Putin and Biden
Putin and BidenReuters

US President Joe Biden told CNN in an exclusive interview on 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 in the interview.

Biden, who warned last week the risk of “nuclear Armageddon” was at its highest level in 60 years, said in the interview that threats emanating from Russia could result in catastrophic “mistakes” and “miscalculation,” even as he declined to spell out how precisely the United States would respond if Putin deploys a tactical nuclear device on the battlefield in Ukraine.

While Biden told Putin 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 told Tapper.

Asked whether he would meet Putin at next month’s Group of 20 summit in Indonesia, Biden said he didn’t see a good reason for a sit-down.

“It would depend on specifically what he wanted to talk about,” Biden said, adding if Putin wanted to discuss the jailed American basketball star Brittney Griner then he would be open to talking.

“But look, he’s acted brutally, he’s acted brutally,” Biden said. “I think he’s committed war crimes. And so I don’t, I don’t see any rationale to meet with him now.”

Despite his warning last week that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” was at its highest point since the Cuban Missile Crisis, Biden told Tapper he didn’t believe Putin would ultimately take that step.

“I don’t think he will,” Biden said when asked by Tapper whether the Russian leader would use a tactical nuclear weapon.

“I think it’s irresponsible for him to talk about it, the idea that a world leader of one of the largest nuclear powers in the world says he may use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine,” Biden added.

Biden refused to disclose what a US response would look like should Putin follow through on his nuclear threats, but said the Department of Defense had proactively developed contingencies should the scenario come to pass.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Friday said the United States sees no reason to change its nuclear posture and does not have indications that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons.

"He was reinforcing what we have been saying, which is how seriously we take these threats about nuclear weapons," Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One when asked about Biden's “Armageddon” comments.

"We have not seen any reason to adjust our own strategic nuclear posture, nor do we have indications that Russia is preparing to imminently use nuclear weapons," she added.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that Washington takes Putin's nuclear threats seriously but does not presently see indications of the use of nuclear weapons by Russia.

Biden also told Tapper in Tuesday’s interview he believed it was time to “rethink” the US relationship with Saudi Arabia after the kingdom partnered with Russia to cut oil production, a rebuke after intensive White House efforts to prevent such a decision.

“I am in the process, when the House and Senate gets back, they’re going to have to – there’s going to be some consequences for what they’ve done with Russia,” Biden said.

The decision by the Saudi-led OPEC+ oil cartel to cut production last week prompted anger at the White House, where officials said Biden was personally disappointed by what they called a “shortsighted”