US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sharply repudiated Russian President Vladimir Putin's on Wednesday for his repeated nuclear saber-rattling, calling it the "height of irresponsibility."
Addressing reporters at the State Department, Blinken denounced Putin's "provocative rhetoric about nuclear weapons," saying it is "dangerous, it adds to the risk of miscalculation, it needs to be avoided."
Putin over the weekend said he placed Russia's nuclear forces on heightened alert. That came days after the Russian president warned the West to stay out of the conflict in Ukraine, telling them "the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history."
Even as tensions continue to spiral, Blinken said Washington would continue to pursue a diplomatic path forward in Ukraine to reach a cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian forces, but stressed progress would be hard to attain without Russia pursuing military de-escalation.
"We're keeping the door open to a diplomatic path forward. That's going to be very hard to happen without military de-escalation," said Blinken. "If Russia pulls back and pursues diplomacy, we stand ready to do the same thing."
Russia's war on Ukraine, which began on Feb. 24, has been met international outrage with the EU, US, and the UK, among others, implementing tough financial sanctions on Moscow.
Several western nations have also closed airspace to Russian aircraft and imposed restrictions on exports of key technologies to Russia.
US President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the US Justice Department would form a task force to go after the assets of Russian oligarchs, and Blinken said it would "identify, track down and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russian companies and oligarchs," including yachts, jets and "opulent estates."
The US has already supplied Ukraine's armed forces with $1 billion in military assistance during the past year and Blinken said the Biden administration would continue to ensure anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry reaches Ukrainian troops.
Russia intensified its aerial and artillery bombardment of Ukraine this week, particularly on the capital, Kyiv, and its second-largest city, Kharkiv, where a massive explosion rocked Freedom Square on Tuesday.
At least 142 civilians, including 13 children, have been killed and 408 others, including 26 children, injured in Ukraine, according to UN figures.
More than 874,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said Wednesday.