Biden’s nuclear warning isn’t based on new information, but opens a window to real concerns in the White House – Boston News, Weather, Sports

(CNN) – President Joe Biden is strong Warning Thursday evening the The world faces the greatest prospect of nuclear war in 60 years was not based on new insights into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions or changes in Russia’s nuclear stance, several US officials told CNN.

The US still hasn’t seen any evidence that Putin is moving to use Russia’s nuclear capacity, nor is there any intelligence showing that he made up his mind to do so. But Biden’s comments — more clearly worded than other US officials to date — reflected heightened concerns within his administration about the risk that Russia could Nuclear strike in Ukrainewhere Russian forces recently suffered a string of defeats.

Bidens This blunt assessment surprised several senior US officialslargely due to the lack of new information to propel them and the somber language Biden has employed.

A senior administration official said Biden spoke “openly” in his remarks at a Democratic fundraiser in New York, reflecting heightened concern Putin’s Recent Nuclear Threats.

The threat has long been high the heads of the administration’s national security officers, and the failures on the battlefield have only served to stimulate regular discussion and contingency planning on the subject. But there was no moment, briefing, or new information Biden was privy to that signaled an actual shift in Russia’s stance.

And the morning after Biden’s comments, government officials said the US nuclear stance had not changed.

“Our stance hasn’t changed,” an official said of US preparations. “If there was any new piece of alarming information, it obviously would.”

The message

There simply isn’t much – if any – precedent in the last six decades of a president so bluntly warning of impending catastrophe. The deviation in tone between Biden and his top national security officials strike, with the President moving sharply away from the coordinated effort to calmly warn against saber-rattling but not escalate rhetorically.

But Biden’s comments, one official noted, reflect reality — a reality that may be difficult to grasp given the combination of a distant war and a post-Cold War era in which nuclear threats have simply disappeared from everyday risks is. These risks have grown acutely over the past eight months, even if there is no tangible evidence that Putin has taken concrete steps in this direction.

Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling led by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Warning late last month of “catastrophic consequences” should Moscow resort to nuclear weapons — and Putin has only escalated his rhetoric since.

Biden’s comments serve as a window into a very real, very ongoing discussion within his administration about how to calibrate the response to this environment.

CNN reported last week that the US is considering how to respond to a number of possible scenarios, including fears that Russians may use tactical nuclear weapons, according to three sources briefed on the latest information. The US has been developing contingency plans to respond since the start of the conflict, including the possibility that by taking a step close to a nuclear attack on Ukraine, Putin could escalate through what one source called a “nuclear demonstration,” such as a possible military strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant or detonation of a nuclear device at high altitude or outside populated areas.

The threat of Putin using nuclear weapons is certainly “increased” compared to earlier in the year multiple sources told CNN late last month. But several officials familiar with the latest intelligence information said the likelihood that Putin will use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine is still not likely. The intelligence services are watching closely to see whether the Russian leader’s calculations have changed.

The attitude

The comments were also Biden’s latest unguarded moment during an off-camera fundraiser, during which the president has repeatedly employed more candor and colorful rhetoric in scripted remarks. Officials say his off-the-cuff remarks at fundraisers are typically a brief and candid window into genuine concerns or debates that Biden is currently grappling with.

Biden’s fundraisers, which typically only involve a few dozen donors, are more intimate occasions, where he often speaks from handwritten notes and only loosely follows a script he wrote for himself. As with his public events, Biden speaks from a handheld microphone during his fundraisers and typically wanders around the room as he speaks. Reporters are allowed to listen to and cover the President’s remarks but not film them, a convention that began during the Obama presidency.

His remarks are usually only 10 minutes long, but in the past he has stretched to half an hour or more, providing explanations on various subjects. After the remarks, reporters are brought out while Biden takes a few questions from donors.

While most of what Biden says at the fundraisers is well known, he has previously made comments that went beyond his remarks to a larger audience. It was a fundraiser in Maryland where Biden explained Republicans close to Trump “semi-fascist” and where he said the Catholic Church’s views on abortion had changed.

Biden’s remarks about the prospect of nuclear Armageddon were unwritten, and aides in Washington first learned of his remarks through news reports and cables from the press pool in the room.

The comparison

Biden’s reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis was notable both because it was the last time a US president spoke so openly about the risks of a potential looming catastrophe and because its 60th anniversary is just days away.

Implicit in Biden’s comments, however, were the risks inherent in a critical difference. President John F. Kennedy and his team weighed a number of potential off-ramps and backchannel proposals that could avert the crisis. The then Soviet leader – Nikita Khrushchev, who lived through the horrors of World War II – always made it clear that he understood the use of a nuclear standoff, even when his strategic calculations in Cuba were woefully wrong. Mutually assured destruction was the baseline, and even at their worst moments and belligerent threats, the deals between Kennedy and Khrushchev reflected that reality.

By contrast, Biden’s comments about an inability to identify an exit — particularly as Putin’s military flail — raise a very real concern that longstanding mutual understanding may not be as secure as assumed. Putin’s occasionally rambling and bellicose speech last Friday only served to heighten those concerns at the White House, an official said.

Biden’s use of the word “Armageddon” has grabbed all the headlines, but the context of that remark is crucial. White House officials have stressed that the idea that Russia could conduct “tactical” strikes, according to their doctrine, is not a half measure or falls short of maximum escalation.

The President’s use of Armageddon served to illustrate this point – there are no escalation ladders when it comes to nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise. Any movement in this direction triggers a cascading reaction that has only one outcome.

The mindset

Several officials have pointed out that Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling is not new, and US officials have grappled with the threats and potential for their use since the early days of the war.

But White House officials closely watched Putin’s speech last week — looking for leads — and much like his speech just before the invasion, it raised alarm. It’s been an element of several internal discussions over the past few days, which have highlighted that while the world may dismiss recent months of Putin’s remarks seemingly divorced from apparent reality, Biden “doesn’t have that luxury,” he said an official.

One official called the speech “insane,” and while this bolstered the US view of Russian weakness and isolation, it also heightened concerns about Putin’s willingness to escalate beyond the level of a rational actor.

That’s important context when considering Biden’s remarks, an official noted.

What’s next

White House officials decided not to say anything publicly Thursday night, and there are no plans to address Friday morning’s remarks in isolation. If Biden wants to address it himself, it will be apparent when he leaves for his Maryland event later in the morning, an official said.

More broadly, the most important element remains that US officials have not detected any change in attitude or specific information that raises the threat level above previous levels.

In recent weeks there have been direct communications to Moscow detailing the extent of the US response should Putin decide to go down that route. Those details remain top secret, and officials say that won’t change anytime soon.

(Copyright (c) 2022 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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Sarah Y. Kim

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