President Joe Biden said on Thursday the risk of a nuclear war has never been as high since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, in a striking message about what he called the potential for “armageddon.”

Biden delivered the warning as threats made by Russian President Vladimir Putin of using weapons of mass destruction in the invasion of Ukraine put the U.S. military on alert.

“We have not faced the prospect of armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Biden told a crowd at a fundraiser in New York.

“We are trying to figure out: What is Putin’s off ramp? Where does he find a way out? Where does he find himself where he does not only lose face but significant power?” he added.

The president’s remarks — starker than recent statements by White House members on how to deal with the Russian nuclear threat — surprised even senior U.S. officials.

Biden’s assessment was not based on new pieces of intelligence information, multiple sources said.

Biden’s reference to the Cuban Missiles Crisis in 1962 comes only a few days from the 60th anniversary of the conflict.

On October 16 that year, President John Kennedy had access to images of a Soviet nuclear installation in Cuba, which triggered a tense negotiation with the U.R.S.S. that lasted for 13 days, ending when Russia withdrew the missiles from Cuba.

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