Russia has a "different view" of the use of nuclear weapons than does any other country in the world, and that makes President Vladimir Putin, "the most dangerous man in history," Sen. Angus King said Wednesday.
"This is clearly to me the most dangerous moment that our country has faced since the Cuban Missile Crisis," the Maine Independent said on CNN's "New Day." "He's an autocrat. He's a tyrant. He's aggressive. He wants to expand his country through force, and he has nuclear weapons, the second-largest stockpile in the world. So this is an exceedingly dangerous moment."
Part of the danger is that Russia considers its nuclear capability in a different way than any other country in the world, including the United States, said King, a member of the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services committees.
"They view nuclear weapons as part of their arsenal, you know, you've got tanks, artillery, and nuclear weapons," said King. "They have a doctrine that's announced called 'escalate to de-escalate.' What that means is if we're losing on the battlefield, we'll use nuclear weapons to kind of level the playing field and force our adversaries to negotiate. That's a terrifying prospect."
The United States' view, in contrast, is that "a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon. If it's a tactical [weapon], a smaller outcome, that's still a nuclear weapon."
King's comments come after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that Russia would only use nuclear weapons if its existence is threatened, according to state news media organization Tass.
Peskov, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour Tuesday, also repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility that Russia would consider the use of nuclear weapons, telling her that if Russia is facing an "existential threat," then the weapons "can be" used.
King responded that Russia would consider "regime change, for sure, and attacks on the homeland" as an existential threat, but the problem is that Russia defined, at the beginning of the conflict, Ukraine as Russia's "ancestral homeland."
"You get into the parsing of phrases," he lamented.
The threat of nuclear war has been gone worldwide for some time, until now, King warned.
"Ronald Reagan said 'nobody wins a nuclear war,' and we've sort of been away from the threat of nuclear war for a while," King said. "I think that people haven't fully grasped the enormity of what this kind of exchange would mean."
King was part of the Senate delegation traveling to Poland and Germany last weekend, and with President Joe Biden heading to Brussels to meet with NATO leaders, he said he expects additional sanctions are coming against Russia.
"This trip is a big deal," said King about Biden's travels. "What the Ukrainians need more than anything else right now is aircraft, and not necessarily a no-fly zone. The problem in Ukraine is coming from missiles and artillery, not from aircraft. They only go after the helicopters. They won't hit airplanes high in the sky, and they won't take out missiles."
Meanwhile, "it's dawning on the world" that Ukraine could defeat Russia, but that is "going to up the ante, and put more pressure on Putin," said King.
U.S. troops are poised in the Baltic states and Poland as a deterrent, King added.
"They are a signal, don't go into NATO," said King. "Don't cross the border into the Baltic states or Poland because we're building forces there that will resist."
The Russia-Ukraine war has also shown the weakness of the Russian army, "you know, that people are 10 feet tall. They aren't," said King. "They're being stopped essentially by, you know, a much smaller force of Ukrainians. The Russians have almost their whole army in this fight."
King also on Monday hit back at Putin's plans to attend the next G20 summit and said he agrees the other countries involved should kick him and Russia out of the group.
"The G20 is a group of countries that work together on economic issues and resolve issues peacefully and through international processes," said King. "What he has done, ironically, is he has solidified the Ukrainian identity. They will never integrate with Russia now. They can't stand Russia or Putin. Plus, he unified the west and is making Russia a pariah nation, and I think we should help him in that process."
Concerns are also growing that Russia could engage in cyberattacks, but King said there is "no definition" whether that is an act of war.
"I think the administration has done the right thing by announcing probes," said King. "Normally the intelligence community holds this information close. The fact that we have announced it publicly, now the private sector, the energy companies, electric companies, the grid, they're on notice, and they've really got to buckle down on their protection."
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