President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Russia not to make idle statements about the use of nuclear weapons, following public comments by a top Russian official about the possibility of nuclear war amid the conflict in Ukraine.
“No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility of the need to use them,” Biden said, calling the rhetoric “irresponsible.”
Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an interview on Monday alluded to the danger of nuclear war as the conflict in Ukraine has dragged on. While saying that Russia does not want a nuclear war to take place, he has said “the danger is serious” – comments that were roundly condemned by US defense officials.
After his speech calling on Congress to deliver on his $33 billion request for supplemental funding for Ukraine, Biden also dismissed Lavrov’s comments about the Ukraine conflict being a proxy war between NATO and Russia, saying that’s “not true.”
“They do concern me, because it shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure in being able to do what they set out to do in the first instance,” Biden said.
“I think it’s more of a reflection not of the truth, but of their failure,” the President continued, “And so instead of saying that the Ukrainians are equipped with some capability to resist Russian forces, they got to … tell their people the United States and all of NATO is engaged in taking out Russian troops, and tanks, etc.”
CNN reported last week that the US military is keeping a constant watch on Russia’s nuclear arsenal as the war in Ukraine continues and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is being briefed two or three times a week by the top US general who oversees US nuclear weapons and defenses.
The US has not seen any indication Russia has made any moves to prepare nuclear weapons for use during the war, but two sources familiar with recent intelligence assessments previously told CNN that US officials are more concerned about the threat of Russia using them than at any time since the Cold War.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said on Tuesday that it was “completely irresponsible” for any senior leader of a nuclear power to start “rattling a nuclear saber.”
“Any time a senior leader of a nation-state starts rattling a nuclear saber, then everyone takes it seriously,” Milley said during his interview with CNN.
Milley said the US military is monitoring the nuclear threat from Russia along with “friends and allies.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky this week accused the Russian troops of operating with little regard to nuclear danger and of looting and damaging several areas of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, including system control center and laboratory.
He warned that their carelessness signals the danger of Russia using nuclear weapons.
“Given the level of the threat, we believe Russia has no right to turn nuclear energy into weapons and blackmail the world with the use of nuclear weapons,” Zelensky said.
Other nations have expressed varying degrees of concern.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that he does not expect Russia to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine if Moscow faced defeat in the ongoing invasion.
China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, attempted to deter escalation toward another world war.
“No one wants to see a third world war break out,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in a briefing Tuesday.
Wang reiterated China’s hope for parties to “keep calm and exercise restraint,” and to “realize peace as soon as possible and avoid inflicting a heavier price on Europe and the world.”
“We should reflect on how the vortex of geopolitical conflicts has risen again in Europe, more than 30 years after the end of the Cold War,” Wang said.
CNN’s Beijing Bureau, Nikki Carvajal, Mitchell McCluskey, Andrew Carey, Josh Pennington, Zachary Cohen, Ellie Kaufman, Michael Conte and Zahid Mahmood contributed to this report.