Blinken says the US has no 'strategy of regime change in Russia'

Blinken says the US has no 'strategy of regime change in Russia'

Secretary of State Blinken walks back Biden’s unscripted declaration that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ and assures that America has no ‘strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else’

  • Joe Biden went after Vladimir Putin in emotional address in Warsaw on   Saturday, stating ‘for god’s sake this man cannot remain in power’ 
  • He also warned Putin not to take his ambitions outside of Ukraine: Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory’ 
  • Blinken said the US was not seeing regime change during a press conference in Jerusalem, alongside the Israeli prime minister, the following day 
  • The White House was also forced to quickly cleaned up Biden’s remark
  • ‘The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,’ a White House official said  
  • Earlier Biden called Putin a butcher after he visited with Ukraine refugees 
  • Biden spent nearly an hour meeting with refugees, including women and children, who have fled Ukraine. Poland has taken in nearly 2 million 
  • The US president’s comment came as Russia bombed Lviv, a city in western Ukraine around 245 miles from the border with Poland 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the United States is not looking for ‘regime change’ in Moscow or anywhere else in the world after President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’

Biden went directly after the Russian autocrat in an emotional speech on Saturday, warning if Putin’s ambitions went unchecked it could lead to decades of war in Europe.  

Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem the next day, Blinken explained that his boss was likely referring to Putin’s influence outside of his country — including Moscow’s bloody and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine which has now spanned over a month.

‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,’ Blinken said according to multiple reports. 

‘As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia — or anywhere else, for that matter.’

The US’s chief diplomat was speaking at a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.  

It comes after the White House was forced to walk the president’s remark back, which also sparked outrage in Moscow.

Biden said of Putin on Saturday: ‘For god’s sake this man cannot remain in power.’

He described the Russian president as having a ‘craving for absolute power and control.’

‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,’ Blinken said during a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday

The White House moved quickly to specify Biden was not looking for ‘regime change’ in one of the world’s largest nuclear powers. 

‘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,’ a White House official said. 

The Biden administration has taken care to not call for a power shift in Russia, knowing Putin would see it as an escalation.

‘This is not to be decided by Mr. Biden,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response. ‘It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.’ 

Last week the Kremlin accused Biden of levying ‘personal insults’ at Putin after the president called Russia’s leader a ‘war criminal.’  

In the wake of Biden’s unscripted remark in Warsaw, Council of Foreign Relations President Richard Haass speculated that Blinken should go even further than downplaying the president’s remarks.

The foreign policy expert told Politico that Biden needs to send Blinken or National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, or another similar high-ranking official, to speak with their Russian counterparts and assure them the US would not seek regime change.

‘The fact that it was so off-script in some ways makes it worse,’ Haass said, explaining that Putin could view it as Biden’s genuine beliefs.

President Joe Biden accused Vladimir Putin of duplicity in the run up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

He said it may even escalate the autocrat’s brutality in Ukraine ‘because if he believes he has everything to lose then he’ll believe he has nothing to lose.’ 

‘The comments by [Biden] made a difficult situation more difficult and a dangerous situation more dangerous. That is obvious. Less obvious is how to undo the damage, but I suggest his chief aides reach their counterparts & make clear US prepared to deal with this Russian govt,’ Haass wrote on Twitter.

Biden’s Saturday remarks came after he made an emotional visit to some of the more than 3 million Ukrainians who have been evacuated their war-torn country and as Russia rained bombs down on the Ukrainian town of Lviv, just a few hundred miles away from Biden’s location in Warsaw.    

In his fiery speech, Biden drew a stark line between democracy and oppression, repeatedly going after Putin and accusing the Russian president of dishonesty.

Speaking outdoors in the cobbled courtyard of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, which was lit with the colors of Poland and Ukraine, Biden accused Putin of ‘using brute force and disinformation’ to rule.

‘It’s nothing less than a direct challenges to the rules-based system of international order,’ Biden said.

Biden also took a cue from Arnold Schwarzenegger – who released a video message to Russians that went viral – and spoke directly to the Russian people.

