Retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a cornered animal” and urged the Biden administration to work to bring Russia and Ukraine to 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 more and more dangerous,” Mullen told ABC’s “This Week” of Putin.
Hours after Mullen spoke, Moscow struck central Kiev and other Ukrainian cities, killing at least eight people and wounding many more, in what appeared to be retaliation for the bridge attack, according to the AP.
Putin warned in an address confirming the attacks on Ukraine: “If the attempts to carry out terrorist attacks on our territory continue, the measures taken by Russia will be tough and will correspond in their scope to the level of threats against the Russian Federation. No one shall doubt it.” 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 in using tactical nuclear weapons.
“The winds are all blowing back toward Russia, so he’s kind of going to have to pollute his own country,” Mullen explained. “He could choose a symbolic target. He could, for example, choose Zelenskyy’s hometown as a target, as opposed to having a big impact on the battlefield that would hurt the Ukrainian army, which has fought so well.”
“President Biden’s language — we’re about at the top of the language scale, if you will,” Mullen said. “And I think we need to back up a little bit and do everything we possibly can to try to come to the table to resolve this thing.”
Mike Pompeo, former President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, called Biden’s remarks “reckless” and “a terrible risk to the American people,” in a interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
John Kirby, the White House’s National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, defended Biden, explaining that the president’s comments were not based on new intelligence about Putin’s thinking.
“What the president reflected was that the stakes are high right now given what’s going on on the battlefield in Ukraine and given the very irresponsible and reckless comments made by Vladimir Putin in the last few days,” Kirby told ABC’s “This Week “. .”
Asked how Putin could save face and end the war, Mullen said it would likely have to involve the four Ukraine regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — that Russia attached after staged referendums that have been widely condemned by Ukrainian officials and the West.
“I suppose it’s in the East, if you will, with the four provinces or a combination of them in terms of how it all ends up,” Mullen said.
He also called on Foreign Minister Antony Blinken to find a way for Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to come to the negotiating table.
“As is typical in any war, it has to end, and usually there is negotiation involved,” Mullen said. “The sooner the better for me.”