NEW YORK (AP) – President Joe Biden said Thursday that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at its highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials talk about the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight. -month invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a guy I know pretty well” and the Russian leader was “not kidding 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 the threat from Putin is real “because his military – you could say – is significantly underperforming.”
US officials have warned for months about the prospect of Russia using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine as it has faced a series of strategic setbacks on the battlefield, although Biden’s remarks marked the sharpest warnings yet issued by the US administration about the nuclear efforts.
It was not immediately clear whether Biden was referring to a reassessment of Russian intentions. As recently as this week, however, U.S. officials have said they have seen no change to Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in U.S. nuclear alert capabilities.
“We have seen no reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to immediately use nuclear weapons,” 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 to Cuba, is considered by experts to be the closest the world has ever come to nuclear annihilation. The crisis during President John F. Kennedy’s administration sparked a renewed focus on arms control on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Biden also challenged Russian nuclear doctrine, warning that the use of a lower-yield tactical weapon could quickly spiral out of control into global destruction.
“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,” Biden said.
He added that he is still “trying to figure out” Putin’s “exit” 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 hinted at using his country’s vast nuclear arsenal, including last month when he announced plans to call up Russian men to serve in Ukraine.
“I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, in order to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal ,” Putin said. Sept. 21, adding with a lingering look at the camera, “It’s not a hoax.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the United States has been “clear” with Russia about what the “consequences” of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would be.
“This is something that we are committed to, take very seriously and communicate directly with Russia about, including the kind of decisive responses the United States would have if they went down that dark path,” Sullivan said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said earlier Thursday that Putin understood that “the world will never forgive” a Russian nuclear attack.
“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 the Manhattan home of James and Kathryn Murdoch. He tends to be more unguarded — often speaking only in rough notes — in such settings open only to a handful of journalists without cameras or recording devices.
Miller reported from Washington.