Russia warns humanity at risk if West seeks to punish it over Ukraine

By Pavel Polityuk and Simon Lewis
Kyiv/KRAMATORSK (Reuters) - Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Western attempts to punish a nuclear power like Russia for the war in Ukraine risked endangering humanity as the nearly five-month conflict left cities in ruins and thousands homeless leaves.
Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine sparked the deepest crisis in Russia-West relations since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many feared the world was on the brink of nuclear war.
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US President Joe Biden says Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and has led the West in arming Ukraine and imposing crippling sanctions on Russia.
“The idea of ​​punishing a country that has one of the greatest nuclear potentials is absurd. And potentially a threat to the very existence of humanity,” Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, told Telegram on Wednesday.
Russia and the United States control about 90% of the world's nuclear warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists, with around 4,000 warheads each in their military inventories.
Medvedev called the United States an empire that has shed blood around the world, citing the killing of Native Americans, US nuclear attacks on Japan, and a multitude of wars that stretched from Vietnam to Afghanistan.
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Attempts to set up courts or tribunals to investigate Russia's actions in Ukraine would be futile and risk global devastation, Medvedev said. Ukraine and its western allies say Russian forces have been implicated in war crimes.
Putin launched his invasion, which he described as a "special military operation," to demilitarize Ukraine, root out what he saw as dangerous nationalists, and protect Russian speakers in that country.
Ukraine and its allies say Russia launched an imperial-style land grab, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.
Having failed to seize the capital Kyiv early on, Russia is now waging a war of attrition over Ukraine's Donbass region, parts of which are controlled by Russian separatist proxies.
On Sunday, Putin won his biggest victory as Ukrainian forces withdrew from Luhansk province. Russian forces then launched an offensive to take neighboring Donetsk province. Donetsk and Luhansk form the Donbass.
Russia says it wants to seize control of the eastern and heavily industrialized region on behalf of Moscow-backed separatists in two self-proclaimed people's republics.
HEAVY FIRE
On Wednesday, Ukraine's military said it has so far repelled every major Russian advance into northern Donetsk, but the pressure is mounting with heavy shelling of the city of Sloviansk and nearby populated areas.
Russian forces were said to be bombarding several Ukrainian cities with heavy weapons to allow ground forces to advance south into the region and approach Sloviansk.
"The enemy is trying to improve its tactical position...(they) advanced...before being repelled by our soldiers and retreating with casualties," Ukraine's military said in its evening note.
Other Russian forces aimed to capture two towns on the way to the city of Kramatorsk south of Sloviansk and also attempted to seize control of the main road connecting Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
"We are holding back the enemy at the border (Luhansk/Donetsk)," Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television. He later said Luhansk was still not fully occupied by Russian forces and that Russia had suffered "colossal casualties".
"They will keep trying to advance towards Sloviansk and Bakhmut. There is no doubt about that," he said.
Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Lyakh said in a video briefing that the city had been shelled for the past two weeks.
"The situation is tense," he said, adding that 17 residents have been killed there since February 24.
Russia's Defense Ministry said it does not target civilians and said on Wednesday it uses high-precision weapons to take out military threats.
Ukraine has repeatedly asked the West to send more weapons to repel the invasion that has killed thousands, displaced millions and leveled cities.
"Finally the Western artillery has started to work powerfully, the weapons we get from our partners. And their accuracy is just what is needed,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his late night video message.
"NO SAFE AREAS"
In the Donetsk town of Kramatorsk, which Russian forces are expected to capture in the coming weeks, Ukrainian soldiers and a handful of civilians ran errands in green-painted cars and vans on Wednesday. Much of the population has left.
"It's almost deserted. It's scary," said Oleksandr, a 64-year-old retired metal worker. He's unlikely to follow official evacuation advice, he said, despite an increase in rocket attacks.
"I'm not looking for death, but if I meet it, it's better to be at home," he said.
Outside the Donbass, Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, has faced "constant" long-range Russian shelling, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Ukrainian television.
"Russia is trying to demoralize Kharkiv, but it's no use," he said. Ukrainian defenders pushed Russian armored forces far back from Kharkiv early in the war, and Terekhov said around 1 million residents remained there.
South of Kharkiv, the Dnipropetrovsk governor said the region had been hit by rockets and shells, while on the southern coast the port of Mykolaiv was also heavily shelled, Oleksandr Senkevych, its mayor, said at a briefing.
"There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv," he said. "I tell people... they have to go."
Reuters was unable to immediately verify battlefield reports.
(Reporting by Reuters offices; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian lawyer and politician; former President and Prime Minister of Russia
Wladimir Putin
President of Russia

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