One of Vladimir Putin's top cronies has issued a chilling threat to Ukraine warning the defenders they face "doomsday" if they attempt to retake Crimea.
The disputed area of Ukraine has been in Russian hands since it was annexed in 2014 and has been an important military target throughout the conflict.
And Dmitry Medvedev, who served as President for four years from 2008, was in a fighting mood during a meeting with a group of Second World War veterans.
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He said Ukraine was “trying to snap back, and some exalted bloody clowns who pop up there periodically with some statements, are trying to threaten us — I mean an attack on Crimea, and so on”.
He added: "The consequences are obvious that if something like this happens, there would be a ‘doomsday’ for all of them there, very fast and hard."
The threat came as Russian missiles pounded industrial facilities in Mykolaiv, a city near the Black Sea, in what Ukrainian officials said was a “massive shelling” episode.
Ukrainians fear that the Kremlin appear to be preparing for the next phase of the war, after Russia's Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, visited the front lines and issued an order “to further intensify the actions of units in all operational areas”.
Interfax news agency quoted Medvedev as telling the World War Two veterans: "If any other state, be it Ukraine or NATO countries, believes that Crimea is not Russian, then this is a systemic threat for us."
However, the Mirror reports a top advisor to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mikhail Podolyak, said Medvedev was just "a little man."
He continued: "'A little more, and I'll show you all!' Show what? Kill another child?"
Ukrainian defence minister told The Times last week that the country was preparing a million-strong army to retake occupied southern areas, which some say may have provoked Medvedev's comments.
Kremlin member Medvedev described the war as "a very difficult page of modern history", but he is convinced that the country will emerge "with dignity and will become stronger."
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