Ukraine’s government has a contingency plan in place if President Volodymyr Zelensky is killed during the Russian invasion, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed on Sunday.
Zelensky survived three assassination attempts by Russian-backed groups just this week, the Times reported on Friday.
Hours after Blinken’s grim confirmation, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio was forced to defend himself from criticism after on Saturday sharing an image of Zelensky during a Zoom call despite being asked not to for security reasons.
During an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday, Blinken was asked if Russian leader Vladimir Putin would face ‘consequences’ for Zelensky’s murder.
‘And are you working on a contingency plan to support a Ukrainian government without him at the helm?’ host Margaret Brennan added.
Blinken first praised Zelensky and other Kyiv officials as ‘the embodiment of this incredibly brave Ukrainian people.’
‘The Ukrainians have plans in place — that I’m not going to talk about or get into any details on — to make sure that there is what we would call “continuity of government” one way or another. And let me leave it at that,’ he answered.
Speaking from Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, Blinken refused to give details or elaborate on the Ukrainian government’s contingency plan should its President Zelensky be killed
A building burns after Russian troops shelled the area in the second largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, in the east on March 6, the eleventh day of Vladimir Putin’s invasion
GRAPHIC CONTENT: A body of a victim lies close to a destoryed car after Russian troops shelling in Kharkiv on Sunday
Intelligence reports circulated at the beginning of Putin’s invasion that his goal was to ‘behead’ the current democratically-elected Ukrainian government. The Russian autocrat has disparaged Zelensky and his deputies as ‘Nazis’ and ‘drug addicts.’
As the attack continued into its tenth day on Saturday, Rubio and his fellow GOP Senator Steve Daines of Montana were criticized for posting photos from a live video call with Zelensky and members of Congress.
Ukraine’s ambassador had ‘explicitly’ asked lawmakers and their staff on the call to refrain from sharing it on social media, Democrat Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota said on Twitter after it concluded.
On Sunday, CNN State of the Union host Jake Tapper asked Rubio whether he thought it was a ‘mistake’ to share the image.
Rubio brushed off the criticism, insisting there were no such rules in place when he tweeted and claiming there was ‘no risk posed’ to Zelensky.
‘Well first of all, she asked that like 30 minutes into the call after I had already done it,’ the Florida Republican said.
‘The second is, I think she’s under the impression that no one knew that call was happening. That call had been widely reported, the — actually even the specific time had been reported,’ Rubio said.
‘There are over 300 people on it, all the call details had been emailed, so there’s nothing secure about that call.’
Meanwhile Florida Senator Marco Rubio said there was ‘nothing secure’ about a video call with Zelensky which he got criticized for sharing a photo from on Twitter
Democratic Representatives Dean Phillips of Minnesota called Rubio and Daines’ tweets ‘appalling and reckless’
He added that the photo itself was ‘nondescript’ in its surroundings.
Ukraine war: latest
- Crowds of men have been lining up in Kyiv to join the Ukrainian army. An order from Ukraine´s government prohibited men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country to keep them available for military conscription;
- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that China opposes any moves that ‘add fuel to the flames’ in Ukraine. Blinken says the world is watching to see which nations stand up for the principles of freedom and sovereignty;
- U.S. President Joe Biden has called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss ongoing efforts to impose economic costs on Russia and to speed U.S. military, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine;
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk for giving Ukraine access to his company´s satellite-internet system, called Starlink;
- Russia has dropped powerful bombs on residential areas of the city of Chernihiv, a regional official said Saturday
- Mastercard and Visa are suspending their operations in Russia, the companies said Saturday;
- Russian forces have intensified shelling in the port city of Mariupol, including with the use of airplanes, the mayor said Saturday night;
- Vladimir Putin says Western sanctions on Russia are almost a declaration of war and that anyone imposing a no-fly zone on Ukraine would be considered to have entered the conflict;
- Russia announces a ceasefire to allow civilian evacuation of Mariupol and Volnovakha;
- Officials in Mariupol accuse the Russians of violating the ceasefire by continuing to shell the city;
- Russian forces inch closer to the capital Kyiv from the north but encounter stiff resistance along the way;
- On Thursday, 47 people were killed in a Russian airstrike on a residential neighbourhood in Chernihiv;
- A fire at Europe’s biggest nuclear power station at Zaporizhzhia is put out on Friday, with Ukraine accusing Russia of ‘nuclear terror’ in shelling the plant
- Putin in a phone call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says Moscow is ready for dialogue over Ukraine if all its demands are met;
- Putin signs a law imposing harsh jail sentences for the publication of ‘fake news’ about the invasion;
‘It looks like all the other ones you see out there publicly, so, I don’t — there’s no risk posed but you’re always going to have a couple of people that want their name in an article somewhere, mentioned in the press,’ Rubio said, seeming to allude to his Democrat colleague’s outrage.
Asked about it again on ABC’s This Week, Rubio firmly answered ‘no’ he did not believe he put Zelensky’s security at risk.
During his Saturday call with US lawmakers, Ukraine’s president urged Americans to send more weapons and to enact a no-fly zone over his nation’s borders.
Rubio told ABC host George Stephanopoulos that requests for a no-fly zone have become a ‘catchphrase.’
‘I’m not sure a lot of people fully understand what that means,’ he said, adding: ‘It’s not some rule you pass that everybody has to oblige by. It’s the willingness to shoot down the aircrafts of the Russian Federation, which is basically the beginning of World War III.’
He explained that establishing a no-fly zone above Ukraine would mean the U.S. would be agreeing to ‘shoot down and engage Russian airplanes in the sky’ in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.
‘So basically a no fly zone, if people understand what it means, it means World War II. It means starting World War III,’ Rubio said.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday: ‘If I were President Zelensky, I would be asking for a no-fly zone.’
‘The problem is, there is no such thing as a no-fly zone over Ukraine,’ he added.
West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, however, did not shut the door on such a measure.
Manchin told NBC News’ Meet the Press that speaking to Zelensky on Saturday was ‘so surreal.’
‘But to take anything off the table, thinking we might not be able to use things because we’ve already taken them off the table is wrong,’ the moderate Democrat said.
‘I would take nothing off the table, but I would be very clear to say we would support the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian president and this government in every way humanly possible.’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did however give the ‘green light’ for NATO countries to send fighter jets to Ukraine to help the nation secure its skies, which are still contested a week and a half into the invasion thanks to Kyiv’s impressive resistance to Russian forces.
Meanwhile Russian artillery and airstrikes continue to bombard Ukraine’s cities.
A humanitarian corridor to let civilians flee the city of Mariupol was closed for a second time after Russian forces broke a ceasefire. Reports have also emerged of Moscow shelling Ukrainian health care facilities and civilian evacuation checkpoints.
Zelensky warned on Sunday that the Russians would try to bomb the key port city of Odessa.
Speaking to CBS’ Face the Nation from Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova, Blinken suggested the US was even ready to ‘backfill’ part of a deal for military equipment.
‘In fact, we’re talking with our Polish friends right now about what we might be able to backfill their needs if in fact they choose to provide these fighter jets to the Ukrainians,’ Blinken said.
‘What can we do? How can we help to make sure that they get something to backfill the planes that they’re handing over to the Ukrainians?’