Retired Admiral Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a cornered animal” and urged the Biden administration to work to bring Russia and the Ukraine at the negotiating table.
The Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia to Crimea, was heavily damaged over the weekend in what Putin called a “terrorist attack” carried out by Ukrainian special services, according to the Associated Press.
“I think he’s getting more and more dangerous,” Mullen told Putin’s “This Week” show on ABC.
Hours after Mullen’s speech, Moscow struck central Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, killing at least eight people and injuring many more, in what appears to be retaliation for the bridge attack, according to PA.
Putin, in a speech confirming the strikes against Ukraine, warned: “If the attempts of terrorist attacks on our territory continue, the measures taken by Russia will be harsh and their scale will correspond to the level of threats to the Russian Federation. . No one should doubt that,” according to the New York Times.
Mullen said Putin’s nuclear threats should be taken seriously. He also assessed the challenge for the Russian president to use tactical nuclear weapons.
“The winds are all blowing over Russia, so he should, in some way, contaminate his own country,” Mullen explained. “He could choose a symbolic target. He could choose the hometown of Zelenskyy, for example, as his target, instead of making a big impact on the battlefield that would seriously harm the Ukrainian army, which fought so well.
Mullen also criticized President Joe Biden for saying last week that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” had not been higher since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
“President Biden’s language — we’re pretty much at the top of the language scale, if you will,” Mullen said. “And I think we need to step back a bit and do whatever we can to try to get to the table to address this issue.”
Mike Pompeo, former President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, called Biden’s remarks “reckless” and a “terrible risk to the American people,” in an interview with “Fox News Sunday.”
John Kirby, the White House National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, defended Biden, explaining that the president’s comments were not based on new information about Putin’s thinking.
“What the president thought was that the stakes are high right now, given what is happening on the battlefield in Ukraine and given the very irresponsible and reckless comments made by Vladimir Putin in recent days.” , Kirby told ABC’s “This Week.” .”
Asked how Putin could save face and end the war, Mullen said it would likely involve involving the four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia – which Russia annexed after organized referendums that been widely condemned by Ukrainian officials and the West.
“I suspect it’s in the east, if you will, with these four provinces or a combination of them in terms of how this all ends,” Mullen said.
He also urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to find a way for Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to get to the negotiating table.
“As is typical in any war, it has to end and there are usually negotiations associated with that,” Mullen said. “The sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.”