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Biden suggests Putin’s nuclear threats mean a ‘prospect of Armageddon’

President says Putin is ‘not joking’ about using weapons of mass destruction in the war in Ukraine

President Biden warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin's threat to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is the most serious “prospect of Armageddon” since the Cuban missile crisis. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
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President Biden warned on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons amounted to the most serious “prospect of Armageddon” in 60 years.

Biden’s comments came during a Democratic fundraiser in New York City, where he spent much of the time warning about the threats he said are posed by Republicans but also brought up Putin and Russia’s war on Ukraine. The president told attendees that he knows Putin “fairly well” and said that the Russian president was “not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons.”

He added, “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis. 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.” In 1962, President John F. Kennedy confronted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev over missile sites the Soviets were building in Cuba, a standoff that many feared could lead to a nuclear war.

Biden added: “We are trying to figure out, what is Putin’s off-ramp? Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself where he does not only lose face but significant power?”

The comments come about a week after Putin staged sham referendums and illegally annexed areas of southern and eastern Ukraine, declaring that the people living there would “be our citizens forever.”

Since his invasion of Ukraine, Putin has issued several threats about using nuclear weapons, particularly as Russia’s military outlook has worsened. In recent weeks, Putin has had to order a partial military mobilization to call up as many as 300,000 reservists while Ukrainian forces have regained territory on the east and south fronts.

In a fiery speech last Friday during the ceremony to formally annex the Ukrainian territories — a move widely condemned as illegal — Putin warned that the United States had “created a precedent” when it used nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945.

A few weeks earlier, in a televised address on Sept. 21, Putin declared, “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

Analysis: Why Putin's threats could be more than bluster

Biden condemned those comments in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York that same day.

“Just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe, in a reckless disregard for the responsibilities of the nonproliferation regime,” Biden said. “A nuclear war cannot be won. And must never be fought.”

Biden’s language was even more stark on Thursday, when he warned of an apocalypse if Putin follows through on his threats, which Biden suggested was a real possibility.

For the “first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have the threat of a nuclear weapon, if in fact things continue down the path they are going,” Biden said.