Friday 11h30 Paris
- Biden says greatest risk since Cuban Missile Crisis
- Pro-Russian official suggests defence minister shoot himself
- Ukraine says 534 civilian bodies found after Russian retreat
- Putin marks 70th birthday on Friday
US president Joe Biden says the risk of a nuclear Armageddon over Ukraine is at its highest since the Cold War Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago.
Speaking at a fundraiser in New York on Thursday night, Biden said Russia’s president was “not joking” about the “potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons because his military is you might say significantly underperforming”.
As Putin’s seven-month invasion unravels, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Kyiv’s forces were swiftly recapturing more territory, including more than 500 sq km in the south where they burst through a second major front this week.
Russia’s failings on the battlefield have brought unusual public recrimination from Kremlin allies, with one Russian-installed leader in occupied Ukrainian territory going so far as to suggest Putin’s defence minister should have shot himself.
Biden said the prospect of defeat could make Putin, who was 70 on Friday, desperate enough to use nuclear weapons, the biggest risk since U.S. President John Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev faced off over missiles in Cuba in 1962.
“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis,” Biden said, adding that “we have a direct threat of the use of nuclear weapons if in fact things continue down the path they are going”.
Biden said he was trying to find a way for Putin to back down. “I’m trying to figure out: what is Putin’s off-ramp?” Biden said. “Where does he find a way out?” Biden’s comments, at the home of James Murdoch, the media investor, reflected mounting anxiety in Washington and across Europe that Russia might be preparing to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war.
In recent weeks, Putin has adopted increasingly blustery rhetoric and has escalated the conflict by moving to annex entire regions of southern and eastern Ukraine even as the Russian military has faced significant setbacks in those areas.
Concern so far has been over the prospect of Russia deploying a so-called “tactical” nuclear weapon – a short-range device for use on the battlefield – rather than the “strategic” weapons on long-range missiles that Washington and Moscow have stockpiled since the Cold War.
But Biden suggested it made little difference: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as the ability to easily (use) a tactical nuclear weapon and not end up with Armageddon.”
Putin has warned he would use all means necessary, including Russia’s nuclear arsenal, to protect Russian soil, which he now says includes four Ukrainian regions he declared annexed last week.