President Biden said Thursday theis at its highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Russian officials allude to the possibility after 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 Senators’ Campaign Committee.
“We have a guy I know pretty well,” he later said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “He doesn’t joke when he talks about the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you could say, well below par.”
US officials have been warning for months about the possibility that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, as it is already doingon the battlefield, although Mr Biden’s remarks were the strongest warning the US government has issued to date . However, as recently as this week, US officials said they had seen no changes in Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in US nuclear force alert levels.
“We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear position, nor do we have any indication that Russia is preparing to immediately use nuclear weapons,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday.
The 13-day showdown in 1962 that followed the US 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 during the administration of 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 deploying a lower-yield tactical weapon could quickly spiral out of control and lead to global destruction.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as a way to just use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon,” Biden said.
Speaking to Democratic donors, Mr Biden said he is still trying to “figure out” Putin’s “departure” in Ukraine.
“Where does he find a way out?” asked the President. “Where does he find himself losing not only his face but his power?”
Putin has repeatedly alluded to using his country’s vast nuclear arsenal, including over the past monthto call up Russian men for service in Ukraine.
“I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said 21. September added with a lingering look at the camera, “It’s not a bluff.”
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said last week the US had been “clear” to Russia about the “consequences” of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“That’s something we’re tuned into, something we take very seriously and communicating directly with Russia, including the kind of crucial responses that the United States would have if it went down that dark path,” Sullivan said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier Thursday that Putin understands that the world “will never forgive” a Russian nuclear strike.
“He understands that after the use of nuclear weapons he will not be able to save his life, so to speak, and I am confident about that,” said Zelenskyy.