The risks are higher now than they were a month ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin could order the use of a tactical nuclear weapon against Ukraine, Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Sunday, but he said his "bigger fear" is that Putin could order an attack on a NATO ally.
"If he decides that the NATO arming and the European arming is causing him not to just lose his war and undermine his grip on power, but perhaps threatening his own forces inside of Russia, 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 Florida Republican said on CNN's "State of the Union."
He added that Ukraine is on a path to regaining territory seized by Russia after the February invasion, and while he can't say how much Ukraine will advance, the bigger issue is that "there is no way for Russia and Putin to win this war or any of their objectives."
That means Putin has two choices: to design defensive lines or to retreat and continue to lose territory.
"The worry becomes the unpredictability of what Putin does in a situation like that," said Rubio. "There is a lot of talk about nuclear, but the thing I worry about is a Russian attack inside NATO, including aiming at the airport in Poland or some other distribution point."
NATO would then have to respond, but whether it would respond with a counterattack would depend on the nature of Russia's attack and the size and scale of it, said Rubio.
Rubio is the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and said he wouldn't comment on what the intelligence community is seeing, and he's also not saying the risk of Putin detonating a nuclear device as a demonstration of power is zero.
"What's the purpose of a tactical nuclear weapon detonated for demonstration purposes? It's to send a message," he said. "I think if he believes this arming of Ukraine is what's causing him to lose this war and potentially his position of power, he may strike one of these logistical points, and that logistical point may not be inside of Ukraine. To me, that is the area I focus on the most because it has a tactical aspect to it. I think he probably views it as less escalatory. NATO may not."
Rubio also commented on the leaks that are springing up in the Nord Stream pipelines from Russia to Europe, and said "logic and common sense will tell you these things don't blow up on their own."
"The only people in the region who had the motive and the capability to do it are Russian forces," said Rubio. "To me, it's not an intelligence matter at this point, it's a common sense matter."
The senator on Sunday also spoke out about the prisoner exchange between the United States and Venezuela, with the Venezuelans Saturday freeing seven Americans in exchange for two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro's wife."
The released Venezuelans had been convicted of drug trafficking in the United States, Rubio pointed out, while the Americans had been held as hostages.
"That now has put a price tag on Americans," said Rubio. "I wanted those people released as much as anybody."
But now, other countries know they can use Americans as a bargaining chip, and that sends "a message to tyrants and dictators all over the world to trump up charges," said Rubio. "I think seven innocent American hostages for two convicted drug dealers, unfortunately, puts Americans all over the world in danger."
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