Biden declares Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ during address in Poland; Russian missile reportedly hits Lviv: Recap
Michael Collins, Ana Faguy, Ella Lee, Maureen Groppe and Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
Sun, March 27, 2022, 4:20 AM·27 min read
This story recounts all that occurred Saturday in the war in Ukraine. For the latest news, see our latest live updates story.
In a sweeping and forceful speech concluding a four-day trip to Europe, President Joe Biden cast the war in Ukraine on Saturday as part of an ongoing battle for freedom and ended with a blunt call for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be stopped.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, in his strongest comments to date about his desire to see Putin gone.
Shortly after the speech, a White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Biden was not calling for Putin to be removed from office.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” the official said. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that “it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”
“Only Russians, who vote for their president, can decide that,” Peskov said.
Biden’s speech was delivered hours after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda during a historic visit Saturday where the allies presented a united front against Russian aggression and reaffirmed their commitment to the NATO alliance.
Biden later met with Ukrainian refugees, including children who asked him to “say a prayer for my dad or my grandfather or my brother. He’s back there fighting.”
Biden’s visit comes as Moscow appears to be recalibrating its military strategies in Ukraine, even as several media outlets reported a Russian missile struck a fuel depot in the western Ukraine city of Lviv which has largely escaped the devastation other parts of the nation have suffered.
Russia’s military goals in Ukraine have been hazy since it began its invasion more than a month ago, and new statements suggest Moscow may consider claiming victory without completely overthrowing the Ukrainian government or capturing Kyiv.
Western analysts and leaders were skeptical of the Friday statements, where the deputy chief of the Russian general staff said his forces had largely achieved the “main objectives” of a first phase of the conflict. The power of the Ukrainian military has been “considerably reduced,” freeing up troops to “focus on the main efforts to achieve the main goal, liberation of Donbas,” said Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi.
The implications of the statement are difficult to determine, according to Stephen Biddle, a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University who has studied U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
“It’s plausible that they’re basically trying to ratchet their perceived war aims down to something they’ve already accomplished,” he said.
Before the invasion, portions of the Donbas in southeastern Ukraine were already controlled by Russian-backed forces. Similarly skeptical, French President Emmanuel Macron said “it’s too soon to say” whether the Russians have changed their approach.
But what does appear clear: In the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance, the progress of Russian forces has largely stalled. Kyiv — while battered — remains under the control of the Ukrainian government.
►In remarks from Warsaw, President Joe Biden slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “butcher” for the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and said the West “has never been stronger.” Poland has been on the front lines of the refugee crisis, having accepted some 2 million Ukrainians fleeing the war.
►Several media outlets reported that the western city of Lviv, largely spared from the bombardments in other parts of the nation was struck by a Russian missile Saturday. The mayor of the city says one of the targets was a fuel depot.
►The U.N. human rights office said it has been challenging to confirm fatalities in Mariupol given the organization’s strict methodology for counting the number of civilian deaths in conflict. The office says at least 1,035 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 1,650 injured, but acknowledges that is an undercount.
► The governor of the Kyiv region says that Russian forces have entered the city of Slavutych in northern Ukraine and seized a hospital there.
► Britain has seized two jet aircraft belonging to Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler as Western governments put pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by targeting the luxury lifestyles of his closest supporters. The Times of London described the aircraft as a $45 million Bombardier Global 6500 and a $13 million Cessna Citation Latitude.
After four days of alliance building, emotional interactions with refugees and stirring words about the need to fight for democracy, one sentence that President Joe Biden appeared to tack on to the end of his final speech in Poland threatened to overshadow all he had achieved as he deals with the most significant foreign policy crisis of his presidency.
“For God’s sake,” Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “this man cannot remain in power.”
The White House tried to quickly walk it back.
Biden was not promoting regime change, said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The point the president was trying to make in his remarks was that Putin “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”
Biden may have been saying what he believes, but it was not smart policy to say it aloud, said Tom Schwartz, a historian of U.S. foreign relations at Vanderbilt University. Read more here.
A spokesperson for the Kremlin on Saturday said President Joe Biden’s statement that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” was “extremely negative” for U.S. relations with Russia.
“Only Russians, who vote for their president, can decide that,” Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press. “And of course it is unbecoming for the president of the U.S. to make such statements.”
The White House walked back Biden’s initial statements in Poland, claiming the president was not endorsing regime change, but meant that “Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”
Peskov said that with Biden’s statements, he was “narrowing the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current administration.”