After Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic eastern city of Lyman in a region Vladimir Putin claimed he annexed, Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday he fears the increasingly desperate Russian president may retaliate by attacking NATO territory.
Rubio, top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he can’t envision a scenario in which Putin wins the war against Ukraine, which he invaded Feb. 24.
The Florida senator said Ukraine is “on a key path to regain a lot of territory.”
“Putin is down to two choices here.,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“They can design defensive lines and say, ‘here’s where we’re going to draw some lines and this is the territory we’re going to try to hold on to’ and concentrate his forces in that regard, and take a couple of years to retrofit their forces or… they can retreat and continue to lose territory,” Rubio said.
And lacking the military offensive capability, Putin’s unpredictability in how he’ll respond raises concerns, Rubio said.
“If he decides, for example, that the NATO arming of, and the European arming and the US arming of Ukraine is causing not just him to lose his war and, therefore, undermine his grip on power, but, in fact, perhaps threatening his own forces… I think it’s quite possible that he could end up striking some of these distribution places where these supplies are coming through, including inside Poland,” the senator said.
President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday announced Ukrainian troops are in control of Lyman, as Ukrainian media showed images of troops displaying the country’s yellow-and-blue flag in the city.
Lyman is in Donetsk, one of four regions Russia illegally annexed last Friday after conducting a series of bogus elections.
But Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the region over the past several weeks has managed to retake territory, embarrassing the Kremlin and sparking protests against Putin, who raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons to support his embattled troops.
NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg on Sunday warned Putin that any use of nuclear weapons will prompt “severe consequences” for Russia.
”The rhetoric by President Putin, the nuclear rhetoric, is dangerous. It’s reckless but it’s actually something we have heard several times before. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is dangerous,” Stoltenberg said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
”That’s also a reason why we have so clearly conveyed to President Putin that any use of nuclear weapons will have severe consequences for Russia. … And we have also made it clear that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. And this is a message that NATO and NATO allies convey clearly to Russia,” he added.
In the interview, Stoltenberg was asked about Putin trying to include NATO in the war.
“First of all, this is a war that President Putin has started. It’s a war by his choice. Second, NATO is not a party to this conflict. What we do is that we provide support to Ukraine, an independent sovereign nation in Europe that has the right to defend itself against the war of aggression,” he said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he believes Ukraine, bolstered by weapons supplied by the US and NATO, is also “making progress” in the Kherson region, noting a “kind of change in battlefield dynamics.”
“They’ve done very, very well in the Kharkiv area and moved to take advantage of opportunities. The fight in the… the Kherson region’s going a bit slower, but they’re making progress,” Austin said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that aired Sunday.
Faced with the resolve of the Ukrainian forces, former CIA director Gen. David Petraeus said Putin faces a “dire” situation.
“Vladimir Putin finds himself in an irreversibly desperate situation” because Ukraine has been more successful at mobilizing its forces and has put his military on their heels, he said.
“At the end of the day, the situation looks very dire indeed for Vladimir Putin,” Petraeus told John Catsimatidis on his WABC 770 AM radio show in an interview that aired Sunday.
With Post wires