President Joe Biden appeared to call for regime change in Russia, saying during a speech in Poland on Saturday that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” after his invasion of Ukraine. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden’s said at the end of a speech he delivered outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw. The words marked a sharp escalation in the rhetoric against Putin. Although the U.S. president had already called the Russian leader a “war criminal,” he had never outright said he shouldn’t be in charge of running the country. Biden’s remarks came hours after he called Putin a “butcher” shortly after meeting with Ukrainian refugees.
The Kremlin forcefully pushed back against Biden’s remarks, saying it wasn’t up to the U.S. president to decide who should lead Russia. “This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.” The White House immediately tried to tone down the remarks, insisting Biden wasn’t actually calling for regime change in Russia. “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.”
Biden began his speech, which came on the final leg of his four-day trip to Europe, by characterizing Ukraine as a front line in a war between autocracy and democracy. “The West is now stronger, more united than it has ever been,” Biden said. And no one should think the fight will end anytime soon. Biden called on the world’s democracies to get ready for a long, drawn-out conflict with Putin’s government. “We need to be clear-eyed: This battle will not be won in days and months,” Biden said. “We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead.” Biden also warned Putin to not “even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory,” adding that the United States has a “sacred obligation” to “defend each and every inch of NATO territory.”