Biden appeared to call for Putin’s removal in a landmark speech to Europe. The White House quickly clarified.

For a few minutes, the world changed.

In a speech in Poland on Saturday, United States president Joe Biden appeared to call for the removal of Russian leader Vladimir Putin by any means, saying: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

The president’s full-throated verbal assault on Putin seemed to represent a remarkable shift in US policy: regime change in Russia.

But almost as soon as breaking news headlines and push alerts took the momentus soundbite around the world, the White House began walking back his remarks.

“The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” a White House official told The Independent.

“He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

However, the attempted clean-up operation failed to reassure many observers.

“Too late. We all heard Biden say: ‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power’,” Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin tweeted.

“The world heard it. No way to unring that bell.”

Author and international affairs expert Tom Nichols said he thought the remark went too far.

Regardless of the intent, it showed the US was no longer interested in “meaningful relations with Russia” while Putin remained in power.

“No POTUS can really meet with Putin again. Goal should be the Cold War goal: Peaceful coexistence and avoiding disaster.”

CNN’s John Harwood called it a “significant lapse in discipline” from Mr Biden.

The Washington Post’s Tyler Pager reported Mr Biden’s remarks were not scripted, and had taken his aides by surprise.

Mr Biden’s comments drew a swift response from Russia, as it sent an artillery strike to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv moments after he had finished speaking.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also responded to the speech, saying: “This is not to be decided by Mr Biden. It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.”

Earlier in the day, Mr Biden had called Putin a “butcher” for the indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets in Ukraine as he met with refugees near the border with Poland.

He also called Putin a “war criminal” in response to a question from a reporter last week. The White House also walked back those remarks, while the State Department has since declared the Russian president guilty of war crimes.

While some feared the speech raised the prospect of a direct confrontation with Russia, others praised the speech as Mr Biden’s strongest statement since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

“Just what Ukraine and the world needed at this point in history,” former White House official Mike Walker wrote on Twitter.

The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum called it a “very good speech, not just for Poland but for all of us”.

And former Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the president was referring to “the long term stakes in the fight between democracy and autocracy.”

“Might Putin say otherwise? Ofcourse. But he’s long asserted the US wants regime change in Russia.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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