Biden's Big Line on Putin Wasn't Planned

US continues to insist White House isn't advocating regime change in Russia
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2022 7:04 AM CDT
Biden's Big Line on Putin Wasn't Planned
President Biden delivers a speech about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Royal Castle, Saturday, March 26, 2022, in Warsaw.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The fallout continues over President Biden's bombshell of a line about Vladimir Putin on Saturday: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.” Biden delivered the line at the end of a speech in Poland, and both Politico and the Washington Post say the president ad-libbed the remark. Almost immediately, the White House attempted to walk it back by saying the US is not advocating "regime change," and that continued on Sunday:

  • Blinken: "We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Israel, per the AP. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people,” Blinken said. He added that Biden was making the point that Putin "cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”

  • Criticism: A common refrain is voiced by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, per the New York Times. “The White House walk back of (Biden's) regime change call is unlikely to wash,” he tweeted. “Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along. Bad lapse in discipline that runs risk of extending the scope and duration of the war.”
  • The fear: At the BBC, Anthony Zurcher writes that the fear is that the sentiment could create yet more instability and unpredictability. "And the last thing you want in these circumstances is unpredictability." As Haass put it, if Putin—who has already spoken of Russia's nuclear arsenal in the context of this war—thinks he has everything to lose, why would he then de-escalate?
  • A 'gaffe?' “This is one of those speeches where the one-liner in many ways drowns out the intent of the speech," veteran diplomat Aaron David Miller tells the Post. “I guess you can call this a gaffe from the heart. If Biden could close his eyes tomorrow and have 10 wishes, one would be there’s a leadership change in Russia.” Miller, however, is not convinced the line will have major repercussions, in part because the White House so quickly clarified.

  • Kremlin: Moscow rebuked Biden over the remark, and a Kremlin spokesman elaborated, per the Wall Street Journal: “Such personal insults are narrowing down the window of opportunity for our bilateral relationship under the current [U.S.] administration." Biden previously called Putin a "war criminal" and a "butcher."
  • Biden being Biden: At the Atlantic, a piece by Tom Nichols calls the line an "unforced error" by the president. "What Biden was doing, of course, was being Joe Biden. He was speaking for all of us, from the heart." This trait can be "endearing" to his supporters, but this wasn't the right time for it, writes Nichols. "We should now let his remark pass for what it was—an outburst—and get back to helping Ukraine save its independence."
(More President Biden stories.)

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