US intel director believes Putin would only use nuclear weapons if Russia faces 'existential threat'

Avril Haines says Putin uses nuclear rhetoric to ward off Western action in Ukraine

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President Biden's intelligence director downplayed Russia's recent threats to use nuclear weapons Tuesday, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin would only resort to nuclear war if he perceives an existential threat to Russia.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines made the statement while testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. Putin has repeatedly suggested that Western interference in his invasion of Ukraine could lead him to use nuclear weapons.

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Haines argues that such rhetoric is more an effort to curb Western sanctions and aid to Ukraine than a direct threat.

"We believe that Moscow continues to use nuclear rhetoric to deter the United States and the West from increasing lethal aid to Ukraine and to respond to public comments from the U.S. and NATO allies that suggest expanded Western goals in the conflict," she said in her opening statement.

Haines went on to say that it is very possible that Putin would order further displays of Russian nuclear power as the conflict in Ukraine continues. She said such a display could include a dispersal and mobilization of nuclear weapons across Russia.

"We otherwise continue to believe that President Putin would probably only authorize the use of nuclear weapons if he perceived an existential threat to the Russian state or regime," Haines said.

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Haines' testimony comes days after Putin held a nuclear-themed parade celebrating "Victory Day," the holiday marking the end of World War II in Russia.

Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s Space Agency Roscosmos and former deputy prime minister, boasted of Russia's nuclear prowess to the press on Sunday. He said a nuclear war would see NATO-allied countries destroyed "in 30 minutes." But he acknowledged that such a conflict would be a catastrophe for the world.