The Pentagon said Friday that it still has seen no indications that Vladimir Putin is planning to launch nuclear weapons after President Joe Biden warned of the risk of a nuclear “Armageddon.”
Biden’s comments show how seriously the U.S. is taking Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons, Defense Department spokesperson J. Todd Breasseale said in a statement to POLITICO.
“However — and to be clear: we have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons,” he said.
U.S. officials told POLITICO that nothing has changed on the nuclear front in the past 24 hours. On Thursday, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters that the department does not have any information that would cause it to change its nuclear posture.
On Thursday night, Biden issued a stark warning during remarks at a Democratic fundraiser in New York, where he was introduced by James Murdoch, son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, according to the White House.
Biden compared Putin’s recent threats to use a nuclear weapon to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the moment when the two nuclear superpowers last came close to a nuclear crisis.
“First time since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have a direct threat of the use [of a] nuclear weapon if in fact things continue down the path they are going,” Biden said. “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.”
The tenor of Biden’s remarks were different compared to comments by officials from his own administration, which have been much more measured. National security adviser Jake Sullivan recently said the U.S. takes Putin’s threats seriously, but does not see any indications that he is planning to use nuclear weapons.
“I’m trying to figure out what is Putin’s off ramp?” Biden said Thursday night during the event. “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?”
Breasseale noted that the U.S. has always underscored the seriousness of Putin’s threat. Biden previously admonished Putin for rattling the nuclear saber during a speech at the UN General Assembly.
“The kind of irresponsible rhetoric we have seen is no way for the leader of a nuclear armed state to speak,” Breasseale said, noting that the president has made clear that “any use of nuclear weapons on any scale would be disastrous for the world and would entail severe consequences."
“A nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought,” he said, adding that DoD will continue to monitor the situation closely.
The U.S. and allied intelligence agencies have stepped up monitoring of Russia’s military moves and communications that would indicate the use of a nuclear weapon, POLITICO reported. But if Putin chooses to go down that route, the West may not have much advance notice, officials warned.
Most of Russia’s aircraft, conventional missiles and rocket launchers can also deploy smaller, tactical nuclear weapons, designed for targeted use on the battlefield. These are different from strategic arms such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, which satellites and other surveillance assets can detect.
Russia has more than 1,900 tactical nuclear warheads, according to public estimates.