‘I don’t think he’s bluffing’

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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.

Valentyn Ogirenko | Reuters

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.

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.”

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.”

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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