President Biden has made a U-turn over his call for regime change in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine by troops controlled by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president was asked by a reporter as he was leaving Holy Trinity Church in the Georgetown neighbourhood of Washington D.C. on Sunday.
‘Mr President, do you want Putin removed?’, the reporter asked. ‘Mr President, were you calling for regime change?’ they asked, to which Biden turned to the camera and yelled ‘no!’ before getting into his motorcade, Daily Mail reports.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Biden said: ‘For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,’ in a shocking apparent call for regime change in Moscow.
The call came at the end of an impassioned speech from Poland on Saturday.
The unscripted remark, which the White House scrambled to walk back as the Kremlin expressed fury, came at the end of an otherwise resolute and fiery speech rallying the free world to unite in opposition to autocracy and support of Ukraine.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday also warned against an escalation ‘in words and action’, hours after Biden branded Putin a ‘butcher’ who ‘cannot remain in power’.
Macron, a close US ally who has also spoken frequently with Putin since the invasion, warned the West not to ‘escalate in words or actions’ – or risk hampering vital humanitarian efforts, including hopes of evacuating the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
His warning against an escalation in the conflict came during an interview with broadcaster France 3, in which the French leader said he is focused on trying to broker a peace deal between Kyiv and Moscow, and a diplomatic end to the war.
‘I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin,’ Macron said on Sunday. ‘We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective.’
Macron’s attempt at mediation came hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem that the United States was not looking for ‘regime change’ in Moscow or anywhere else in the world.
Blinken quickly walked back his President’s comments, explaining that his boss was likely referring to Putin’s influence outside of his country — including Moscow’s bloody and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine which has now spanned over a month.
‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,’ Blinken said according to multiple reports.
‘As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter.’
Biden’s remark could potentially diminish Putin’s interest in compromise and increase his temptation to escalate in Ukraine.
Before Biden could even board Air Force One to begin the flight back to Washington on Saturday, his aides were rushing to claim that he hadn’t been calling for an immediate change in government in Moscow.
‘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,’ a White House official said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly denounced Biden, saying ‘it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.’
Biden’s alarming off-the-cuff remark came a day after the White House had rushed to clarify other awkward remarks from the president suggesting that US troops would deploy, and had already deployed, to Ukraine.
In a speech to US paratroopers in Poland on Friday, Biden said: ‘You’re going to see when you’re there – some of you have been there – you’re going to see women, young people, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, saying, ‘I’m not leaving.”
Biden’s mention of ‘when you’re there’ seemed to suggest that the troops would be deployed across the border to Ukraine, but the administration insisted there has been no change in his stance that the US will not enter the conflict.
‘The president has been clear we are not sending U.S. troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position,’ a White House spokesperson clarified to Fox News on Friday.
Biden has persistently said that troops would not be sent into Ukraine under any circumstances during Putin’s invasion, fearing it would turn into World War Three and end up becoming a lengthy combat mission like in Afghanistan.