MOSCOW — As the U.S. and Europe boost military aid to Ukraine, Russian authorities have escalated warnings and criticism, arguing the aid is not only fueling the conflict but also boosting the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO powers.
In some ways, Russian criticism over foreign military assistance to Ukraine is not new. Russian President Vladimir Putin seized on the delivery of Western arms to Kyiv as part of his rationale to launch what he insists is a limited "special military operation" in February.
Yet as Russia's stated goals in Ukraine have narrowed to the "liberation" of the eastern Donbas, the Kremlin's amplified rhetoric reflects efforts to build public consensus for the need of a protracted — if not existential — war with the West.
"The tendency to pump weapons, including heavy weapons into Ukraine and other countries, these are the actions that threaten the security of the continent, provoke instability," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday. It was the latest in a series of statements from Moscow that the conflict in Ukraine risks spilling into a wider conflict with the West.
Peskov was reacting to an appeal by British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for Western countries to "double down" on their military support for the government in Kyiv.
"Heavy weapons, tanks, airplanes — digging deep into our inventories, ramping up production. We need to do all of this" for Ukraine,Truss said in a speech on Wednesday in London.
On Thursday, President Biden asked Congress to approve $33 billion in aid to Ukraine — more than double what Washington has already committed since the start of the conflict last February. Nearly two-thirds of that amount is for military aid.
This week, Germany's parliament also approved sending anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made impassioned pleas for heavier and more lethal weapons to stem the Russian assault. While Western allies have embraced the call for aid, they've been careful to emphasize that their forces will not join the fight.
"We're not attacking Russia; we're helping Ukraine defend itself against Russian aggression," Biden said in announcing his push for new aid.
Meanwhile, the rhetoric from Russia has grown more heated with each passing day. On state television on Monday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West is de facto engaged in a "proxy war" that could lead to World War III. NATO shipments into Ukraine, he said, would be viewed as "legitimate targets" by Russia's military.
Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, accused the West of masterminding a series of disputed attacks on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border.
"In the West, they are openly calling on Kyiv to attack Russia, including with the use of weapons received from NATO countries. ... I don't advise you to test our patience," she said Thursday.
Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Services claimed that same day to have uncovered a U.S.-Polish plot to send forces into western Ukraine under the guise of a "peacekeeping contingent." Their goal, Naryshkin claimed, without providing evidence, was to seize Ukrainian territory for themselves.
Then there was Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia's Security Council, who told Russia's official state newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta on Tuesday that the U.S. — having failed to subdue Russia after the end of the Cold War — is now intent on its destruction.
"America divided the world into vassals and enemies long ago," Patrushev said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued his own warnings, too. Interference from outside powers in Ukraine is creating "strategic threats" to Russia itself, he said Wednesday — even as he boasted Russia's defenses were up to the challenge.
The West "should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast," Putin said in a speech to lawyers in St. Petersburg. "We have all the tools for this, things no one else can boast of having now. And we will not boast about it, we will just use them if necessary."