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Transcript: Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland on "Face the Nation," January 30, 2022

Nuland: Putin "has given himself every option" for Ukraine
Putin "has given himself every option" for Ukraine, top U.S. diplomat says 06:06

The following is a transcript of an interview with Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs, that aired Sunday, January 30, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Victoria Nuland, the State Department undersecretary for political affairs. Good morning to you, ambassador.

AMBASSADOR VICTORIA NULAND: Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs this week that Russia has given itself the capability if it wanted for a full invasion, not just an incursion. What is the US assessment at this point? Has Vladimir Putin made a decision on what to do next?

AMB. NULAND: Margaret, we don't believe he's yet made a decision, but as he has done in the past, he's given himself every option, including, as the chairman said, a massive potential invasion of all of Ukraine, including cyber attacks, including incursion from Belarus, where he is moving up to thirty thousand troops there as well. So we have to be prepared for all options.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there is no sign yet of any kind of de-escalation.

AMB. NULAND: On the contrary, he's moved more forces since we've been encouraging him to de-escalate. That said, Margaret, as you know, we did send our diplomatic proposal to Russia, as did NATO this week. We've heard some signs that the Russians are interested in engaging on that proposal, including the fact that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov will likely speak this week. So again, here's, here's where we are. We want to settle these issues through diplomacy, through arms control. Putin's given himself that option, but he's also given himself the option of a major invasion. So we have to be ready for that, too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How significant is the risk that Russia may deploy tactical nuclear weapons to to the border? Is there any indication of that type of buildup?

AMB. NULAND: We have not seen nuclear weapons move. There have been some loose talk from folks in Russia. But as you know, Russia already has tactical tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad and elsewhere that can range Europe.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, exactly. I think that's an important point to make to show the potential of this kind of conflict. Can you sort of put in perspective what the strategy is here? Because President Biden has said he's not sending combat troops to Ukraine. He's talking about moving potentially a small number of troops into allied countries in the region. Is this about containing the threat from becoming a regional war?

AMB. NULAND: Well, first of all, Margaret, with regard to the diplomatic proposal, you know, Putin put forward and publicly all of the things that he's interested in. Our response and NATO's response agrees to engage him on many of these things that you've talked about. We have said, let's talk about the medium and short range missiles, the threat you feel from us, the threat we feel from you. Let's talk about how we can de-escalate, with regard to exercises, with regard to military deployments, let's have that conversation on a reciprocal basis. But we also have to prepare, as I said. So what we've been doing is first, given Ukraine the kinds of defensive lethal equipment that they need in order to be able to make this if Russia makes that big mistake and moves in a very bloody fight and slow Moscow's role. So defensive lethal equipment like anti-tank, like anti-air, all of these kinds of things. We have also worked with our European allies on a massive package of economic sanctions so that if he does move on Ukraine, he will feel it acutely, as will the Russian people in terms of their economy. It will have a crushing blow on them, and we are also preparing within NATO's territory because obviously we have a sacred and sovereign responsibility to protect our NATO allies and with the kind of forces that he's moving. They are coming also closer to the borders of our Baltic allies Poland, Romania, Hungary, so we have to be ready.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Ukraine's President Zelensky said Friday that his country is aware of these risks, but they don't want panic. Do you feel that is what the White House is doing here? Have you resolved this kind of friction with the Ukrainians? You don't want to have divide with an ally here.

AMB. NULAND: Panic is not a policy, as one of my bosses once said, what we need to do is prudent planning, and that's what we are doing. That's what our NATO allies are doing. That's what we are encouraging Ukraine to do as well. So, you know, given that Putin has made these moves before, even as we encourage diplomacy, we have to be ready for the worst.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it appears that the Senate is also nearing a bipartisan agreement on a package of sanctions, some of which would hit Russia. Now some post administrate... post-invasion. The administration has wanted to wait and hold on to sanctions as leverage. Will the president veto this bill? I mean, what would the impact be?

AMB. NULAND: We are working intensively with the Congress on this piece of legislation that we expect will be very well aligned with what we are also building with our NATO allies and partners. I would say that one of the strengths of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Ukraine going back some 30 years, but particularly in this instance, has been that we've had a really strong bipartisan approach to supporting Ukraine. We've had members of Congress out there regularly over the last couple of weeks. But with regard to this package of sanctions, you know, deterrence is best when there's a little bit of strategic ambiguity around exactly what we are going to do. So we've said financial measures, we've said export controls, we've said new sanctions on Russian elites. But if we put them on the table now, then Russia will be able to start mitigating and that doesn't make any sense to us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador Nuland, thank you for your time today. We'll be right back.

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