The risk of nuclear "Armageddon" is at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, President Joe Biden said during a fundraiser Thursday amid the threat Russian President Vladimir Putin will deploy nuclear weapons to ward off Ukraine’s attempt to reclaim control of Moscow-occupied areas.
Biden's warning follows talks among Russian officials about the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has also repeatedly alluded to using his country's vast nuclear arsenal.
"We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis," Biden said at a fundraiser for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, suggesting Putin's threat is real "because his military is — you might say — significantly underperforming."
For months, U.S. officials have warned of the possibility of Russia using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. But officials said this week that they have seen no change to Russia's nuclear forces that would require a change in the alert posture of U.S. nuclear forces.
The U.S. has been "clear" to Russia about what the "consequences" of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would be, according to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
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►The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Samantha Power, met Thursday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and praised not only Ukraine's success on the battlefield but the country's "ongoing efforts to strengthen its democracy and its economy.” She said the U.S. would provide an additional $55 million to repair heating pipes and other equipment.
►Sweden’s domestic security agency said its preliminary investigation of leaks from two Russian gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea confirmed they were caused by "detonations,'' and that the findings have "strengthened the suspicions of serious sabotage.”
►Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., a prominent Kremlin critic who was jailed for allegedly spreading “false information” about the war in Ukraine, has been charged with treason by Russian authorities.
►The European Union on Thursday froze the assets of an additional 37 people and entities tied to Russia’s war in Ukraine, including officials involved in the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces.
►Polish officials said they are distributing potassium iodide tablets to regional firefighter stations in case Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is damaged.
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Ukraine regains 150 square miles of land in expanding counteroffensive
As Ukraine consolidates the territory it has recaptured in the northeastern Kharkiv province, it continues to make gains in the east and south of the country.
Since the start of October, Kyiv's forces have taken back more than 150 square miles of land in the southern Kherson province that had fallen to the Russians early in the war, Ukraine’s southern military command said Thursday. Spokesperson Natalia Humeniuk added the situation along the southern front remains fluid.
At the same time, the Ukrainian counteroffensive that drove Russian troops out of Kharkiv and across the border has extended to the neighboring provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, which make up the industrial Donbas region that Russia covets. Among the prize gains was the strategically important city of Lyman.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his officials announced Wednesday the retaking of villages in those provinces. Zelenskyy proclaimed, “The return of the Ukrainian flag means that a peaceful and socially secure life is once again possible for Donbas.”
With the attempted Russian annexation of four provinces as a backdrop, further Ukrainian progress in parts of Luhansk appears probable because of favorable terrain and lack of Russian reinforcements, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
"Ukraine’s ongoing northern and southern counteroffensives are likely forcing the Kremlin to prioritize the defense of one area of operations at the expense of another, potentially increasing the likelihood of Ukrainian success in both," the institute said.
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2 Russians escaping draft seek US asylum after landing in Alaska
Two Russians who said they're escaping President Vladimir Putin's military conscription are requesting U.S. asylum after landing on a remote Alaskan island in the Bering Sea, the office of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.
Murkowski and fellow Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, said the Russians arrived at a beach near Gambell, an isolated community of about 600 people on St. Lawrence Island. Gambell is about 36 miles from the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia's region of Siberia.
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement the Russians arrived on a small boat Tuesday and were taken to Anchorage for screening and processing. The statement did not provide information on their asylum request.
A statement from Sullivan urged federal authorities to come up with a plan in case “more Russians flee to Bering Strait communities in Alaska.”
Kremlin accuses NATO of 'pumping up' nuclear talk
A Kremlin spokeswoman on Thursday appeared to tamp down controversy over any nuclear option in Ukraine and blamed NATO for an escalation in nuclear rhetoric.
"The Russian Federation is fully committed to the principle of the inadmissibility of nuclear war," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
Zakharova said she won't "participate in pumping up the degree of nuclear rhetoric," saying it served the interests of NATO countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in announcing a partial military mobilization for his country last month, vowed to use “all available means” to deter attacks against Russia, an allusion to Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg then warned of “severe consequences for Russia” if Putin were to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The U.S. issued a similar warning.
Missile attacks draw close to Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia
Russia launched two missile attacks Thursday that hit more than 40 apartment buildings in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, close to Europe's largest nuclear power plant, authorities said. At least seven people were killed and five were missing, regional Gov. Oleksandr Starukha said.
The strikes came hours after Ukraine announced that Russian occupation forces had been driven out of three more villages in regions illegally annexed by Moscow.
Each side has blamed the other for rocket attacks roaring harrowingly close to the Zaporizhzhia plant. Putin on Wednesday declared the plant Russian property, a decree quickly rejected by Ukraine.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Presidnet Biden warns of nuclear 'Armageddon'