President Biden said this on Thursdayis at its highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials mention the possibility after suffering massive setbacks in Ukraine.
“We haven’t faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Mr. Biden said at a fundraiser for the Democratic senatorial campaign.
“We have a guy I know pretty well,” he later said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He’s not kidding when he talks about the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you could say, well below average.”
US officials have been warning for months about the prospect of Russia using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, as it didon the battlefield, even as Mr. Biden’s remarks marked the strongest warnings yet issued by the US government . As recently as this week, however, U.S. officials said they had seen no change in Russian nuclear forces that would require a change in U.S. nuclear readiness.
“We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have any indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons immediately,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
The 13-day showdown in 1962, which followed the American discovery of the Soviet Union’s secret deployment of nuclear weapons in Cuba, is considered by experts to be the closest the world has ever come to nuclear annihilation. The crisis under President John F. Kennedy prompted a renewed focus on arms control on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Mr Biden also questioned Russia’s nuclear doctrine, warning that the use of a lower-yield tactical weapon could quickly spiral out of control and cause global devastation.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon,” Mr. Biden said.
Speaking to Democratic donors, Mr. Biden said he was still “trying to figure out” Putin’s “slip” in Ukraine.
“Where will he find his way out?” the president asked. “Where does he find himself, where he loses not only face, but significant power?”
Putin has repeatedly hinted at using his country’s vast nuclear arsenal, including last monthto conscript Russian men into service in Ukraine.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will definitely use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said. On Sept. 21, and with a lingering look into the camera, he added, “It’s not a bluff.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the US had made it “clear” to Russia about what the “consequences” would be of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“It’s something we’re attuned to, we’re taking it very seriously, and we’re communicating directly with Russia about it, including the kind of decisive responses that the United States would have if they were to go down this dark path,” Sullivan said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday that Putin understands that “the world will never forgive” a Russian nuclear attack.
“He understands that after using nuclear weapons, he would no longer be able to preserve, so to speak, his life, and I am sure of that,” Zelenskyy said.