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Biden says Putin 'totally miscalculated' by invading Ukraine but is a 'rational actor'

Watch Jake Tapper’s exclusive interview with President Joe Biden on CNN Tonight with Jake Tapper at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

CNN  — 

President Joe Biden said in an exclusive CNN interview Tuesday he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “rational actor” who nonetheless badly misjudged his ability to invade Ukraine and suppress its people.

“I think he is a rational actor who has miscalculated significantly,” Biden told Jake Tapper as Russian bombardments on civilian targets in Ukraine signaled another turning point in the months-long war.

Tapper’s full interview with Biden airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on “CNN Tonight with Jake Tapper.”

Biden, his top officials and fellow Western leaders have spent the past several months debating what steps Putin may take as his troops suffer embarrassing losses on the battlefield in Ukraine. Biden himself warned last week the risk of “nuclear Armageddon” was at its highest point in 60 years.

Whether Putin is acting rationally has been a subject of intense debate as leaders work to predict his next steps. While Biden said Tuesday he believed Putin himself was rational, he characterized the Russian leader’s aims in Ukraine – which Putin laid out in an angry speech as he launched the war in February – as ridiculous.

“You listen to what he says. If you listen to the speech he made after when that decision was being made, he talked about the whole idea of – he was needed to be the leader of Russia that united all of Russian speakers. I mean, it’s just I just think it’s irrational,” Biden said.

Going further, Biden said Putin wrongly believed Ukrainians would submit to Russian invasion – a misjudgment that’s been disproved by fierce resistance inside the country.

“I think the speech, his objectives were not rational. I think he thought, Jake, I think he thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms, that this was the home of Mother Russia in Kyiv, and that where he was going to be welcomed, and I think he just totally miscalculated,” Biden said.

Indeed, a counteroffensive launched by Ukraine last month was successful in retaking territory previously held by the Russians, including critical transportation hubs. The losses proved the latest major embarrassment for Russia, whose military has struggled over the course of the seven-month war.

This week, however, Russia launched one of its fiercest bombing campaigns since invading in late February. At least 19 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded across the country, as far away as the western city of Lviv, hundreds of miles from the war’s main theaters in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Biden spoke to Tapper a few hours after meeting virtually with members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the need to bolster his country’s air defenses amid the new Russian bombardments.

Zelensky told the meeting that “common efforts to create an air shield for Ukraine” must be intensified amid a barrage of Russian cruise missile and drone attacks.

White House officials have said the US is prepared to further bolster Ukraine’s air defenses, including through missile defense systems that Biden expedited delivery of over the summer.

Yet Russia’s intense aerial assault of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and on civilian infrastructure suggested Putin could be employing new tactics meant to terrorize Ukrainians as the winter approaches.

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