A photo of US President Joe Biden speaking at an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, US, on Thursday, October 6, 2022.
Dana Ullman | Bloomberg | Getty Images
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 discuss the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering setbacks massive in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “a guy I know pretty well” and that the Russian leader “wasn’t kidding when he talked about using 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, significantly underperforming.”
US officials for months have warned of the possibility that Russia could use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine as it has faced a series of strategic setbacks on the battlefield, although Biden’s remarks underscored the warnings toughest yet issued by the US government on the nuclear gamble.
It was not immediately clear whether Biden was referring to a new assessment of Russian intentions. However, as recently as this week, U.S. officials have said they have not seen any changes in Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in the alert posture of U.S. nuclear forces.
“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 imminently,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.
The 13-day standoff in 1962 following the United States’ 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 led to 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 into global destruction.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon,” Biden said.
“This is something that we are attuned to, we take very seriously, and we communicate directly with Russia, 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 Zelensky 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 could no longer preserve, so to speak, his life, and I am sure 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 in rough notes, in these settings, which are only open to a handful of reporters without cameras or recording devices.