US has no strategy of ‘regime change’ in Russia, Blinken says

US officials seek to defuse tensions a day after President Biden said that Putin ‘cannot remain in power’.

The United States does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, American officials said, a day after President Joe Biden said that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”.

“As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Sunday during a visit to Israel. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people,” Blinken added.

Blinken’s comments came after Biden gave his most forceful speech against Putin since the Russian leader ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24. 

In an address delivered at Warsaw’s Royal Castle on Saturday evening, Biden evoked Poland’s four decades behind the Iron Curtain in an effort to build a case that the world’s democracies must urgently confront an autocratic Russia as a threat to global security and freedom.

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said. Earlier in the day, the president also described Putin as a “butcher,” in what appeared to be a sharp escalation of US rhetoric over Moscow’s military offensive, which has now killed at least 1,000 civilians, according to conservative estimates by the United Nations, and caused more than 3.8 million people to flee Ukraine.

Soon after the speech, a White House official clarified that Biden’s comments were meant to prepare the world’s democracies for extended conflict over Ukraine, and were not backing regime change in Russia.

The US NATO envoy Julianne Smith reiterated the same message on Sunday.

“The US does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop,” Smith told CNN’s State of the Union program. Smith said Biden’s remarks sought to underscore that the international community cannot empower Putin to wage war in Ukraine or pursue more acts of aggression following Russia’s invasion of the country.

A ‘horrendous gaffe’

Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Biden’s remarks a “horrendous gaffe” and said he wished the president would have stayed on script.

“Most people who don’t deal in the lane of foreign relations don’t realise those nine words that he uttered would cause the kind of eruption that they did,” he told CNN. “It’s going to cause a huge problem.”

Biden’s fiery words were also not welcomed by some European leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron, who called for restraint in both words and actions.

“We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation – that’s the objective,” Macron told France 3 TV on Sunday, noting the objective was to obtain a ceasefire and the withdrawal of troops through diplomatic means. “If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things – neither with words nor actions,” he said.

While strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the French president has kept an open channel of communication with the Kremlin in an attempt to mediate for a diplomatic solution. On Friday, Macron said he was seeking to hold more talks with Putin in the coming days regarding the situation in Ukraine as well as an initiative to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol.

Hundreds of thousands of people are trapped in the southern city with conditions deteriorating by the day as several attempts to create humanitarian corridors have failed.

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