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Biden invokes Cuban missile crisis in addressing Russia's nuclear threats

President Joe Biden speaks about Russia from the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. | Susan Walsh/AP Photo

President Joe Biden, warning about the escalating threat of nuclear attacks by Russia, compared the precarious moment to a dark time in history at a Democratic fundraiser on Thursday night.

Biden, speaking at the New York home of investor James Murdoch, said the United States had not “faced the prospect of Armageddon” since President John F. Kennedy was mired in the Cuban missile crisis 60 years ago.

Months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to grow his military ranks and annex Ukrainian territory that U.S. officials have said they will never recognize, Biden suggested Russia’s threats were not merely idle.

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“We’ve got a guy I know fairly well,” the president said of Putin, in extended remarks about the conflict. “He’s not joking when he talks about potential use of tactical nuclear weapons or biological or chemical weapons, because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming,” Biden continued, opening a window into how much it has been weighing on him just a month before the midterm elections and amid a spate of domestic campaigning and fundraising.

He also spoke to the delicate — and, in some sense, seemingly impossible — task of managing the crisis from afar while “trying to figure out, what is Putin’s off-ramp? ... Where does he find a way out?”

A key question before U.S. officials and their Western allies, Biden added, is where Putin finds himself if he loses not only face but also significant power.

“We have the threat of a nuclear weapon if, in fact, things continue down the path they are going,” he reiterated.

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