By Sam Fossum, Arlette Saenz and Devan Cole, CNN
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to put Russia’s deterrence forces, which includes nuclear arms, on high alert are part of a wider pattern of unprovoked escalation and “manufactured threats” from the Kremlin.
“This is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression — and the global community and the American people should look at it through that prism,” Psaki told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.”
Additionally, a senior administration official told CNN on Sunday that Putin’s move was “yet another escalatory and totally unnecessary step,” a senior administration official said Sunday.
“At every step of this conflict Putin has manufactured threats to justify more aggressive actions — he was never under threat from Ukraine or from NATO, which is a defensive alliance that will not fight in Ukraine,” the official said.
“The only reason his forces face a threat today is because they invaded a sovereign country, and one without nuclear weapons. This is yet another escalatory and totally unnecessary step,” they added.
Putin’s move comes in the face of universal condemnation from Western powers over Moscow’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine, now in its fourth day.
“Top officials in leading NATO countries have allowed themselves to make aggressive comments about our country, therefore I hereby order the Minister of Defense and the chief of the General Staff to place the Russian Army Deterrence Force on combat alert,” Putin said in a televised meeting with top Russian defense officials.
Putin also said the Western sanctions placed on Russia were unlawful.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield similarly cast Putin’s actions as unnecessarily escalatory on Sunday, telling CBS News that he “is continuing to escalate this war in a manner that is totally unacceptable.”
“We have to continue to condemn his actions in … the strongest possible way,” she told CBS News. “Putin has tried every means possible to actually put fear in the world in terms of his action, and it just means that we have to ramp up our efforts here at the United Nations and elsewhere to hold him accountable.”
Ukrainian Ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, meanwhile, cast Putin’s move as “one more example of the terrorist behavior of Russia,” telling CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday on “State of the Union” that Russian forces “attacked our country, they are scaring everyone.”
And NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Putin’s allegations against NATO “dangerous rhetoric,” adding that “this is a behavior which is irresponsible.”
“The new statements from President Putin just added to the very aggressive rhetoric we have seen from Russia for many months, and especially the last couple of weeks, where they are not only threatening Ukraine, but also threatening NATO allied countries,” he told Bash earlier on the same program.
This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.
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CNN’s Tim Lister, Ivana Kottasová, Julia Hollingsworth and Laura Smith-Spark contributed to this report.