‘I’m telling you the truth. This war is not worthy of you the Russian people,’ he said. ‘Putin can and must end this war. The American people will stand with you and the brave citizens of Ukraine that want peace.’

And he warned Putin’s aggression could bring ‘decades of war’ to Europe.

‘It’s nothing less than a direct challenge for the order established since the World War II and it threatens to return to decades of war that ravage Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place. We cannot go back to that,’ Biden said.

President Biden walks out on stage to give his remarks at the Royal Castle in Warsaw

President Joe Biden boards Air Force One, heading back to Washington D.C. 

Polish President Andrzej Duda listens as President Joe Biden delivers a speech about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Royal Castle

Biden also moved to calm worried Eastern European nations. He made it clear the NATO alliance would hold together and he warned Russia not to think about expanding his invasion outside of Ukraine.

Poland and the old Eastern bloc nations – like Lativa and Estonia – are worried Putin’s ambitions might lead to their borders. But Biden made it clear NATO would protect its member nations and honor Article Five, which states if one is striked, all respond. 

‘Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory. We have sacred obligations,’ Biden said.

Biden mentioned his own conversations with Putin before Russia’s invasion late last month.

He said Putin ‘repeatedly he asserted he had no interest in war – guaranteed he would not move.’

‘There is simply no justification or provocation for Russia’s choice of war.

But Putin and Russia met each of the proposals with disinterest. ‘Russia was bent on violence from the start,’ he said.

After days of diplomacy and quiet meetings with powerbrokers in Warsaw and Brussels, the White House lined up a speech where Biden could speak in broad strokes about what was at stake, as the U.S. and allies rush to arm Ukraine.

Biden said the war has been ‘a strategic failure for Russia already’ – alluding to its battlefield losses.

‘He, Putin thought Ukrainians would roll over and not fight. Not much of a student of history. Instead, Russian forces have met their match,’ he said, in a speech with references to Pope John Paul II, the siege of Stalingrad, and Lech Walesa.

Despite Putin’s aims, ‘The west is not stronger and more united than it has ever been,’ Biden said, pointing to the international response,’ Biden said.

‘The democracies of the world are revitalized,’ said Biden.

People listen as President Joe Biden delivers a speech about the Russian invasion of Ukraine

In contrast, he said Russia was suffering a ‘remarkable brain drain,’ with more than 200,000 leaving the country in a month.

‘We must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul,’ he said, speaking in a country that has been pushing to arm Ukraine while housing more than 2 million refugees.

Punctuating his words, he told a cheering crowd never to be discouraged. ‘Be not afraid,’ he said.

Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia,’ he vowed. ‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,’ he said, on a day when Russia lobbed new missiles at Lviv in western Ukraine.

Biden began and ended his remarks with a quote from the first Polish pope, Pope John Paul II, telling people: ‘Be not afraid.’

Biden has personally attacked Putin before, calling him a war criminal and said he doesn’t have a soul.

Earlier Saturday, he called Putin a ‘butcher’ after holding emotional conversations with Ukrainian refugees – including a pair who fled the horror of the siege at Mariupol.

‘He’s a butcher,’ Biden said when asked what he thought of Putin after what he has done to the people he was meeting.

His comment came as Russia bombed Lviv, a city in western Ukraine around 245 miles from Warsaw, where Biden is located. CNN reported the Russians hit a fuel depot as Biden prepared to make remarks on the war in the Ukraine.

Biden spent nearly an hour meeting with a series of refugees during a visit to World Central Kitchen, which set up an outpost in Warsaw as part of its efforts to help feed millions of Ukrainian refugees in Ukraine itself and in countries that are taking them in.

He offered hugs and words of comfort as he met with those who escaped the fighting and volunteers helping to feed and shelter the refugees.  

‘To see all those little children just want to just want a hug. They just want to say, Thanks. ‘It just makes you so damn proud. And they’re wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,’ Biden told when asked what kind of an impression the visit made on him.

