NEW YORK (AP) — President Joe Biden says the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at the highest since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials talk about using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a Democratic fundraiser, Biden said Thursday night that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a guy I know quite well” and that the Russian leader “is not joking when he talks about the use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons” .
Biden added, “We haven’t faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” He suggested that Putin’s threat is real “because his military is – you might say – grossly underperforming”.
For months, US officials have warned of the possibility that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine as it faced strategic setbacks on the battlefield, although Biden’s remarks marked the strongest warnings to date from the US government regarding nuclear issues.
Yet nothing has changed in US intelligence assessments, which in recent weeks have shown no evidence that Putin has any imminent plans to deploy nuclear weapons, US officials said on Friday.
An official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Biden was speaking broadly about the administration’s growing concerns about threats from Putin.
Biden has let it be known that the White House views Putin’s rhetoric as “reckless and irresponsible” and takes it seriously, the official said. The official added that Biden’s remarks are consistent with warnings he has made in speeches to the United Nations General Assembly and other senior administration officials have made recently.
The president’s new remarks came after White House officials said this week that they had seen no change in Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in the alert posture of US nuclear forces.
“We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, and we have no indication that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons imminently,” the White House press secretary said Tuesday. , Karine Jean-Pierre.
The 13-day standoff 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 annihilation. nuclear. The crisis under the administration of President John F. Kennedy has sparked renewed interest in arms control on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
On Thursday, Biden also challenged Russia’s nuclear doctrine, warning that the use of a low-yield tactical weapon could quickly spiral out of control and lead to global destruction.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuke and not end up with Armageddon,” Biden said.
He added that he was “still trying to figure out” Putin’s “exit ramp” in Ukraine.
“Where does he find a way out? Biden asked. “Where does he find himself in a position where he not only loses face but loses significant power in Russia?”
Putin has repeatedly alluded to the use of his country’s vast nuclear arsenal, including last month when he announced his intention to recruit Russian men to serve 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, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal “, Putin said. On Sept. 21, adding with a lingering gaze at the camera, “That’s not a bluff.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the United States had been “clear” with Russia about the “consequences” of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine.
“It’s something we pay attention to, take very seriously, and communicate directly with Russia about, including the kind of decisive responses the United States would have if it were to go down this dark path,” he said. Sullivan.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier Thursday that Putin understood “the world will never forgive” a Russian nuclear strike.
“He understands that after the use of nuclear weapons he would no longer be able to preserve, so to speak, his life, and I am convinced of that,” Zelenskyy said.
Biden’s comments came during a private fundraiser for Democratic Senate candidates at James and Kathryn Murdoch’s Manhattan home. He tends to be more unsupervised – often speaking in rough notes – in such settings, which are only open to a handful of journalists without cameras or recording devices.
Miller reported from Washington.