During a fiery 27-minute speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, President Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” suggesting that the US had wanted a regime change in Russia. The latest gaffe from the President led many to fear that his comments would be seen as a threat to Russian statehood and further escalate the situation with Ukraine and Russia.
Biden also called Putin “A dictator, bent on rebuilding an empire, will never erase the people’s love for liberty,” and boldly claimed that “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. We will have a different future — a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.”
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he exclaimed. “God bless you all, and may God defend our freedom, and may God protect our troops,” the President said. These comments come after Biden had called Putin a “butcher” during a meeting with refugees who fled Ukraine.
President Joe Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power,’ remarks a White House official said were meant to prepare the world's democracies for extended conflict over Ukraine, not back regime change in Russia https://t.co/JT49oUwU4T pic.twitter.com/y7TsdZuYLR
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 26, 2022
Russia did not take these comments lightly. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated to TASS that “A state leader should control his temper, nonetheless.” Peskov claimed that each time Biden insults Putin, a window of opportunity for improved US-Russia bilateral relations narrowly closes.
He further claimed that Biden was a proponent of the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Peskov found it ironic that Biden was now calling Putin a “butcher,” stating that, “After all, he is the man who once demanded, when speaking on TV in his country, that Yugoslavia be bombed. That’s right, that Yugoslavia be bombed. He demanded to kill people.”
Peskov also said that it was for the people to decide whether Putin should step down or not. “That’s not for Biden to decide. The President of Russia is elected by Russians,” said the Kremlin spokesperson.
Immediately following Biden’s out-of-script comments, the White House scrambled to backtrack and fix the comments to avoid further escalation and misinterpretation by Moscow as the ad-lib caught the White House by surprise.
“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change,” a White House official said through an email.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also tried to clarify the situation and said that the US was not advocating a regime change or an ouster of Putin.
“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 explained while on a trip to Jerusalem.
“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,” saying that it would be up to the people of a particular country to decide on their government and their leadership.
— Ostap Yarysh (@OstapYarysh) March 25, 2022
Biden also backtracked on his statements, simply saying “no” when asked whether he was calling for a regime change in Russia.
Veteran diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Aaron David Miller described the speech as “quite remarkable” and that it was a “gaffe from the heart.”
“If Biden could close his eyes tomorrow and have ten wishes, one would be there’s a leadership change in Russia,” Miller said.
It can be remembered that he also called Putin a “war criminal” in the weeks leading up to his trip to Brussels. A day after this incident, he then called Putin a “murderous dictator, a pure thug who’s waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine,” during a speech at the Friends of Ireland Luncheon on St. Patrick’s Day last March 17.
The Kremlin responded aggressively and immediately after Biden called Putin a war criminal. Former Russian President and now Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev accused the US of being Russophobic and that the US was actively trying to destroy their country. He went on to threaten the States and its allies that they would collectively need to “put all of our enemies in their place,” according to Medvedev.
Biden, during his speech, also emphasized that the invasion of Ukraine was a battle between democracy and autocracy, a battle between liberty and repression, and a battle between a rules-based order and those governed by brute force. Biden warned that this would be a “long fight” and that it wouldn’t be just a few days or months to win a war, describing it as a “great battle for freedom.”
“The battle for democracy did not conclude with the fall of the Berlin Wall,” the President said. “Today Russia has strangled democracy and sought to do so elsewhere, not just in its homeland.”
The President again reiterated that Putin should not even think about invading NATO territory, saying that NATO had been united more than it has ever been. This comes after NATO leaders met in Brussels and hatched up plans to create new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia to strengthen the eastern portion of the alliance.
It was also in these series of meeting that the G7 had sanctioned some 400 Russian entities and individuals, specifically 40 Russian defense companies, to further hinder Russia’s capacity to respond to their war needs, may that be guns, missiles, armored vehicles, tanks, and the like.
According to veteran diplomat and President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass, the recent gaffe would discourage Putin from any compromise as Biden’s statements confirmed the Russian leader’s worst fears— Putin’s ouster and systemic change as he has already been in a state of paranoia due to the current results of his invasion of Ukraine. It may also help Russia generate additional propaganda, misinformation and frame the US as an aggressor against Russia and its statehood.
Sen. Jim Risch, a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Biden should have been kept “on script” as those nine words would severely impact US foreign relations. “Any time you say or even, as he did, suggest that the policy was regime change, it’s going to cause a huge problem,” he said.
“That is not the policy of the United States of America,” he added. “Please, Mr. President, stay on script.”