Top House Republican foreign policy, military and intelligence lawmakers are sounding the alarm over what they way is Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling, calling on President Biden to leverage “every tool of national power” to deter the Kremlin from nuclear aggression amid the clash over Ukraine.
Reps. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, Mike Rogers of Alabama and Mike Turner of Ohio said in a letter to Mr. Biden on Friday that recent public statements from Russian officials suggest the Kremlin views the use of nuclear weapons as “an acceptable option to achieve their malign and illegal objectives in Europe.”
“Such threats are unprecedented and are reminiscent of the rhetoric of Russian leaders at the height of the Cold War,” the lawmakers, who serve as the ranking members of the House Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, wrote. “They are chilling and must be taken seriously.”
“The U.S. cannot be a passive spectator as Russia uses nuclear intimidation,” they wrote.
Moscow has on multiple occasions issued veiled threats that it was willing to use its vast nuclear arsenal since invading Ukraine, targeting in particular nations such as the U.S. and its NATO allies for helping to arm Kyiv in the fight.
Russian President Vladimir Putin placed Russia‘s nuclear forces on heightened alert in late February in response to “unfriendly economic actions” and “aggressive statements” from Western countries just days after the war began and senior Russian officials have made subsequent threats as the war has dragged on.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow earlier this month that the Biden administration is “deliberately and diligently pouring fuel on the fire” by sending arms to Ukraine.
The day prior, a hawkish pro-Putin Russian lawmaker threatened on state TV that Russia‘s military could destroy “the entire East Coast of the U.S.”
“Four missiles and there’ll be nothing left,” Alexei Zhuravlev said. “They think the mushroom cloud will be taller than a high-rise. That mushroom cloud will be visible from Mexico.”
In an op-ed in The New York Times last month, Mr. Biden pointedly dismissed threats from some voices in Mr. Putin’s regime that Washington risked a nuclear escalation if it continued to arm Ukraine in the fighting.
“I know many people around the world are concerned about the use of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Biden wrote. “We currently see no indication that Russia has intent to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, though Russia‘s occasional rhetoric to rattle the nuclear saber is itself dangerous and extremely irresponsible.”
Mr. Biden said Moscow would face “severe consequences” should it employ nuclear weapons “on any scale.”
In their letter Friday, the lawmakers said Mr. Biden’s warning to the Kremlin in the op-ed is “insufficient.”
“In our view, every tool of national power should be leveraged to achieve deterrence of Russian nuclear aggression,” they wrote.
The lawmakers urged Mr. Biden to clarify U.S. policy toward Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons.
“If Russia uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the U.S. must act,” the lawmakers wrote. “This must be clear to Russia to deter their use of nuclear weapons in this unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine.”