President Joe Biden declared forcefully Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin should no longer remain in power, an unabashed challenge that came at the very end of a swing through Europe meant to reinforce Western unity.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden declared at the end of a capstone speech delivered in the freezing cold outside Warsaw’s Royal Castle.
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After that, the White House downplayed the remark, saying, “The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region,” “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
According to a separate White House official, the line was not in Biden’s prepared remarks.
But Biden’s remark was already resonating as he flew out of Poland to return to Washington after a last-minute trip to Brussels to attend snap summits and reassure allies along NATO’s eastern border.
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It was the most forceful statement he’d made in calling for changes in Russia’s government, and it signalled a significant shift in his rhetoric toward Moscow. Previously, US officials stated that deposing Putin was not their goal.
“This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in response to Biden. It should only be a matter of choice for the Russian Federation’s citizens.
Biden warned of a long fight ahead in his speech, which drew a clear line between liberal democracies and the type of autocracy Putin oversees.
“We must be clear-eyed in this battle.” “This is not a battle that will be won in days or months,” he said.
An airstrike hit a fuel depot just outside Lviv, Ukraine, about 200 miles from where Biden was scheduled to speak in Poland. The strike sent billowing smoke and flames rising above the western Ukrainian city, which had been seen as a safe haven during the war due to its proximity to the Russia-Ukraine border.
It was an unexpected attack, coming just a day after the Russian military announced that the first phase of the conflict had ended and that it was now focusing on the disputed eastern parts of Ukraine. Following days of Western leaders putting on a united front against Russia, the strike could be interpreted as a retaliation by Putin and his military against Biden and the West.
During his speech, Biden issued a stern warning to Putin, standing along NATO’s eastern edge in Poland, telling him, “Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.” He stated that the US was committed to the NATO charter’s collective protection obligations “with the full force of our collective power.”
However, Biden made it clear that the current conflict in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, does not necessitate American involvement.
“American forces are not in Europe to engage in conflict with Russian forces, American forces are here to defend NATO,” he explained.
Biden began his speech by stating that Ukraine has become a front line battleground in the fight between autocracy and democracy, referring to Russia’s invasion of its neighbour as part of a decades-long conflict between the West and the Kremlin.
“My message to the people of Ukraine is … we stand with you. “Period,” Biden stated.