‘Don’t, don’t, don’t’: Biden presses Putin on nuclear weapons

US leader warns any response will depend ‘on the extent of what they do’ in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin
US President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin [File: Eric Baradat and Pavel Golovkin/AFP]

US President Joe Biden has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to not use tactical nuclear or chemical weapons after a series of military losses in Ukraine.

Asked by an American reporter with the show 60 Minutes on US network CBS what he would say to Putin if he considered using such weapons, Biden said: “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. It would change the face of war unlike anything since World War II.”

Ukraine’s military drove back Russian forces in a lightning rout in the northeast of the country last week, putting Putin under pressure from nationalists at home to regain the initiative.

Putin has warned that Moscow would respond more forcefully if its troops were put under further pressure, raising concerns he could at some point use unconventional means such as small nuclear or chemical weapons.

Biden said the US response would be “consequential” – but declined to give details.

“[Russia] would become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been,” Biden said. “Depending on the extent of what they do, will determine what response would occur.”

Russian government officials have dismissed Western suggestions that Moscow would use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Asked about Biden’s comments, RIA Novosti quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying: “Read [Russia’s nuclear] doctrine. Everything is written there.”

Under Moscow’s doctrine, nuclear weapons can be used after “an aggression against Russia or its ally with the use of mass destruction weapons”, or “when the very existence of the state is under threat”.

Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoigu said last month that nuclear weapons were not necessary from a military perspective.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has previously said only conventional weaponry will be used in Ukraine.

The threat of Russia potentially using tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons in Ukraine cannot be taken lightly, but the US Central Intelligence Agency has not seen a lot of practical evidence reinforcing that concern, its director, William Burns, said in April.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies