President Joe Biden doesn’t believe that Russia will resort to using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, he said in an interview on Tuesday, but the possibility of “a horrible outcome” in the war has prompted the Pentagon to game out the U.S. response to their use.
“I don’t think he will, but I think that it’s irresponsible for him to talk about it, the idea that a world leader of one of the largest nuclear powers in the world says he may use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine,” Biden said of Russian president Vladimir Putin in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. “Once you use a nuclear weapon, the mistakes that can be made, the miscalculations, who knows what would happen?”
In the interview, conducted in the Map Room of the White House shortly after Biden met with the Group of Seven leaders to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the president accused Putin of having committed war crimes in the eight months since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine, and said that he doesn’t “see any rationale” to meet with him.
“I’m talking to Putin. He, in fact, cannot continue with impunity to talk about the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, as if that’s a rational thing to do,” Biden said. “No one can be sure of what would happen. And it could end in Armageddon.”
Putin, Biden said, has backed himself into a corner, but still has a way out without resorting to using atomic weapons, as Putin has openly threatened to do.
“He could just flat leave and still probably hold his position together in Russia,” Biden suggested.
In the interview, which focused primarily on foreign policy issues, Biden was scant on the details of how to address aggressive moves by both adversaries and allies. Biden wasn’t just evasive when asked about the U.S. response to a nuclear attack in Ukraine—he also refused to say what consequences the Saudi Arabian government would face for leading massive cuts in oil production in partnership with the Kremlin.
“I’m not going to get into what I’d consider and what I have in mind,” Biden said of Saudi Arabia after Tapper asked if Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had “played” him during a recent trip to the kingdom in which Biden was conspicuously chummy with the autocrat. “But there will be consequences.”
Biden was more confident when discussing domestic rivals, telling Tapper that he was sure that the Democratic Party has a solid record ahead of the midterm elections.
“What’s the Republican platform to run on? What are they running on? What are they for?” Biden asked, pointing to a plan by some Republican senators to put Social Security up for a vote every half-decade. “I mean, I don’t know what they’re for.”
As for his own next potential election—and his potential opponent—Biden was plainspoken.
“I believe I can beat Donald Trump again,” Biden told Tapper, adding that his decision on whether to run for re-election would be made following the midterm elections.
“I’m not going to make this about my decision. I’m going to make this about this off-year election,” Biden said. “After that’s done in November, then I’m going to be in the process of deciding.”