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Zelenskyy on Putin's threat of nuclear weapons: 'I don't think he's bluffing'

CNBC 9/25/2022 Ashley Capoot
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia's threat of nuclear weapons use "could be a reality," in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
  • "He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don't think he's bluffing," Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint news briefing with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Latvian President Egils Levits, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine September 9, 2022. © Provided by CNBC Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a joint news briefing with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Latvian President Egils Levits, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine September 9, 2022.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia's threat of nuclear weapons use "could be a reality," in an interview with CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

It has been seven months since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, and in a rare, televised address on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin indirectly threatened that he is prepared to use nuclear weapons to escalate the war.

Zelenskyy said Russia is targeting nuclear power plants in Ukraine, so there could be some truth to Putin's claims.

"He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don't think he's bluffing," Zelenskyy said.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made clear that the United States is taking Putin's nuclear threat seriously.

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West says more sanctions if Putin carries out threats

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"We have communicated directly, privately, at very high levels to the Kremlin, that any use of nuclear weapons will be met with catastrophic consequences for Russia," Sullivan said on "Face the Nation" Sunday morning.

Referendum voting in Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine is underway, according to Russian state media. Western and Ukrainian officials are rebuking them as a sham used by the Kremlin to try to legitimize Russia's annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Zelenskyy said a lot of people will be forced to participate in these referenda, but that there is no support for it in society. He said a threat could emerge if the Russians complete the referendum and announce the results.

"This would make it impossible, in any case, to continue any diplomatic negotiations with the President of Russian Federation, and he knows it very well," Zelenskyy said. "I think it's a very dangerous signal from President Putin that tells us that Putin is not going to finish this war."

Jake Sullivan reaffirmed United States support for Ukrainian forces across the Sunday shows, touting the $15 billion in weapons already provided to the defense effort, which, he says, will not slow in the face of the Russian referendum.

"We have a clear mission, and it's a mission that we have been laser-focused on for several months," Sullivan said on ABC's "This Week" Sunday morning. "And that's to make sure that the weapons and the intelligence and the information that Ukraine needs to be able to successfully defend its own country, that they get that."

Putin announced a partial military mobilization in Russia during his address Wednesday, stating that the West "wants to destroy our country" and had tried to "turn Ukraine's people into cannon fodder."

Zelenskyy said Russia is using the war as an excuse to claim that it is being attacked by the West.

"He knows that he's losing the war. In the battlefield, Ukraine has seized the initiative. He cannot explain to his society why, and he is looking for answers to these questions," Zelenskyy said. "Now, it's the West who attacks Russia. Now, the West attacks our territories."

Jake Sullivan told "Face the Nation" that it is "too soon" to conclude that the Russian effort is collapsing.

As winter approaches, Zelenskyy said he knows the months ahead will be difficult and complicated. He said Ukrainian forces are working to protect infrastructure like electricity and water control systems.

"This is a challenge, but we are not afraid of that," he said.

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