After US President Joe Biden warned last week that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” was at its highest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis, he told CNN on Tuesday he doesn't believe President Vladimir Putin would ultimately take that step.
“I don’t think he will,” Biden said when asked by CNN's Jake Tapper whether the Russian leader would use a tactical nuclear weapon — a prospect US officials have watched with concern as Russian troops suffer embarrassing losses on the battlefield.
“I think it’s irresponsible for him to talk about it, the idea that a world leader of one of the largest nuclear powers in the world says he may use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine,” Biden added.
The President said even Putin’s threats have a destabilizing effect and warned of the potential errors in judgment that could ensue.
“The whole point I was making was it could lead to just a horrible outcome,” he told Tapper. “And not because anybody intends to turn it into a world war or anything, but just once you use a nuclear weapon, the mistakes that can be made, the miscalculations, who knows what would happen.”
“He, in fact, cannot continue with impunity to talk about the use of a tactical nuclear weapon as if that’s a rational thing to do,” Biden added later. “The mistakes get made. And the miscalculation could occur, no one can be sure what would happen and could end in Armageddon.”
Biden refused to disclose what a US response would look like should Putin follow through on his nuclear threats. But he said the Department of Defense had proactively developed contingencies should the scenario come to pass.
“What is the red line for the United States and NATO, and have you directed the Pentagon and other agencies to game out what a response would be if he did use a tactical nuclear weapon or if he bombed the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine or anything along those lines?” Tapper asked.
“There’s been discussions of that, but I’m not going to get into that. It would be irresponsible of me to talk about what we would or wouldn’t do,” Biden said.
“Have you asked the Pentagon to game it out, though?” Tapper asked.
“The Pentagon didn’t have to be asked,” Biden said.
Biden spoke to CNN a few hours after meeting virtually with members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the need to bolster his country's air defenses amid the new Russian bombardments.