WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday stood by his comment over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin can’t remain in power, saying he had been expressing his “moral outrage,” not signaling a policy change.
“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,” Biden told reporters following a White House event on the federal budget.
“I’m not walking anything back,” Biden said. “The fact of the matter is, I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man, which is just brutality.”
Biden’s comments came in response to concern raised over an ad-libbed line in a speech in Poland on Saturday, in which he seemed to suggest he was pushing for regime change in Russia. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he said, referring to Putin.
The White House issued a statement shortly after the speech that said Biden was “not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change” but rather saying Putin “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”
Biden said he didn’t believe that the comment would complicate or escalate the conflict in Ukraine, or that it could affect Putin’s actions.
“He’s not affected by anybody else — including, unfortunately, apparently his own advisers,” Biden said of Putin. “He is a guy who goes to the beat of his own drum, and the idea that he is going to do something outrageous because I called him for what he was and what he’s doing, I think it’s just not rational.”
But the comment has been seen by some world leaders, officials and experts as a risky and escalatory move and feeding into the Kremlin’s line for years that the West is seeking to overthrow Putin. French President Emmanuel Macron told French television on Sunday that he “wouldn’t use this type of wording,” and foreign policy experts warned it could further narrow any path to a diplomatic solution.
Biden returned to Washington early Sunday morning after three days of meetings in Belgium and Poland, where he sought to rally support for Ukraine and sustain economic pressure on Russia to end the war.