The White House walk-back of [Biden’s] regime change call is unlikely to wash. Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along,” says Council on Foreign Relations president.Biden’s line about Putin marks a “turning point” in America’s approach to the conflict in Ukraine, says Financial Times.
While the White House was quick to backpedal on the president’s perceived call for Putin’s ouster on 26 March, foreign policy experts still believe that the Kremlin heard the original message and is likely to consider it the true variant.
US President Joe Biden’s emotional exclamation “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power” in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin might severely escalate tensions between Washington and Moscow, which is now more confident than ever that the West is bent on staging a coup in the country, several foreign policy experts, analysts, columnists, and Western media outlets have warned.
The Financial Times (FT) called Biden’s line about Putin a “turning point” in America’s approach to the conflict in Ukraine. Prior, Washington had tried to balance its rhetoric, while now it’s transitioned to a “fierce strategic rivalry” with Russia.
The head of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, criticised Biden’s closing line about Putin, noting that ousting the Russian president is not something Washington has the tools to accomplish. At the same time, the president’s speech created risks that Putin will “reject compromise, escalate, or both”, Haass warned.
“Our interests are to end the war on terms Ukraine can accept & to discourage Russian escalation. Today’s call for regime change is inconsistent with these ends”, Haass said referring to the Russian special military operation in Ukraine.
Michael Goodwin, a contributor for the New York Post, condemned the entire Biden speech and specifically targeted his line about Putin. Goodwin argued that it would “dramatically raise the stakes with Russia” as the US administration was seeking to lower them.
“It also raises the question of whether toppling Putin, a subject never before mentioned by the White House, is suddenly the new policy of the United States and NATO”, Goodwin wrote.
Joe Biden’s entire speech, which was dedicated to the topic of a “long war” and rarely touched upon peace, suggests that a “new Cold War [is] on our hands” with POTUS as its Western leader, David Gergen, a former White House adviser, told the Financial Times. Gergen cautioned that such a speech heavily suggests that the current conflict won’t be “settled at the negotiating table”.
Not Going to Wash
Even before Biden could depart Poland, where he delivered his speech, the White House was quick to rescind its last line – about Vladimir Putin – and assured that POTUS was not calling for regime change in Russia. Furthermore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to interpret Biden’s words differently the next day, claiming that POTUS meant that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression”.
Western commentators, however, remained unconvinced, warning that the same is likely to be true for the Kremlin, and harshly criticised – either Biden for making reckless comments off the cuff or his team for allowing such a line in the text of the speech. FT suggested that even a single hint that Washington is contemplating regime change in Moscow might prompt the Kremlin to believe that the US is “losing control of its message about the war”.
Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, insisted that Biden’s message will be strongly believed in Moscow.
“The White House walk-back of [Biden’s] regime change call is unlikely to wash. Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along”, Haass wrote.
Haass stated that the line being off-script (something that has not yet been officially confirmed), will only reinforce the Kremlin’s fears as it will consider Biden’s words “this man cannot remain in power” as his genuine belief.
Putin heard a call for regime change “loud and clear” in Biden’s speech, former Defence Intelligence Agency officer, Rebekah Koffler, told Fox News. She claimed that Putin has long suspected the US of trying to stage a “colour revolution” or a civil uprising in Russia, and now he’s got his confirmation. Koffler lashed out at the controversial line in Biden’s script and called the people who prepared it “incompetent”, since this phrase failed to “minimise security threats” for the American people.
New York Post contributor Michael Goodwin stressed that in the context of Biden’s speech in Poland, his phrase about Putin not being allowed to “remain in power” is impossible to be comprehended as anything but a call for regime change. The White House might explain itself in the future, but it will never be “good enough”, Goodwin warned.
The Biden administration, for example, the national security adviser or the secretary of state, must reach out to Moscow and elaborate on Joe Biden’s comment, Richard Haass said. They must explain to the Kremlin that the comment was made in the heat of the moment and that it in no way reflects US foreign policy, the president of the think tank suggested.