IRPIN, Ukraine — America would unleash the full force of its response if Russia carried out its “horrific” threats of a nuclear strike against its enemies, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned Tuesday.
Speaking to NBC News at a center for displaced people in Irpin, a town west of Kyiv, Linda Thomas-Greenfield called Russian President Vladimir Putin's threats to use tactical nuclear weapons “irresponsible.”
“They deny that they would do such a thing but we know that Russia is capable of lies. We take their threats seriously,” she said. “And we have messaged to them both privately and directly that should they take such a step, they will be held accountable.”
Thomas-Greenfield said it was “out of the possibility” to think Russia would use such weapons, but added that “should they make that mistake, they can be assured that the entire world would turn on them.”
“They are still making threats. And as I said, we take those threats seriously,” she said.
When asked about this week’s crucial U.S. midterm elections and their possible impact on Washington's support for Ukraine, she said she was focused on supporting Ukraine in any scenario.
“Our support is strong, and it’s bipartisan. And I know that the president will continue to work with the Congress to ensure that we support Ukraine until this war is over and then we help them to rebuild,” said Thomas-Greenfield, who met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday.
The United States has been one of Ukraine's most steadfast supporters, with President Joe Biden approving $40 billion in economic, humanitarian and military aid in May, and overall aid topping at least $65 billion to date. But in recent weeks, a senior Republican has warned the party was “not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”
Ukraine's needs are vast, with Zelenskyy relentlessly requesting aid from the country's allies.
Biden lost his temper on a phone call last month, according to four people familiar with the call, after Zelenskyy listed additional help he needed after the U.S. president had already offered an extra $1 billion in assistance.
During the one-day trip to Kyiv, Thomas-Greenfield also surveyed damage and met with some victims of Russia’s nine-month-old invasion, including a woman working for the Red Cross who was allegedly captured by Russian forces and tortured.
“She could not describe what she went through. I can’t imagine what the rest of the story is. I heard what she was able to share that they beat her. She had back issues because of the beatings,” Thomas-Greenfield said of the meeting. “I could see that there was damage to her fingernails.”
The woman asked the ambassador if she could help get more civilians out of war-torn areas.
“So, in her pain and her suffering, she was still thinking about how she can help other people,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Zelenskyy said Monday that he was open to “real peace talks” with Russia, despite previously saying he would never negotiate with Putin, while still holding firm to Ukraine’s demands of territorial integrity.
“That’s a decision that the Ukrainians have to make,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “It is not a decision for the United States. What we want to see for Ukraine is that they get justice, that they are in a position of strength when they go into any talks that they might have with the Russians.”
She also met 10-year-old Milena, one of six siblings whose apartment in the town of Irpin, west of Kyiv, was destroyed during the war.
The child asked the ambassador if she could help the Ukrainian people, before saying she just wants to see her friends and go back to school.
"She brought tears to my eyes," Thomas-Greenfield said of meeting Milena.