Biden Declares Putin ‘Cannot Remain in Power’ in Warsaw Speech
WARSAW, Poland — Evidently catching even White House officials by surprise, President Joe Biden on Saturday dramatically ratcheted up his rhetoric against Russian President Vladimir Putin, ending a lengthy speech on the invasion of Ukraine by saying, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
“Russia’s choice of war is an example of one of the oldest human impulses: using brute force and disinformation to satisfy a craving for absolute power and control,” Biden had said earlier in remarks before the Royal Castle in Warsaw, a city landmark that was badly damaged by the Nazis during World War II.
“In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed; this battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to commit ourselves for the long fight ahead,” Biden said.
Almost immediately after the president stepped from the podium, White House officials were telling the pool reporters traveling with the president that the president did not mean to explicitly suggest Putin must be removed from power.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change,” the official said.
In the lead up to Biden’s remarks, White House officials had privately billed his remarks in Poland as likely to be one of the major addresses of his presidency. He did not disappoint.
Standing before a crowd estimated at between 750 and 1,000 in attendance, including Polish President Andrzej Duda, members of parliament, city officials, university students and U.S. Embassy staff, Biden compared Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine to the oppression of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
During that era, which extended from the end of World War II to the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Soviet leaders beginning with Joseph Stalin repeatedly unleashed the military to clamp down on pro-democracy movements behind the iron curtain in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Biden said while the people of those countries did eventually win their freedom from the yoke of communism, the invasion of Ukraine falls into the same category as those earlier events.
“This is a battle for freedom, a battle between democracy and autocracy,” he said, adding, “The battle for democracy could not conclude — and did not conclude — with the end of the Cold War.”
The president also had a message for the Russian people.
“Let me say this if you’re able to listen,” Biden said. “You … are not our enemy.”
But he quickly returned to the ongoing bombings and attacks by Russia in Ukraine, saying, “these are not the actions of a great nation.”
Throughout his visit to Warsaw, the fate of Ukrainian refugees appeared to weigh heavily on the president.
While in the city, he stayed in a hotel across from the central train station that has become packed with refugees arriving from the war, with many sleeping on blankets on its floor.
And prior to his speech before the Royal Castle, he met with refugees and humanitarian aid workers during a visit to Warsaw’s PGE Narodowy Stadium.
“He’s a butcher,” Biden said in an aside to reporters as he grasped the hands of refugees.
Later, he spoke in more depth about his conversations with the refugees, telling members of the traveling press pool, “What I am always surprised by is the depth and strength of the human spirit.
“Each one of those children said something to the effect of, ‘Say a prayer for my dad or grandfather or my brother who is out there fighting,’” he said.
More than 3.7 million people have fled Ukraine since the war began, and more than 2.2 million Ukrainians have crossed into Poland, though it is unclear how many have remained there and how many have left for other countries.
The White House said Thursday the U.S. would take in 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine, but officials haven’t yet finalized the details.
The president tried to use his final hours of his European trip reassuring Poland that the United States would defend against any attacks by Russia as he acknowledged that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally bore the burden of the refugee crisis from the war.
He called the “collective defense” agreement of NATO a “sacred commitment,” and said the unity of the Western military alliance was of the utmost importance.
“I’m confident that Vladimir Putin was counting on dividing NATO,” Biden said. “But he hasn’t been able to do it. We’ve all stayed together.
“We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come,” he added. “It will not be easy. There will be a cost, but it’s a price we have to pay.”
Dan can be reached at email@example.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue
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