The White House was forced into damage control Saturday as it walked back President Joe Biden’s remarks after he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
In an impassioned speech from Warsaw, Poland, Biden implored the people of Russia to reject Putin's bloody invasion into neighboring Ukraine, an act that has been met with some resistance from both Russian civilians and troops. The Russian leader was “bent on violence from the start,” the president said.
“These are not the actions of a great nation,” Biden said. “This is not who you are.
The president called on the Russian people to fight the Kremlin's invasion, casting it as a battle between good and evil and telling them, “The people of America will stand with you.”
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said, and he called for the people of Russia to "fight the corruption coming from the Kremlin."
The Kremlin was quick to seize on the remarks, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden. It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.”
Following the speech, a White House official moved to play down Biden’s remarks.
“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.
Biden’s gaffe comes just a day after he seemingly told U.S. troops based in Poland that they would end up in Ukraine.
Speaking to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Rzeszow, southeastern Poland, Biden said: “You’re going to see when you’re there, and some of you have been there, you’re gonna see — you’re gonna see women, young people standing in the middle in front of a damned tank just saying, ‘I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground.”
But again, much like his Warsaw remarks, a White House official moved to clarify that he wasn’t actually saying that the military would be deployed to Ukraine.
The previous day, members of his administration were again forced into cleanup duty when Biden said during a press conference in Brussels that the United States would respond “in kind” were Russian troops to use chemical weapons.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan subsequently said that the “in kind” remark was not meant as a threat.
“The United States has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstance," Sullivan said.