Biden says ‘moral outrage’ behind Putin comment, not U.S. policy change

U.S. President Joe Biden responds to a question about Ukraine during an event to announce his budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., on March 28.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S President Joe Biden on Monday said his remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not remain in power reflected his own moral outrage at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, not a U.S. policy shift.

Biden faced pressure to speak about the comment after it generated a flood of questions as to whether the United States had changed to a policy seeking regime change in Moscow.

“I wasn’t then nor am I now articulating a policy change. I was expressing moral outrage that I felt, and I make no apologies,” he told reporters at the White House.

He said his outburst, made at the end of a major address about Ukraine in Warsaw on Saturday, had been prompted by an emotional visit he had with families displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the end of his speech in the Polish capital, Biden added an unscripted line, saying that Putin “cannot remain in power.” Administration officials rushed to clarify afterward that the White House was not advocating for regime change in Russia.

Biden on Monday said that he was “not walking anything back” by clarifying the remark. Asked whether the remark would spur a negative response from Putin, Biden said, “I don’t care what he thinks. … He’s going to do what he’s going to do.”

But Biden once again suggested Putin should not be leading Russia. If Putin “continues on the course that he’s on, he’s going to become a pariah worldwide and who knows what he becomes at home in terms of support,” Biden said.

However, Biden did not rule out meeting with Putin, saying “it depends” on what he wants to talk about.

Biden earlier this month described Putin as a “war criminal” for his role in a conflict in which many Ukrainian civilians have been killed.

He said his remark on Saturday about Putin was intended for a Russian audience. “The last part of the speech was talking to Russian people,” Biden said. “I was communicating this to not only the Russian people, but the whole world. This is just stating a simple fact that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable. Totally unacceptable.”