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U.S. ambassador to U.N. says Putin’s order to put nuclear forces on alert “totally unacceptable”

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Washington — Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to order the country’s nuclear deterrent forces on high alert represented an escalation of its aggression against Ukraine that is “totally unacceptable.”

“President Putin is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable, and we have to continue to condemn his actions in the strongest possible way,” Thomas-Greenfield said in an interview with “Face the Nation” Sunday when asked about Putin’s directive. “Our voices have been unified with the Europeans and with the world that he needs to cease his aggressive actions toward Ukraine. And we will continue here at the United Nations and around the world to use every possible lever we have at our disposal to expose his actions.”

In televised comments during a meeting with top officials, Putin directed his military leaders to put the Russian nuclear deterrent forces in a “special regime of combat duty,” citing what he claimed are “aggressive statements” from NATO members and sweeping financial sanctions from the U.S. and Western leaders imposed on him and Russian financial institutions.

The move is the latest dramatic escalation in tensions between Russia and Western allies, which have taken coordinated actions against Putin and Russia in an effort to hit Moscow with significant costs for its invasion of Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield said she is “not surprised” Putin has moved to prepare Russia’s nuclear forces, as the Russian leader has “tried every means possible to actually put fear in the world in terms of his action.”

“It just means that we have to ramp up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable,” she said.

The order from Putin comes after United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News that she fears the Russian president could use “the most unsavory means” in the war with Ukraine.

Asked whether Putin could use chemical or biological weapons, Thomas-Greenfield said “nothing is off the table with this guy,” since “he’s willing to use whatever tools he can to intimidate Ukrainians and the world.” But she stressed such a threat underscores the need for the U.S. and allies to continue working to hold him accountable.

“What is happening now is that the Russian government has shown its disrespect for the U.N. charter and for all of the principles that we believe in,” she said. “And they are isolated in that approach. They’re isolated here in the United Nations, and we are holding them accountable here in New York.”

As part of its efforts to impose severe costs on Russia for invading Ukraine, the U.S. has hit Russian banks, oligarchs and Putin himself with sanctions that have ratcheted up over past few days.

Most recently, the U.S. and European partners sanctioned both Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov directly on Friday. Then, on Saturday, the U.S., European Union and U.K. moved to cut certain Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial messaging system and place restrictions on Russia’s central bank.

The U.S. has also provided more than $1 billion in security and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, with President Biden authorizing $350 million of military equipment on Friday.

“We’re continuing to support Ukraine, not just with the sanctions that we have imposed on the Russians,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “There is other support that is going to the Ukrainian government and other pressure that is being put on Russia across the world.”

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