President Biden on Thursday said Russian President Vladimir Putin was "not joking" in his references to using nuclear weapons, warning that the world was facing its greatest nuclear threat since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"We have not faced the prospect of armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis," Biden said at a fundraiser in New York City, citing the 1962 standoff with the Soviet Union.
"We've got a guy I know fairly well," Biden continued, referencing Putin. "He's not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming."
Biden, who was speaking at a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser at the home of James Murdoch, expressed skepticism that there was any way for Putin and Russia to use a smaller, tactical nuclear weapon without it leading to "armageddon."
"I'm trying to figure out, what is Putin's off-ramp? … Where does he find a way out?" Biden said. "Where does he find himself in a position that he does not not only lose face, but lose significant power within Russia?"
Biden's comments are some of the starkest yet from U.S. officials about the threat of Russia using a nuclear weapon and dramatically escalating its war in Ukraine.
In a speech last month announcing the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of troops to fight in Ukraine, Putin said Moscow was prepared to use nuclear weapons to defend any of its territory, accusing the U.S. and its allies of "nuclear blackmail" and moving to "destroy" his country.
"I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries," Putin claimed in a nationally televised address.
The announcement came after significant gains by Ukrainian forces in a counteroffensive to retake areas held by Russia after its initial invasion in February.
Putin has since sought to annex Ukrainian territory, claiming it as part of Russia after a series of referendums that the U.S. and allies have condemned as manipulated and a "sham."
The White House has in recent days said it has not seen a reason to adjust its nuclear posture in response to Putin's comments. U.S. officials have instead tried to balance forceful calls for Russia not to escalate the conflict while communicating with Moscow privately.
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