Biden: No Evidence Putin Plans to Use Nuclear Weapons

Biden: No Evidence Putin Plans to Use Nuclear Weapons
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle Arcades in Warsaw, Poland, on Feb. 21, 2023. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

President Joe Biden on Feb. 22 branded Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms control pact with the United States a “big mistake” but stressed that there is so far no evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin is looking to use nuclear weapons.

Biden made the comments in an interview with ABC News shortly after Putin announced in a national address that Moscow was suspending its participation in a major nuclear arms control treaty.

“It’s a big mistake to do that. Not very responsible. And—but I don’t read into that that he’s thinking of using nuclear weapons or anything like that,” Biden said.

Biden was asked if he believes the United States is less safe now that Russia has walked away from the treaty.

“I think we’re less safe when we walk away from arms control agreements that are very much in both parties’ interests and the world’s interest. But I’ve not seen anything, we’ve not seen anything that—where there’s a change in his posture and what they’re doing,” Biden responded. “The idea that somehow this means they’re thinking of using nuclear weapons … intercontinental ballistic missiles, there’s no evidence of that.”

Biden also said that he’s “confident” that Washington and Moscow will “be able to work it out.”

Nuclear Treaty Conditions

Putin said in his Feb. 21 announcement that Russia was not withdrawing from the New START treaty but is “just suspending [our participation in] it.”

The treaty was first signed in 2010 by then-U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev and went into effect the year after on Feb. 5.

In 2021, shortly after Biden took office, the treaty was extended by a further five years and was set to expire on Feb. 4, 2026.

It is aimed at setting limits on the number of strategic nuclear warheads that both countries can deploy for as long as the treaty remains in force. Under the agreement, both Moscow and Washington pledged to deploy no more than 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads and a maximum of 700 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

The agreement also serves to enhance U.S. national security by allowing Washington to conduct 18 on-site inspections of strategic nuclear weapons sites in Russia every year to ensure it has not breached the treaty’s limits.

Russia, in turn, can also conduct 18 on-site inspections per year in the United States.

Inspections under the agreement were put on hold in March 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and talks were meant to be held in November to discuss resuming them but were put on hold by Russia.

Both the United States and Russia are believed to account for roughly 90 percent of the world’s existing nuclear weapons.

However, amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and the West’s consistent support of Kyiv, Putin alleged in his recent national address that the United States was turning the war into a global conflict.

Biden Visits Ukraine

“The United States and NATO openly state that their strategic objective is to defeat Russia,” he said. “Yet they think they will be allowed to inspect our nuclear weapons facilities?”

Putin argued that while Washington was pushing for the on-site inspections of Russia’s nuclear facilities to resume, NATO allies were actively helping Ukraine strike Russia’s strategic airbases.

Russian forces in December last year reported shooting down Ukrainian drones around airbases deep inside the country.

“The drones used for it were equipped and modernized with NATO’s expert assistance,” Putin said. “And now they want to inspect our defense facilities? In the conditions of today’s confrontation, it sounds like sheer nonsense.”

Putin in his address stressed that Russia was not withdrawing from the nuclear treaty altogether and is only suspending participation. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said the nuclear weapons cap would still be respected and that Russia would continue to exchange information about test launches of ballistic missiles in accordance with earlier agreements with the United States.

Earlier this week, Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv where he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and pledged an additional half-billion dollars in aid to the war-torn nation.

Washington informed Russia about the president’s visit to Kyiv hours before his departure, officials said.

Reuters contributed to this report.