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 announced at the conclusion of a capstone address delivered in the cold outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
The White House afterward downplayed the remark: “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.”
The line was not in Biden’s prepared remarks, a separate White House official said.
But his remark was already reverberating as Biden departed Poland to return home to Washington after his last-minute trip to attend snap summits in Brussels and to reassure allies along NATO’s eastern edge.
It was the furthest he had gone in calling for changes atop Russia’s government and reflected a significant escalation in his rhetorical approach to Moscow. US officials had said previously said removing Putin from power was not their goal.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to Biden, saying, “This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden. It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.”