U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday he believes his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is a normally rational actor who badly misjudged his prospects of occupying Ukraine.
The president spoke during a televised interview as his administration looks for what he has described as an off-ramp for Putin to de-escalate his invasion of Ukraine before he resorts to weapons of mass destruction.
“I think he is a rational actor who has miscalculated significantly,” Biden told CNN after Moscow’s shelling of civilian targets across Ukraine marked an escalation in the seven-month conflict.
Biden warned last week that the world risks Armageddon in unusually direct remarks about the dangers from Putin’s thinly veiled threats to use nuclear weapons to assist Russia’s faltering attempt to take over swaths of Ukraine.
Putin’s state of mind has been the subject of much debate after the Russian president suffered a series of recent military setbacks in the invasion, which he launched in February.
In remarks released by CNN ahead of its broadcast of the interview later Tuesday, Biden said that while he believed Putin was rational, he had underestimated the ferocity of Ukrainian defiance.
“I think … he thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms, that this was the home of Mother Russia in Kyiv, and where he was going to be welcomed, and I think he just totally miscalculated,” Biden said.
Kyiv’s forces have in recent weeks been pushing back against Russian soldiers across the front lines in the south and in the east.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday his troops had recaptured nearly 2,500 square kilometers in the counter-offensive that began late last month.
But the Ukrainian defense ministry said Monday that Russia had retaliated with a massive bombardment, hitting the Ukrainian capital Kyiv for the first time in months, as well as other cities across the country.
Biden spoke to CNN hours after meeting virtually with members of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, who heard from Zelenskyy on the need for intensified efforts to “create an air shield for Ukraine” amid the barrage of Russian cruise missile and drone attacks.
Washington pledged after Monday’s destruction that it would increase shipments of air defenses to Ukraine, while Germany promised delivery “in the coming days” of the first Iris-T missile shield reportedly capable of protecting a city.
Meanwhile, the United States was leading an all-out offensive to rally as many countries as possible to adopt a resolution at the U.N. condemning Moscow’s annexation of Ukrainian regions.
“We believe the time has long passed for neutrality. There is no such thing as neutrality in a situation like this,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
U.N. countries are debating a resolution introduced to the General Assembly by Ukraine, which the West hopes will demonstrate the isolation of Putin’s Russia on the international stage, with a vote likely on Wednesday or Thursday.