Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Sunday said it was possible that Russian President Vladimir Putin could use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, although he hasn’t seen indications that such a decision has been made.
“The guy who makes that decision is one man. There are no checks on Mr. Putin,” Austin told CNN. “Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, you know, he could make another decision. But I don’t see anything right now that would lead me to believe he has made such a decision.”
Austin, a former Raytheon board member, was responding to questions about Putin’s recent warning that Russia could use nuclear weapons to defend its “territorial integrity.” Russia’s territory will now extend into the Donbas, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine after Putin signed off on the annexation of the territories, which is expected to be ratified by Russia’s houses of parliament this week.
Austin made clear that the US won’t recognize the territories as Russian and said there will be no change to Washington’s support for Kyiv despite the warnings from Putin and the major risk of escalation.
“We can expect the Ukrainians will continue to move forward in an attempt to take back all of the territories within their sovereign borders. I don’t think that’s going to stop and we are going to continue to support them in their efforts,” Austin said.
Ukraine responded to Putin signing off on the annexation by vowing to “liberate” all of the territories.
“We will continue to support Ukrainians, as you heard our president say, for as long as it takes,” Austin added. On Friday, President Biden signed a stopgap funding bill that includes up to $16 billion in new aid to support Ukraine in its war, bringing total US spending on the war to over $67 billion.