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Biden says Putin made ‘significant miscalculation’ by invading Ukraine

(CNN) — Joe Biden said in an exclusive interview with CNN that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “rational actor” who miscalculated his ability to invade Ukraine and repress its people.

“I think he is a rational actor who has made a significant miscalculation,” Biden told Jake Tapper as Russian bombing of civilian targets in Ukraine marked another turning point in the months-long war.

Biden, his top officials and other Western leaders have spent the past few months debating what steps Putin can take as his troops suffer embarrassing battlefield losses in Ukraine. Biden himself warned last week that the risk of a “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. And while Biden said Tuesday that he believed Putin himself was rational, he characterized the Russian leader’s goals in Ukraine — which Putin angrily exposed in a speech when he launched the war in February — as ridiculous.

“Listen to what he says. If you listen to the speech that he gave after that decision was made, he talked about the idea that he needed to be the leader of Russia that would unite all Russian-speakers. I mean, I just think he’s irrational,” Biden said.

Going further, Biden said that Putin mistakenly believed that the Ukrainians would submit to the Russian invasion, a misjudgment that has been refuted by fierce resistance within the country.

“I think the speech, its objectives… I think, Jake, he thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms, that this is the home of mother Russia in Kyiv, and he was going to be welcomed. And I think he totally miscalculated,” Biden said.

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

Russia withdraws its troops and launches attacks on Ukrainian cities 1:43

This week, however, Russia launched one of its fiercest bombing campaigns since it invaded in late February. At least 19 people have been killed and more than 100 injured across the country, including in the western city of Lviv, hundreds of kilometers from the main theaters of war in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Biden spoke with Tapper just hours after meeting virtually with members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, who heard from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the need to bolster his country’s air defenses amid renewed Russian bombing.

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 strikes.

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

However, Russia’s intense airstrike on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and civilian infrastructure suggested that Putin may be employing new tactics aimed at terrorizing Ukrainians as winter approaches.

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