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Russia's military operation in Ukraine has left the world stunned and prompted outrage across social media, where users are comparing the situation to the outbreak of World War Three, using memes that express fear — but also some levity that one would expect with Twitter.
Videos uploaded to social media showed missiles blazing across the skies of Ukraine and plumes of smoke rising from towns and villages — prompting a wave of anxiety ― as well as the inevitable dark humour many now expect from the site.
Memes were used by many users in what appears to have become a coping mechanism, as many fear that World War Three could be on the horizon.
In a humorous reaction, a US military parody account appealed to armchair warriors everywhere. “Checking people's Call of Duty stats to see who to draft for WW3,” it said, a light-hearted reference to the US military's past use of computer games as potential battlefield simulations.
Kat Tenbarge, a user on Twitter, said that although people are resorting to humour to defuse anxiety, millions of people's lives are at stake due to Moscow's military operation.
“Humour can be a coping mechanism in times of tragedy but don't forget there are people's families dying right now when you make that WWIII meme,” she said.
Defying escalating trade sanctions from the US, Canada, the European Union and other countries, including Japan and Australia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukrainian forces must surrender their weapons or bear the consequences.
How possible is World War Three?
Are Twitter users' fears of World War Three unfounded?
Tension is certainly higher in eastern Europe than at any point during the Cold War, when the US and Nato allies were in a nuclear stand-off with Communist Russia, that at one point saw a combined global arsenal of 60,000 nuclear weapons — enough to destroy the world several times over.
The US has sent several thousand troops to Poland and agreed to sell 250 M1A1 tanks — it’s most potent armoured vehicle ― to the Poles, boosting Washington’s ally on Ukraine’s western border.
Fears of a full-scale war have returned despite a number of nuclear treaties between the US and Russia that have limited nuclear weapon arsenals to about 1,500 apiece — still enough to kill billions of people.
After a flurry of arms transfers to Ukraine by Nato, Mr Putin has upped his warnings to the West, words taken by some to imply the possible use of nuclear weapons.
"To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside: if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me,” he said on Thursday.
Likewise, in 2014 Vladimir Putin said he was ready to put Russia’s nuclear weapons on maximum alert during his country's annexation of Crimea, the peninsula in southern Ukraine, remarks made in a state TV documentary.
But despite these warnings, the risk that the conflict could escalate into a Nato-Russia confrontation is slim — in part because the nuclear weapons in Nato countries and Russia could give everyone reason for pause before any escalation, beyond the fighting within Ukraine.
That, at least, was the logic behind the tense Cold War “peace” — any escalation could lead to nuclear conflict and “mutually assured destruction”.