President Joe Biden both doubled down and backed away from explosive comments made over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.” Biden said the remarks, which rattled officials in both Washington and the Kremlin, were him “expressing my personal outrage.”
The president then repeated that Putin should not remain in power but added that he was “talking to the Russian people” when he made the unscripted remark in Poland. Presumably to clarify, Biden asserted that there has not been a fundamental change in U.S. policy to “take Putin down in any way.”
He then said he will “express no apologies” for his personal feelings.
Biden, when asked by reporters earlier last Saturday in Poland on what his thoughts were after seeing the huge gathering of refugees, mostly women and children, responded that Putin is “a butcher.”
Just before his speech later in the day, Biden received word that Russian forces hit a fuel depot in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, some 40 miles from Poland. The strike, believed to be tied to Biden’s visit across the border, doubtless played a role in the president’s off-the-cuff remarks a short time later.
Still, his words sent shock waves through the U.S. diplomatic corps and NATO allies, who feared an escalation by Russian forces. As for Russia itself, the Kremlin predictably lashed out at the U.S. president and asserted that who is the Russian president is the decision of the people of the Russian Federation.
In just three days, Biden misspoke at least three times about the crisis that has large parts of the world in its grip. The surprising call for Russian regime change was preceded by first his warning at a Brussels press conference that NATO would respond “in kind” if the Kremlin unleashes chemical weapons in Ukraine. “In kind” generally means in the same manner.
Giving the president an enormous benefit of the doubt, he still unilaterally spoke for 30 NATO member countries.
The next day in Poland, Biden told U.S. troops that they will see the courage of the Ukrainian defenders “when you’re there.” He then added that the soldiers will witness women and young people “in front of a damned tank.”
In what has become a disturbing pattern, the White House was forced to again scramble to clarify the president’s statement and make assurances that, no, the U.S. is not sending troops into Ukraine. And while any normal person would feel sympathy for refugees fleeing Putin’s brutality, it is incumbent on the leader of the free world to keep those emotions in check and stay on message.