“Armageddon” warning reflects Biden’s view of Putin’s personality

US officials said Friday that President Biden’s warning that Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons amounted to the most serious “possibility of Armageddon in 60 years” was not based on any new intelligence or information gathered by the government, but rather on Biden’s own assessment. What Russian President Vladimir Putin might be capable of.

Biden and other US officials have expressed concerns in recent weeks that as the war continues badly for Moscow, Putin will resort to increasingly tough measures, said a senior administration official, who spoke like others on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

US officials confirmed Friday that they have seen no evidence that Russia has taken the necessary measures to use its nuclear arsenal and that the United States has no reason to change its nuclear posture. But several officials said they take Putin’s threats seriously and said the United States was engaged in direct back-channel talks with the Russians about the implications of taking steps such as using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

“We have seen no reason to adjust our strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to use imminent nuclear weapons,” White House Press Secretary Karen-Jean-Pierre said Friday. She added, “The kind of irresponsible rhetoric that we’ve seen that the leader of a nuclear-armed nation cannot speak, and that’s what the president has made very clear.”

Biden surprised many Americans by saying, At a fundraising event Thursday night That Putin, whom he knows “fairly well”, “was not joking when he talked about the possible use of tactical nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.” He added, “I don’t think there is such a thing as being able to do that easily [use] A tactical nuclear weapon and it doesn’t end up with Armageddon.”

Biden noted that the threat is reminiscent of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union came close to a nuclear confrontation during the Cold War.

said Andrea Kendall Taylor, senior fellow and director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

“On a very human level, he now has the potential to be a president who has to manage nuclear use for the first time in 70 years,” said Kendall Taylor. “I would probably prefer that he didn’t use the phrase ‘nuclear…armageddon,’ but I think it’s helpful for the president and the administration to have a conversation with the public about the risks.”

Why is the world interested in Putin’s tactical nuclear weapons

US officials and outside experts said Biden’s comments reflect his longstanding mistrust of Putin and his understanding of what Putin wants to do to achieve his goals. His doubts about Putin began long before he became president — and long before Putin became one of the United States’ greatest opponents.

Biden’s dismal assessment of Putin dates back to at least 2001, when President George W. Bush met the Russian leader for the first time shortly after he came to power. While Bush was praising him – calling him “very straightforward and trustworthy” – Biden, who was a Delaware senator at the time, objected, saying he did not trust Putin.

Biden, who has focused on foreign policy throughout his career and chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, places great importance on his instincts and judgments when it comes to evaluating foreign leaders and landscapes. During his presidential campaign, he often talked about the number of foreign leaders he met in person, for example, citing the long trips he took with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While Biden’s mention of “Armageddon” was his most visible warning yet, the president has been sounding the alarm for weeks about Putin’s actions in Ukraine, including his organizing and then annexing mock referendums in four Ukrainian regions. in Speech at the United Nations General Assembly last monthBiden addressed referendums and nuclear threats head-on, saying that Moscow “shamelessly” violated the essence of the United Nations Charter by invading its neighbor by force.

“Only today, President Putin made public nuclear threats against Europe, in reckless disregard for the responsibilities of the nonproliferation regime,” Biden said. A nuclear war cannot be won. It should never be fought.”

Annexations bring nuclear war closer

Putin has threatened to use nuclear weapons since the conflict began in February, but officials said they had long recognized that the risk of such a strike would rise if Putin’s military position in Ukraine was endangered. In recent weeks, the Ukrainian forces counterattack It made significant gains on the battlefield.

But US officials took pains on Friday to stress that they had seen nothing on the ground in recent days that led them to expect a possible nuclear strike in the short term.

“We have done contingency planning for a wide range of scenarios throughout the conflict,” a senior State Department official said. “But I saw no reason to adjust our strategic nuclear posture.”

“We have not seen any reason to adjust our nuclear posture, nor do we have any indications that Russia is preparing to use imminent weapons,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vidant Patel added.

Other senior US officials said they believed any movement of Russian nuclear warheads would not only be detected through the various monitoring methods, but would require internal coordination that could be detected and monitored through US real-time surveillance.

However, a number of officials acknowledged that such methods are not 100% certain.

When National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was asked on Sunday whether the United States would actively go to war if Putin used a nuclear weapon, he told CNN, “I’ve said before that we’ve had the opportunity to report directly to Russia on the range of consequences of using nuclear weapons and the kinds of actions they will take.” United States. I’ve said before that we’re not going to telegram these things publicly.”

On Friday, some leaders noted that Biden’s comments were unnecessarily provocative. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “we must speak wisely” on issues such as nuclear weapons.

Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear weapons expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, also questioned Biden’s tone, saying it would be better for US officials to make limited, calm statements in response to Putin’s nuclear threats.

“When you take that kind of ‘Armageddon’ and ‘World War III’ language as an official, I think you’re raising the alarm without actually conveying the deterrent threat,” Lewis said. “The primary message that the White House has to convey at this point is strength and confidence.”

He added that Putin could always miscalculate, even if the White House messages were flawless. “Even if they were doing it perfectly,” Lewis said, “there would be a risk that he might misunderstand them, because he already did with Zelensky.”

Other European officials have noted that Putin is unpredictable and dangerous, saying that Russian battlefield losses are creating the kind of pressure he has rarely faced before. For months, the war did not go according to Putin’s plan, and he resorted to more daring and far-reaching measures to try to stem his losses.

After making a failed attempt in Kyiv, the Russian army withdrew from the Ukrainian capital in early April and refocused its efforts on capturing more land in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an area known as Donbass.

Regrouping turned the conflict into a conventional artillery war. Russian forces captured a series of new cities and towns in June and July in a frustrating moment for Ukrainian forces, who found themselves outgunned by Russian long-range artillery.

But the United States and other European allies have armed the Ukrainians with more advanced weapons, including the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), and have found ways to alleviate some of the ammunition shortages, helping level the playing field.

By the time Kyiv launched its counterattack in late August, Putin’s forces had suffered heavy losses and lacked the personnel to defend such a large swath of territory. The Russian front-line defenses in the Kharkiv region soon collapsed, and Ukrainian forces recaptured thousands of square miles in a rapid advance that upset Moscow’s balance.

In recent weeks, with Ukrainian forces advancing even further, Putin has resorted to a move US intelligence sources said he would try to avoid at all costs: order a partial military mobilization of up to 300,000 reservists. Putin had been reluctant to take the step earlier, realizing it might hamper domestic support for the war, and since the announcement, many Russian men have tried to flee the country to avoid conscription.

At the same time, Putin raised the timetable for spurious referendums and annexations, declaring that the people living in the annexed territories would be “our citizens forever” and warning that the land now belonged to Russia and would be defended as if it were. any other part of the country.

These urgent measures – some say desperate – form the backdrop for Putin’s escalation of his nuclear threats. Some analysts say the Russian president may see the threats as a way to make the United States and Europe think twice about allowing Ukraine to advance enough to provoke the Kremlin to use a weapon of mass destruction.

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a hoax,” Putin said on September 21.

Nevertheless, Ukrainian forces continued to advance into territory that Putin now claimed belonged to Russia. In a fiery speech last Friday during a ceremony to formally annex Ukrainian territory, Putin warned that the United States had “created a precedent” when it used nuclear weapons against Japan in 1945.

“President Biden has a really good heart for Putin and understands what Putin can do,” said Kendall Taylor. “He understands him deeply, unlike a lot of Western leaders, and that makes this moment even more dangerous in his eyes.”

John Hudson contributed to this report.

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