'I don't think he's bluffing': Volodymyr Zelenskyy believes Vladimir Putin's nuclear threat is real
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin's latest warning that he could resort to using nuclear weapons is a threat that the world should take seriously.
Saturday marked the seven-month anniversary of Putin's "special military operation."
Putin said in a rare televised address on Wednesday that "in the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff. The citizens of Russia can rest assured that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be defended — I repeat — by all the systems available to us."
On Friday, Russia began holding what it called "referenda" to join Russia in territories in Eastern Ukraine that it once controlled before the Ukrainian counteroffensives managed to reclaim portions of them in recent weeks. Putin also announced that he is implementing a draft of hundreds of thousands of reservists, which has triggered mass protests throughout Russia.
Zelenskyy, along with the Western alliance providing materiel support, believes that the referenda are "shams" that Putin intends to exploit as a justification for escalating his failing personal conquest. Once they are declared completed, according to Zelenskyy, the referenda would provide Putin cover for possibly deploying nuclear weapons, since Putin would insist that those areas are now part of Russia. Consequently, Zelenskyy foresees this scenario as a death knell for further diplomacy.
"They're forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories. A lot of people will be forced to do this. However, it's a very low percentage of people: even among those who are forced to show up to vote to this sham referendum, we see that there is no support in the society for this referendum. However, I see other threats when they complete, if they succeed with these referenda. The ballots have been- had been already prepared. The Russia of – the Russian government can officially announce that the referendum had been completed, and the results will be announced," Zelenskyy said. "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. I have spoken about it publicly. I think it's a very dangerous signal from President Putin that tells us that Putin is not going to finish this war. That is what's going on."
Correspondent Margaret Brennan asked Zelenskyy if Putin is "using this as an excuse to say that it is being attacked, because the West is providing Ukraine with weapons if it is seizing Eastern Ukraine to annex it?"
Zelenskyy explained that it is.
"Yes, that's exactly so. That is correct. Look, he knows. He feels it, and his military leadership reports to him. 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. His society does not understand what kind of second army in the world it is that is not capable to win and to defeat Ukraine," he said.
Brennan noted that "Vladimir Putin continues to dangle the threat of nuclear weapons use. You've called this nuclear blackmail," asking, "do you think he's bluffing right now?"
"Maybe yesterday it was a bluff. Now, it could be a reality," Zelenskyy replied. "He wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don't think he's bluffing. I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat. We need to keep putting pressure on him and not allow him to continue."
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