Biden says in condemning Putin: ‘I’m not apologizing’

WASHINGTON – President Biden on Monday stood by his comments that Vladimir V. Putin should not continue to be Russia’s president, but he said it was a display of his own horror at the invasion Ukraine, not a change in US policy that seeks to remove Mr. Putin from office.

“I’m expressing the moral outrage I feel, and I’m not sorry for that,” Biden told reporters at the White House, dismissing criticism from around the world in his remarks. the past two days about the potential diplomatic consequences of his words. The president said that no one should interpret his comments as calling for the overthrow of Putin.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said of questions about his speech in Warsaw on Saturday, when he said, “For God’s sake, this man cannot continue to be in power.” On Monday, Mr. Biden said: “Nobody believes I’m talking about bringing down Putin. No one believes that.”

The disappointment of Mr Biden’s words in Warsaw underscores the dilemma he and his NATO allies face over how to condemn war in Ukraine and pressure Russia without severing any ties with Moscow could help end the invasion.

The West will also have to decide whether Moscow is allowed to return to the global economy, whether sanctions will be lifted and how to resume diplomacy if Russia withdraws its forces. again.

Mr. Biden’s remarks drew some praise for being tough and clear but also warnings from lawmakers and the President. Emmanuel Macron of France, who said on Sunday “I wouldn’t use this kind of word” when asked about Mr. Biden’s speech. Mr. Macron said he hoped to reach a ceasefire and withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine through diplomacy.

Some critics say Biden’s announcement could make it harder to negotiate an end to the five-week-old war that has killed thousands in Ukraine and displaced millions. their door.

On Monday, Mr. Biden insisted that was not the case, even though Mr. Putin has told the Russians for years that he believes the United States and the CIA are conspiring to remove him from power. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said that Biden’s statement “made us worried” and that the Kremlin would “continue to closely monitor” the president’s remarks.

During his speech in Warsaw, Mr. Biden tried to distinguish between Mr. Putin’s actions and those of the Russian people, who he said were not responsible for the atrocities committed by the military. This country causes daily in Ukraine. He argued that Russia’s controls on television and the internet have kept its citizens from knowing the truth.

“Vladimir Putin’s belligerence has set you, the Russian people, apart from the rest of the world and brought Russia back to the 19th century,” he said.

Moments later, he declared that “a dictator who wants to rebuild an empire will never erase the people’s love of freedom” before declaring that Mr. Putin should go.

The White House appeared to be quick to understand that Mr. Biden’s words could be seen as a reversal of the administration’s long-stated position that it is not seeking regime change in Russia. It took only minutes for officials to back down from Mr. Biden’s comments on Saturday night. Reporters had just lined up for a bus after his speech when administration officials emailed denying that the president was officially supporting Putin’s removal.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken told journalists in Jerusalem that “we have no strategy for regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter.”

On Monday, his first extended comment on the matter, Mr. Biden insisted his statement had been misinterpreted.

“The last thing I want to do is get into a land war or a nuclear war with Russia. That’s not part of it,” Biden said. “I express my indignation at this man’s behaviour. That’s outrageous. That’s outrageous. It was an aspiration more than anything. He shouldn’t be in power.”

“People like this shouldn’t be the ruling nation, but they are,” he said, adding, “But that doesn’t mean I can’t express my outrage.”

Mr. Biden spoke as violence in Ukraine continued to increase, with Russian forces showing determination to consolidate their territorial interests in the east. In just five weeks, the conflict has killed thousands of civilians, including women and children, victims of intense Russian bombardment. Human rights advocates say more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled, creating one of the largest-ever refugee crises across Eastern Europe.

Saturday’s president’s remarks were not the first time an apparently fringe comment has eclipsed or overshadowed a tightly scripted White House message.

In an earlier press conference about the trip, Mr. Biden said Russia’s use of chemical weapons “will cause an in-kind response,” apparently indicating that NATO would respond with chemical weapons, which are being denied. prohibited by international law. Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters the next day that was not what the president meant, saying that “the United States does not intend to use chemical weapons, any, under any circumstances.”

In January, Mr. Biden sparked a similar stream of speculation when he said that the response to a potential invasion of Ukraine would then depend on “whether it was a minor invasion”. are not. Mr. Biden eventually corrected himself, saying, “If any assembled Russian unit moves across the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion.”

Mr. Biden is no stranger to the nuances of public diplomacy, in which officials – especially heads of state – are careful to speak in very specific ways to avoid offending another leader or send an unintentional message about the policy.

US presidents, for example, never consider Taiwan an independent country for fear of angering the Chinese government. The same is of concern when it comes to the city of Jerusalem, whose status remains a disputed part of discussions between Israel and Palestine.

In 2016, when President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy at Shimon Peres’ funeral, the former Israeli president, a White House coder, initially pointed out that the remark had been made in “Jerusalem, Israel.” Then, making a small change, the comments were modified to remove the reference to Israel.

President Donald J. Trump has repeatedly violated many diplomatic rules, which aides say is a deliberate attempt to sway the way foreign policy is conducted. He called the North Korean leader “Rocket Man,” officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and took steps to deal more formally with Taiwan in the final days of his administration.

Since taking office, Biden has made it a priority to return to a more traditional form of diplomacy, in which the United States seeks to work with adversaries like Russia even as the administration challenges Mr. they see as objectionable.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine tested that approach. Over the past few weeks, Mr. Biden has become increasingly vocal in his condemnation of Putin, using more aggressive language as the Russian leader escalates attacks on Ukraine.

A week ago, he called Mr. Putin.”war criminal“Before the United States officially made that determination. Before his speech on Saturday, Mr Biden visited refugees from Ukraine at a stadium in Warsaw and called Mr Putin “a butcher” for the deaths from shelling in Mariupol, a hardest hit city in the eastern part of the country. .

That kind of language has helped Mr. Biden unite America’s allies behind a series of coordinated responses to Mr. Putin’s aggression, including some of the harshest sanctions ever levied against Mr. a large and developed country. The president’s condemnations have been echoed by other world leaders over the past few weeks.

But it remains a delicate balance as the administration tries not to incite Mr. Putin into a broader conflict with NATO countries. Mr. Biden has repeatedly said that such skirmishes could lead to World War III.

In remarks to reporters on Monday, the president said it was his visit with the refugees just hours earlier that had led to his comment that Mr. Putin would not stay in power.

“Half of the children in Ukraine,” he said, seemingly referring to the estimated number of children who have become refugees because of the war. “I just came from those families.”

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