President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a butcher after he visited with Ukraine refugees in Warsaw

President Joe Biden holds a girl on his arm as he and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki meet with Ukrainian refugees

‘And you know, the Ukrainian people are here, each one of those children said something in effect, say a prayer for my dad, or my grandfather, or my brother. He’s back there fighting,’ Biden said.

‘And I remember what it’s like when they have someone in a war zone. Every morning you get up and you wonder you just wondering and pray you don’t get that phone call. And they’re amazing group of people,’ he said, referencing his late son Beau for the second time in as many days during his visit.

Biden didn’t have a an answer when asked about how it would be possible to get aide inside Mariupol, which has been subject to a relentless bombardment. The administration has drawn the line on anything that would involve U.S. boots on the ground, even while surging arms to the Ukrainian military and announcing an additional $1 billion in humanitarian aide.

‘It’s astounding,’ Biden said.

Biden also commented on Russia’s claim of a new military posture, after a Kremlin defense official announced the main part of the ‘first stage’ of its invasion was over and it would concentrate efforts on the Donbas region.

Asked what he thought of the change in Kremlin strategy – a question he avoided earlier in the day when meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda – Biden responded: ‘I’m not sure they have.’ 

Biden spent nearly an hour visiting with the refugees at the PGE Narodowy Stadium, offering hugs and words of comfort

President Biden spoke as Russia bombed Lviv, a city in western Ukraine around 245 miles from Warsaw

Biden had a series of encounters with refugees outside a soccer stadium in Warsaw, where the disaster aid NGO had set up a series of stands to provide coffee, kielbasas, and even a donut food truck.

The president had conversations with a number of refugees through a translator while sporting a Beau Biden baseball cap.

At one point he picked up a girl in a pink jacket and held her in his arms.

He hugged another young woman and put his arms on her shoulders, asking his translator: ‘How do you say, in Ukrainian, who do you owe those beautiful eyes to?’ ‘Your father or your mother? Who had the eyes?’ he asked the woman, named Victoria.

‘Mother’s eyes. You owe mama very big,’ he said.

One refugee, Ana Stryharchuk, didn’t get to the chance to interact with Biden or get the autograph she was seeking. She was in the back with her mother trying to get a glimpse of the president, as agents tried to corral photographers and aides tried to get Polish agents from blocking camera shots.

She said she fled Kiev by car two days after the start of the invasion.

‘It’s really exciting but I don’t see him at all,’ she said of Biden/.

‘Thank you for all the help that we are having from the United States,’ she said.

Poland has born the brunt of the refugee crisis.

Some 3.5 million people have fled the Ukraine and nearly 2 million are in Poland, which shares a nearly 300-mile border with its neighbor. 

Humanitarian organizations, NGOs, and governments around the world have sent food, money and medical equipment to help what the United Nations is calling the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Biden thanked Polish President Andrzej Duda for his country’s response to the humanitarian crisis and pledging U.S. financial aid.  

‘We do acknowledge Poland has taken on a lot with all of the responsibility,’ Biden said in a meeting with Duda ahead of his visit to the refugee center.

President Putin has continued his shelling campaign of Ukraine

U.S. President Joe Biden, flanked by Mayor of Warsaw Rafal Trzaskowski and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, hugs a woman as he visits Ukrainian refugees

President Biden speaks to media during his visit to the refugee center

President Joe Biden speaks with chef Jose Andres from World Central Kitchen, who was there helping to feed the refugees

Duda, who appeared with Biden on Friday, said the Ukrainian refugees coming into his country are ‘guests.’

‘We do not want to call them refugees. They are our guests, our brothers, our neighbors from Ukraine, who today are in a very difficult situation,’ he said.

The U.S. has been sending money and supplies but will ramp up its contributions. Biden announced $1 billion in additional aid and said the U.S. would welcome an additional 100,000 refugees.

Biden told Duda the United States would do more to help the Ukrainian refugees.   

‘We believe that we should do our part relative to Ukraine as well by opening our borders to another 100,000 people,’ he said.

The funding will provide food, shelter, clean water, medical supplies and other forms of assistance, according to the White House. 

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