US president Joe Biden warned the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” was at its highest since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and said he was trying to decipher Vladimir Putin’s “off-ramp” to avoid further escalation.
Speaking at a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, Biden said Russia’s president was “not joking” about the “potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is you might say significantly underperforming”.
“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [President John] Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis,” Biden said, adding that “we have a direct threat of the use of nuclear weapons if in fact things continue down the path they are going”.
Biden said he was trying to find a way for Putin to back down. “I’m trying to figure out: what is Putin’s off-ramp?” Biden said. “Where does he find a way out?”
US officials for months have warned of the ‘prospect’ that Russia could allegedly use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine, though Biden’s remarks marked the starkest warnings yet issued by the US government about the nuclear stakes.
As recently as this week, though, US officials have said they have seen no change to Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in the alert posture of US nuclear forces.
“We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have indication that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.