U.S. President Joe Biden wants to make sure the American public starts off their weekend with a nice heaping dose of existential dread.
Biden told an audience at a New York Democratic fundraising event Thursday that he believes the risk of nuclear annihilation is at its highest point since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. The president cited recent threats and increasingly aggressive nuclear rhetoric from Russian president Vladimir Putin as the primary reason for the apocalyptic forecast.
“We have not faced the prospect of armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Biden said at the event, according to the Associated Press. Biden, who said he knew Putin “pretty well” said he didn’t believe the Russian president was joking in a suggestion of willingness to deploy so-called tactical nuclear or chemical weapons in a military escalation. The U.S. president went on to say using the word “tactical” to refer to Russia’s atomic weapons risked diminishing their potentially devastating impact.
“I don’t think there is any such a thing as the ability to easily use a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with armageddon,” Biden said.
Putin has indicated a willingness to use so-called “tactical nuclear weapons” on multiple occasions since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine and has ramped up that rhetoric in recent weeks. In late September, Putin ordered a partial mobilization of Russian troops and told the U.S. and European nations he wasn’t bluffing about potentially using nukes.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people.” Putin said according to Reuters. “And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”
Those unsettling threats reportedly galvanized U.S. intelligence services, which reportedly ramped up efforts to surveil Russian communications and military movements, according to Politico. However, unlike intercontinental ballistic missiles, which give off certain signs when they are being prepped for use, sources speaking to Politico said Russia relies on a number of smaller nuclear munitions that could simply be loaded onto aircraft. That exchangeability makes predicting any next moves all the more difficult, the sources said.
At the same time, there are signs countries outside of Russia are engaging in some nuclear posturing of their own. This week, Polish president Andrzej Duda reportedly asked the U.S. to move some of its nuclear weapons into Poland, The Guardian notes. The U.S. has maintained nuclear arms in Europe since the 1950s in countries like Germany, Italy, and Turkey, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, but a move to Poland would be significant due to its extremely close proximity to Russia. Duda reportedly spoke about the possibility of “nuclear sharing” with the U.S. where Polish pilots would potentially be trained to carry out missions with U.S. nuclear armaments. The White House did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment but told The Guardian it was, “not aware” of Poland raising the issue.