WARSAW: Joe Biden is not seeking “regime change” in Russia, the White House said Saturday, after the US president declared in a major speech that Vladimir Putin “cannot stay in power.”
“The president's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region,” a White House official said minutes after the speech concluded.
“He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change,” the source added.
The Kremlin dismissed the remark, saying it was up to Russians to choose their own president.
Asked about Biden's comment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters: “That's not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
Still, the comments came on a day of escalating rhetoric as Biden also described branded Putin a “butcher” during a meeting with refugees who have fled the war in Ukraine to the Polish capital.
On Saturday, Biden said the West was united against Russia’s invasion but also added that NATO was a defensive security alliance which never sought Russia’s demise.
Biden’s speech was delivered at Warsaw’s Royal Castle before hundreds of Polish elected officials, students and US embassy staff, many holding US, Polish and Ukrainian flags.
“The West is now stronger, more united than it has ever been,” Biden said.
Calling the fight against Vladimir Putin a “new battle for freedom,” Biden said Putin’s desire for “absolute power” was a strategic failure for Russia and a direct challenge to a European peace that has largely prevailed since World War Two.
Biden also said the world must prepare for a “long fight ahead".
“We stand with you,” he told Ukrainians in the sweeping speech, which he began with the words of late Polish pope John Paul II: “Be not afraid.”
He said Russia had suffered a “strategic failure” in Ukraine and told ordinary Russians they were “not our enemy,” urging them to blame Putin for the heavy sanctions imposed by the West.
He also warned Russia not to move on an “inch" of NATO territory, reiterating the “sacred obligation” of collective defence for alliance members.
“We will have a different future, a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light,” he added.
* With AFP and Reuters