Mar 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden says he was expressing "outrage" about Putin, not calling for regime change

President Biden said Monday his weekend statement that Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power" did not reflect new U.S. policy, but rather an expression of his "personal feelings" and "moral outrage" about Russia's atrocities in Ukraine.

Why it matters: Biden's off-the-cuff remark during a major speech in Poland on Saturday triggered global headlines and sent White House officials scrambling to clarify that the U.S. was not pursuing regime change in Russia.

  • A Kremlin spokesperson called the remarks "alarming," and some commentators suggested it played into pro-Putin propaganda and paranoia about U.S.-backed coups in Russia's neighborhood.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said the ad-lib was unhelpful to peace talks and urged his fellow world leaders not to "escalate" either through "words or actions."

What they're saying: Biden told reporters he was "not walking anything back," before clarifying: "I was expressing my outrage. He shouldn't remain in power, just like bad people shouldn't continue to do bad things. But it doesn't mean we have a fundamental policy to do anything to take Putin down in any way."

  • "The last thing I want to do is engage in a land war or nuclear war with Russia. ... I was expressing my outrage at the behavior of this man. It's more an aspiration — he shouldn't be in power. People like this shouldn't be ruling countries, but they do," he continued.
  • "Nobody believes I was talking about taking down Putin. Nobody believes that."

Biden went on to dismiss the notion that his rhetoric could cause Putin to escalate his aggression toward Ukraine or NATO, insisting that the Russian leader doesn't even listen to his own advisers.

  • "Given his recent behavior, people should understand that he is going to do what he thinks he should do, period," Biden said.
  • "The idea that he's going to do something outrageous because I called him for what he was, and what he's doing, is just not rational."
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