Washington—US President Joe Biden said Thursday the world risks nuclear “Armageddon” for the first time since the Cold War and that he is trying to find Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “off-ramp” in the Ukraine conflict.
“We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis” in 1962, Biden said at a Democratic party fundraising event in New York.
Putin is “not joking” when he threatens to use nuclear weapons to pursue his invasion of Ukraine, Biden said.
Biden made his unusually strong comments about the risks created by Putin’s nuclear threats while speaking to party supporters at an event hosted in the Manhattan home of James Murdoch, son of newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch.
Referring to the nuclear standoff triggered by the Soviet Union stationing missiles in Cuba, within easy range of the United States, Biden said that for the “first time since the Cuban missile crisis, we have a direct threat from the use of nuclear weapons if in fact, things continue down the path they are going.”
Putin has made thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons if he feels he has run out of options in his bid to seize swaths of Ukrainian territory in the face of stiff resistance by Western-back Kyiv.
Experts say these would most likely be relatively small, tactical strikes. But Biden warned that a tactical strike in a limited area would still risk triggering a wider conflagration.
“We’ve got a guy I know fairly well,” Biden said. Putin’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.”
However, “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,” Biden said.
“I’m trying to figure out what is Putin’s off-ramp,” Biden said. “Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself in a position that he does not, not only lose face, but lose significant power within Russia?”
Meanwhile, a SpaceX capsule carrying a Russian crew member docked Thursday with the International Space Station on a NASA mission that carries significant symbolism amid the war in Ukraine.
The Crew Dragon spaceship “Endurance” blasted off Wednesday from Florida and rendezvoused with the orbiting research outpost some 30 hours later, docking at 5:01 pm Eastern Time (2301 GMT).
“Crew-5 is happy to have finally arrived at the International Space Station,” said commander Nicole Mann, the first Native American woman in space. “We are looking forward to getting to work.”
Also aboard: Koichi Wakata of Japan, Josh Cassada of the United States, and Anna Kikina of Russia, the only female cosmonaut currently in service.
Around two hours after docking, hatches will open allowing the crew to join seven others already on the station: two Russians, four Americans, and an Italian.
Two weeks ago, an American astronaut took off on a Russian Soyuz rocket for the orbital platform.
The long-planned astronaut exchange program has been maintained despite soaring tensions between the United States and Russia since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Ensuring the operation of the ISS has become one of the few remaining areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia.
During a post-launch briefing, Sergei Krikalev, head of the human space program at Roscosmos, hailed the occasion as the start of a “new phase of our cooperation,” evoking the historic Apollo-Soyuz mission of 1975, a symbol of detente at the height of the Cold War.
Krikalev, a former cosmonaut respected by his American colleagues, has been on something of a charm offensive after the last head of Roscosmos, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier this year threatened to withdraw cooperation and let the ISS crash over US or European territory.
While Russia has announced plans for its own station, analysts believe it would be difficult to build in the next few years, and withdrawing from the ISS would effectively ground Moscow’s once-proud civilian space program.