The US has warned Russia of “catastrophic consequences” if it launches a nuclear attack on Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday.
Sullivan, speaking on ABC’s “This Week” show, said US officials have told Russian officials privately that Biden “will respond decisively” if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders a nuclear strike but did not say how the US would respond.
Sullivan said the US would “not engage in a game of rhetorical tit-for-tat” with Russia.
But Sullivan, in a separate interview, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” show that “Russia understands very well what the United States would do in response to the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine because we have spelled it out for them.”
The US response came after Putin signaled the possibility of a nuclear attack last week as he called up 300,000 military reservists to help fight in its seven-month invasion of Ukraine. The troop augmentation came after Russian battlefield setbacks, with Kyiv’s forces recapturing large swaths of territory in northeast Ukraine that Russia had seized in the early weeks of the war.
Widespread protests against Putin’s troop call-up have erupted in Russia, with police arresting hundreds of demonstrators participating in street protests in Moscow and elsewhere.
ANTONY BLINKEN: Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned Russia and said the US has told Russian officials to “stop the loose talk” on potential use of nuclear weapon, following reports that the Biden administration has privately warned the Kremlin to stamp out the escalatory rhetoric.
Blinken told CBS “60 Minutes” host Scott Pelley in an interview aired on Sunday that the US has been “very clear with the Russians” both publicly and privately “to stop the loose talk about nuclear weapons.”
“It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences would be horrific,” the secretary of state said. “We’ve made that very clear.”
Amid stinging losses in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin last week warned in a televised address that Russia’s nukes were more modern than western nations and said his country was prepared to use them, adding the threat was “not a bluff.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who over the spring called an earlier Putin threat to use nuclear weapons a “bluff,” has now warned that Putin’s threats “could be a reality.”
Blinken on “60 Minutes” expressed concern that if Putin were to decide to launch a nuclear attack, there would be little resistance inside the Kremlin to stop it, a lack of checks on power that he called the “Achilles heel of autocracies anywhere.”
“There is usually not anyone who has the capacity or the will to speak truth to power,” the secretary of state said, adding that “Russia has gotten itself into the mess that it’s in is because there is no one in the system to effectively tell Putin he’s doing the wrong thing.”
Asked if he was worried about pushing Putin into a corner, Blinken said “Putin has a clear way out of the war he started, and that’s to end it.”
“If Russia stops fighting, the war ends,” he said. “If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.”
ODESSA BOMBED: Earlier,Ukraine said that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later said.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country on Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
A foreign ministry official said the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops… are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday.
RESERVISTS: Long lines of vehicles were seen at a border crossing between Mongolia and Russia on Sunday as people fled the Kremlin’s call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists for the war in Ukraine.
The head of a checkpoint in the town of Altanbulag said that more than 3,000 Russians had entered Mongolia via the crossing since Wednesday, most of them men.
“From September 21, the number of Russian citizens entering Mongolia has increased,” checkpoint head Major G. Byambasuren said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced Russia’s first military call-up of fighting-age men since World War II to fill Russia’s army with hundreds of thousands of men after a string of setbacks that appears to have altered the tide in the seven-month Ukraine war.
Meanwhile, authorities on Saturday detained more than 700 people at protests across Russia against the partial military mobilisation, an independent monitoring group said.
A stream of Russians were also seen flocking by air to Istanbul on Saturday where several expressed relief at escaping but also concern for the safety of loved ones left behind.