United States President Joe Biden has said he does not believe that Vladimir Putin would order the use of a tactical nuclear weapon, but scorned his Russian counterpart for playing with the idea.
In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, when asked if Putin was likely to escalate the Ukraine conflict to a nuclear level, Biden responded: “Well, I don’t think he will, but it is irresponsible of him to talk about it.”
The US president also said in Tuesday’s interview that Putin had underestimated the fightback from Ukrainian forces.
“He thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms, that this was the home of Mother Russia in Kyiv, and that where he was going to be welcomed, and I think he just totally miscalculated,” Biden said.
Fears of nuclear warfare increased last month when Putin announced a partial mobilisation, saying: “Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.”
Putin escalated the war further on Monday, ordering air raids across Ukraine in response to an alleged attack by Kyiv on Russia’s bridge to annexed Crimea last weekend.
Monday’s blasts killed at least 19 people, according to Ukraine, while four reportedly died in the bridge explosion that Kyiv has not directly claimed responsibility for.
Talks with Putin?
Biden left open the possibility of talks with Putin on the sidelines of the meeting of G20 nations in Bali scheduled for November, although he was clear there are no plans for talks on Ukraine.
“Look, I have no intention of meeting with him,” Biden told CNN, adding that he would however see Putin if the Russian leader wanted to negotiate over releasing detained US basketball star Brittney Griner.
“If he came to me at the G20 and said ‘I want to talk about the release of Griner’, I’d meet with him. I mean, it would depend,” he said.
Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) player and two-time Olympic gold medallist, was sentenced to nine years in jail last month over drug charges.
She was arrested in February, days before Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and her case has moved through the Russian court system amid fraught relations between Moscow and Washington over the war.
For their part, Russian officials have sought to play down Putin’s nuclear threats.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday that commentary from Western leaders on the potential use of nuclear weapons was a harmful and provocative.
“We express our daily regret that Western heads of state engage in nuclear rhetoric every day,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.