President Joe Biden’s comments this week suggesting Russia’s war in Ukraine could escalate to a nuclear “Armageddon” were not based on any new intelligence, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told ABC News on Sunday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to defend newly captured territory in Ukraine raise concerns of nuclear war.
U.S. officials have not seen any “new indications” that Putin has decided to use nuclear weapons, nor have they “seen anything that would give us pause to reconsider our own strategic nuclear posture,” Kirby said on ABC’s This Week.
The remarks come three days after Biden compared the current situation to the Cuban missile crisis during a fundraising event, saying there was a “direct threat of the use” of a nuclear weapon if “things continue down the path they are going,” and suggesting such warfare could result in a nuclear “Armageddon.”
The Department of Defense clarified Friday that officials had not seen any fresh intelligence to suggest Russia was preparing to use nuclear weapons “imminently.”
Biden’s comments reflect “the very high stakes that are in play right now” when “a leader of modern nuclear power” is willing to use “irresponsible rhetoric the way that Mr. Putin has” several times in recent weeks, Kirby said.
“We’re monitoring this very, very closely. And what I can tell you is that through all that process, we just simply haven’t seen an indication that Mr. Putin has either made a decision to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, or has done anything to get closer to that decision making process,” Kirby told ABC.
Putin has escalated his rhetoric surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past month, as Russian troops have faced significant losses on the battlefield. Ukraine has recaptured swaths of territory previously occupied by Russian forces in the east and south, including in territories the Kremlin has attempted to annex, a move widely recognized by the international community as illegal. After announcing a partial mobilization of Russian military reservists to fight in the war last month, Putin accused the west of “nuclear blackmail,” saying Russia had “lots of weapons” to respond to threats to the “territorial integrity of our country.” He added he was “not bluffing” and that Russia was prepared to use all means necessary to defend itself. Putin’s remarks sparked international concern Russia may consider deploying nuclear weapons in response to Ukraine’s gains. During the Democratic fundraising event in New York Thursday, Biden said he was “trying to figure out” what Putin’s “off ramp” to the war was, asking “Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself in a position that he does not only lose face but lose significant power within Russia?”
Kirby’s comments came as reports emerged 12 people had died after Russian fire hit apartment buildings and other infrastructure in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia. The strikes followed an explosion Saturday that destroyed sections of Russia’s sole bridge to Crimea, a region Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. A Ukrainian government official told the Washington Post Ukraine was behind the attack. The country did not publicly take responsibility for the destruction, though the Ukrainian government tweeted after the attack: “sick burn.”
Putin signs annexation of Ukrainian regions as losses mount (Associated Press)