People cry Wednesday during a funeral ceremony for 3-month-old Kira Glodan, her mother Valerya Glodan, 28, and grandmother Lyudmila Yavkina, 54, killed in their apartment by shelling, at the Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa, Ukraine. Credit: Max Pshybyshevsky / AP

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On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov essentially said that the U.S. and NATO risked sparking World War III because they were backing Ukraine.

No, Mr. Lavrov, it was Russia that started this confrontation by invading Ukraine, a sovereign country that, based on the level of resistance to the invasion, has no interest in being part of Russia. It is Russia that has sparked an international response — and outrage — by the atrocities that its forces have commited in Ukraine.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Lavrov’s dystopian view. After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin justified his invasion, in part, by saying his forces were in Ukraine to demilitarize and “denazify” the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and some of his family was killed in World War II and the Holocaust. So suggesting his leadership is tied to the Nazis is ridiculous and offensive.

In an interview with Russian state television aired Monday, Lavrov repeated the tortured rationale for Russia’s invasion, which he, like Putin, called a “special operation.”

“The United States has practically ceased all contacts simply because we were obliged to defend Russians in Ukraine,” Lavrov said.

He added that the weapons that western countries have sent to Ukraine would be legitimate targets for the Russians and that such weaponry was a provocative measure that would prolong the conflict rather than bring it to an end.

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

We should be used to Russian doublespeak, but it bears repeating: There would not be a rush of weapons and other support from NATO countries to Ukraine if Russia had not invaded Ukraine.

We do agree with Lavrov on this: “Under no circumstances should a third world war be allowed to happen.”

The best way for Russia to avoid an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine is for Putin to withdraw his forces. Now.

They have already committed horrific atrocities. They have murdered thousands of innocent Ukranians, sometime using especially b arbaric weapons, and driving millions from their homes. Because of this, Russia has turned much of the world against it.

As U.S. and international diplomats and military leaders have pointed out, Russia did not anticipate such strong resistance from Ukrainians and so much support from other countries, including the U.S. and other members of NATO. So, blaming the war on these countries — rather than Russia’s unilateral aggression — is a sign of desperation by Russian leadership.

Putin “never imagined that the world would rally behind Ukraine so swiftly and surely,” U.S. Secretary of State Lloyd Austin said at a U.S. airbase in Germany on Tuesday after returning from Ukraine.

Austin and military leaders from 40 other countries met at the base to discuss more defense assistance for Ukraine. The conference drew representatives from countries such as Japan, Israel and Kenya, which have largely stayed out of the conflict. This shows the growing support, if only symbolic, for Ukraine.

Despite this support, Gen. Mark Milley, the chair of the Joint  Chiefs of Staff, warned that the next few weeks would be critical for Ukraine as Russia steps up its attacks in the southern and southeastern parts of the country in an attempt to take control of those regions.

While ending Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the first priority, Austin set out another important priority, speaking in Poland on Monday. “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” he said.

Only then can Russia’s neighbors be free from the deadly interference that Putin and his henchmen are so quick to blame on those who are the targets of Russia’s violence.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...