US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “madman” on Tuesday, suggesting that thousands of people could be killed in the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s a tragedy. Putin is a madman, and sadly, sadly, thousands of people could be killed, hundreds of thousands of people already have fled, creating one of the largest refugee crises Europe has seen probably in 40 years, if not longer,” said Nides, speaking at an event of the Jewish People Policy Institute in Jerusalem alongside former US envoy Dennis Ross.
Nides said he has met face-to-face with the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel multiple times in the past week and has held “hundreds of conversations with Israeli officials” recently about the crisis.
Despite US intelligence that predicted the Russian invasion and has continued to provide useful information about Moscow’s objectives and strategy, the US envoy said nobody really believed an invasion would happen.
“I can’t even begin to describe what is unfolding in front of our eyes. I don’t think any of us envisioned this, to be honest,” Nides said.
“I don’t think our intelligence operations were projecting this to happen,” he continued. “Many of us believed it would never happen, that no one would be that crazy… that it was a big bluff.”
But once the Biden administration understood it wasn’t in fact a bluff, it made “the strategic decision to articulate intelligence early and often,” Nides said, noting it “had never been done before” in such a manner.
“One of the reasons was to create a clear view of what could happen and to rally the international community,” he said, suggesting that the world’s response was more than the Biden administration could hope for.
“I can’t use the word silver lining in anything that causes thousands of thousands of people to potentially be dead and millions of people to flee,” he said, noting that “Europe and the world coming together to show in unity” in clear opposition to Putin and Russia exceeded all expectations.
“If you would have told me or any of us in this room that every one of our European colleagues will be placing sanctions on Russia in the way they have done at their own peril, at their own cost, I don’t think any of us would have imagined this,” he said.
“It crosses all sectors, all economies,” he added.
“What we’re seeing for the first time in a very long time, is the world speaking with one voice,” he said, adding that this should be a message not only to the Russian president, but to “other people out there in the world who are thinking of doing bad things,” specifically noting Iran and China.
“They are seeing that the world can rally together to stop atrocities,” he said. “It’s not going to stop Putin from killing a lot of people, but the implications on Russia and on the Russian people are going to be significant, and our enemies will watch very carefully as we proceed.”
Concluding his speech, Nides said, “We should all take a moment tonight and pray a little bit for these poor men and women and kids who are going to die for no reason whatsoever.”