In his speech in Warsaw today, Joe Biden said of Vladimir Putin: ‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.’ This comes after Biden condemned Putin as a war criminal and ‘a butcher’. So, what did Biden mean by this? At first blush, it looks like a call for either a palace coup or a popular uprising in Russia – the two ways that Putin could be ousted from power. But the White House has been quick to downplay the remark, telling US reporters: ‘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.’
Biden, who has done an effective job at rallying the US’s European and Asian allies in this crisis, would have been better off not saying Putin cannot remain in power. It is confusing to utter a line that must be clarified within an hour of the speech being delivered. Putin will also use it to try and claim that the West is attempting to change the government in Russia. It would have been better for Biden to stick to his message that the US will defend all Nato territory and that democracy will, eventually, triumph over autocracy.
The White House might be keen to stress that this was not a call for regime change in Russia. But it is clear the proxy war between Russia and Nato is intensifying. Putin’s response to Biden being in Poland today was to strike Lviv – the nearest major city to the Polish border in Ukraine. It is also increasingly hard to imagine the sanctions on Russia being scrapped while Putin remains in charge.
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