connected to RT and Sputnik from its Play store, in line with an earlier move to remove the Russian state publishers from its news-related features.
While initial reports had indicated that talks were set to resume between Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday, the status of the negotiations was unclear as of Wednesday afternoon.
Russia's foreign minister stated on Wednesday that Russia is ready for a second round of negotiations with Ukraine, but that Ukraine is delaying the process on request of the US. Yury Voskresensky, a Belarusian politician, stated that there has been no contact with the Ukrainian delegation since Tuesday and that they have turned off their phones, according to TASS.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated that Kyiv is ready for a second round of negotiations, but not for the adoption of ultimatums, adding that it is still unclear when the next round of talks will be, according to TASS.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters on Wednesday that holding more talks with Russia was under discussion and that a "substantial agenda" was needed.
Asked about the date for a second round of talks since Russia invaded its neighbor last week, Podolyak said: "It's under discussion for now. A substantial agenda is needed."
Nations around the world promise aid
During the State of the Union address, Biden added that the US is providing over $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine, but emphasized that US forces would not engage in the conflict in Ukraine.
"Let me be clear, our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine," said Biden. "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO Allies – in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west."
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that she, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang will each donate one month's salary to help with humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated on Wednesday that the country has received new Turkish Bayraktar drones and will receive more Stingers and Javelins.
European nations backtracked on promises to provide fighter jets to Ukraine on Tuesday, with Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia, which were reportedly providing the aircraft, denying that they would be doing so, according to Politico.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who initially promised the jets, stated on Monday that the EU did not have sufficient financial means to pay for the aircraft.
Despite concerns expressed by the West that implementing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would pull Western nations into a conflict with Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that he does not believe that this is the case.
"I believe that leaders should support democracies across the world who are willing to uphold such principles, so this aid, this powerful assistance regarding the no-fly zone, would be very helpful," said Zelensky, according to Ukrinform. "It is not about dragging NATO into the war. To be honest, everyone has long been dragged into this war, and certainly not by Ukraine but by Russia."
Wizz Air announced on Tuesday night that it would be offering 100,000 free flight tickets departing from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania for Ukrainian refugees.
Over 450,000 people entered Poland from Ukraine since a Russian invasion of the country started last Thursday, Deputy Interior Minister Pawel Szefernaker told private Radio Zet on Wednesday.
He added that the number of people entering Poland fell slightly on Tuesday to 98,000 from a record number of over 100,000 on Monday.
Tal Spungin contributed to this report.