“We’ve got a guy I know fairly well,” the president said of Putin at the home of investor James Murdoch in New York.
“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 continued, noting Russia’s recent high-profile setbacks in Ukraine.
“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since [President John F.] Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” he added.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction ... and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said on September 21. “It’s not a bluff.”
According to the Associated Press, Biden also challenged Russia’s nuclear doctrine, warning that the use of a lower-yield tactical weapon could potentially spiral out of control into worldwide destruction.
“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, adding that he was still “trying to figure” out Putin’s “off-ramp” in Ukraine.
“Where does he find a way out?” he continued. “Where does he find himself in a position that he does not only lose face but lose significant power within Russia?”
Biden’s remarks came after White House officials this week said that they have seen no change to Russia’s nuclear forces that would require a change in the United States’ alert posture.
“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 on Tuesday.
Last week, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan acknowledged that the United States has been “clear” to Moscow about what the “consequences” would be for using nuclear weapons.
“This is something that we are attuned to, taking very seriously, and communicating directly with Russia about, including the kind of decisive responses the United States would have if they went down that dark road,” he said.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.