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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan took to the airwaves on Sunday to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin against following through on his recent nuclear weapons threats.
Sullivan said the United States would “respond decisively” to such an action seven times across three appearances on the Sunday talk show circuit, but he declined to provide specifics of what the response would entail.
“Let me say it plainly: If Russia crosses this line, there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia,” Sullivan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“The United States will respond decisively,” he continued. “Now, in private channels we have spelled out in greater detail exactly what that would mean, but we want to be able to have the credibility of speaking directly to senior leadership in Russia and laying out for them what the consequences would be without getting into a rhetorical tit for tat publicly.”
In a major counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces in recent weeks regained thousands of square miles of territory occupied by Russia since it invaded in February. Putin on Wednesday responded by calling up 300,000 reservists and warning the West about Russia’s nuclear weapons.
“This is not a bluff,” Putin said. “And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Zelensky warned that Putin’s threat “could be a reality.”
Later in the show, Sullivan stressed that the nuclear threat extends to Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, as fighting continues nearby.
Sullivan said the United States is working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which sent representatives to the plant, and Ukrainian energy regulators to avoid a meltdown catastrophe.
“It is actually still being operated by the Ukrainian operators who are essentially at gunpoint from the Russian occupying forces, and the Russians have been consistently implying that there may be some kind of accident at this plant,” Sullivan said.
As the Ukrainians find success in their counteroffensive, Putin is increasingly facing criticism from within his own country. The Kremlin’s announcement that it will partially mobilize Russia’s military led to more demonstrations and hundreds of arrests.
Thousands of others attempted to flee the country, leading many international flights to sell out and to backups on Russia’s land borders. Russia is also orchestrating referendums in territories it occupies in Ukraine as a pretext for their annexation.
“What you see inside Russia right now, this call-up of troops, the sham referenda that they’re trying to run in the occupied territories, these are definitely not signs of strength or confidence,” Sullivan said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“Quite the opposite,” Sullivan added. “They’re signs that Russia and Putin are struggling badly.”
On CBS, moderator Margaret Brennan asked Sullivan if the recent struggles amounted to the beginning of the collapse of the Russian army.
“I think it’s too soon to make comprehensive predictions like that,” Sullivan responded. “I think what we are seeing are signs of unbelievable struggle among the Russians. You’ve got low morale, where the soldiers don’t want to fight. And who can blame them, because they want no part of Putin’s war of conquest.”
Despite touting Russian failures, Sullivan on NBC contended that Russia remains a capable adversary.
“That doesn’t mean that the danger is over,” he told host Chuck Todd. “It is very much real and still with us because Vladimir Putin remains intent, as you just heard from President Biden, on wiping out the Ukrainian people, that he does not believe that Ukraine should have a right to exist.”
“So he’s going to keep coming, and we have to keep coming with weapons, ammunition, intelligence and all the support we can provide to the Ukrainians as they defend their land, their freedom and their democracy,” Sullivan continued.