President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin must not remain in power on Saturday, as he delivered a major speech in Warsaw, Poland, rallying European allies for a “long-haul” resistance to Russian aggression.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said of Putin, in his strongest rhetoric yet regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The remarks, which appeared to be unscripted, marked an apparent departure from previous efforts by US officials to stress that Washington is not pushing for regime change in Russia.
“For us, it’s not about regime change,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CBS in early March. “The Russian people have to decide who they want to lead them.”
Soon after Saturday’s speech, the White House walked back Biden’s remarks, arguing that the word “power” referred to that wielded by Moscow beyond its borders, not within Russia.
“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a White House official said. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: “That’s not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
Calling the fight against Putin a “new battle for freedom,” Biden said Putin’s desire for “absolute power” was a strategic failure for Russia and a direct challenge to a European peace that has largely prevailed since World War Two.
“The West is now stronger, more united than it has ever been,” Biden said. “This battle will not be won in days or months, either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.”
While stressing that Nato was a “defensive alliance,” he called on members of the defense bloc as well as the G7 to dig in for a battle against authoritarianism that could stretch on for decades.
“We must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul,” he said. “We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after, and for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy. There will be a cost, but it’s a price we have to pay.”