Biden declares Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ in fiery Warsaw remarks
President Biden on Saturday said that Russian President Vladimir Putin can’t remain in power, hitting the autocrat over the destruction the American leader says Putin is wreaking on the Ukrainian people.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. We will have a different future, a brighter future, rooted in democracy and principles, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom, and possibilities,” Biden said during a speech in front of the Polish presidential palace Saturday night, local time. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
Biden spoke directly to the Russian people, looking at the camera in front of 750 to 1,000 people. The crowd was made up of a mix of Polish citizens, Ukrainian refugees and government officials from both countries.
“You the Russian people are not our enemy. I refuse to believe that you welcome the killing of innocent children and grandparents. Or that you accept hospitals, schools, maternity wards — for God’s sake — being pummeled with Russian missiles and bombs,” he said.
He noted that Russian troops are stopping Ukrainians from fleeing and causing people to starve while they are trapped.
“This war is not worthy of you, the Russian people. Putin can and must end this war. The American people will stand with you and the brave citizens of Ukraine who want peace,” he said.
After his remarks, a White House official clarified Biden’s comments, saying that the president meant Putin should not have power outside of Russia.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” the official said.
In his remarks, the president also noted the courage of the Ukrainian people who are fighting back against the Russian forces in their country.
“We’re seeing it once again today, the brave Ukrainian people showing that their power of many is greater than the will of any one dictator,” the president said.
In a simple message to the Ukrainian people, Biden said: “We stand with you. Period.”
Biden declared that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was democratically elected and called Putin’s claims that he is denazifying Ukraine cynical and obscene lies.
“Putin has the audacity, like all our autocrats before him, to believe that might will make right,” he said.
The president pleaded with the Russian people to remember World War II, tying into a theme that ran through his speech of consequential history lessons the world should remember during the Russian invasion.
“These are not the actions of a great nation. Of all people, you the Russian people as well as all people across Europe still have the memory of being in a similar situation in the late ’30s and ’40s,” the president said.
Invoking President Lincoln, Biden also called on the people of Ukraine to “have faith that right makes might,” a quote dating back to the midst of the U.S. Civil War.
“Today, let us have that faith again. Let us resolve to put the strength of democracies into action to thwart the designs of autocracy, let us remember that the test of his moment is the test of all time,” he said.
Biden pointedly placed the blame on Putin throughout his remarks, declaring, “It is Putin, it is Vladimir Putin who is to blame. Period.”
He said he talked to Putin before the invasion and offered real diplomacy, but Putin was not interested.
“There is simply no justification or provocation for Russia’s choice of war. It’s an example of one of the oldest human impulses, using brute force and disinformation to satisfy a craving for absolute power and control,” Biden said. “It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of War World II and it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international ruled-based order was put in place.”
“We cannot go back to that. We cannot. The gravity of the threat is why the response of the threat has been so swift, and so powerful, and so unified, unprecedented and overwhelming,” he said.
The president touted the sanctions in place aimed at damaging Russia’s economy, including the U.S.’s ban on Russian energy imports, and those levied against Russian oligarchs and government officials, as well as the fact that more than 400 private multinational companies have suspended business in Russia.
The crowd applauded when he declared, “The ruble is reduced to rubble.”
He also called on Europe to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuel, declaring that the U.S. will help.
Biden’s speech directly followed a meeting with Ukrainian refugees who have fled to Poland in recent weeks at the PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw, where he spoke individually with refugees.
He mentioned that a young girl asked him if she will ever see her father and brother again.
“I didn’t have to speak the language or understand the language to feel the emotion in their eyes, the way their gripped my hand, the little kids hung onto my leg, praying for the desperate hope that all of this is temporary, apprehension that they may be perhaps forever away from their homes, almost a debilitating sadness that this is happening all over again,” he said.
The U.S. has announced plans to take in up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, and Biden said in Brussels this week that the country will provide $1 billion in additional humanitarian aid.
“Let there be no doubt that this war has already been a strategic failure for Russia,” Biden said. “Putin thought Ukrainians would roll over and not fight. Not much of a student of history.”
“Instead, Russian forces have met their match with brave and stiff Ukrainian resistance. Rather than breaking Ukrainian resolve, Russia’s brutal tactics have strengthened the resolve, rather than driving NATO apart, the West is now stronger and more united than it has ever been. Russia wanted less of a NATO presence of his border but now he has a stronger presence, a larger presence,” he added, raising his voice at the podium.
The president’s trip to Europe this week was driven by the goal of showing the unity and coordination of the U.S. and its allies. His meetings over the three-day span reiterated the U.S.’s commitment to the NATO treaty and Article 5 in particular, which states that an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all.
“Russia has managed to cause something I’m sure he never intended. The democracies of the world are revitalized with purpose and unity found in months that we once taken years to accomplish,” he said.
Biden began his remarks by invoking Pope John Paul II, who was Polish and delivered a message to Warsaw in 1979 about the power of faith, resilience, and the power of the people.
“In the face of a cruel and brutal system of government, it was a message that helped end to Soviet repression in the central land in eastern Europe 30 years ago,” Biden said. “It was a message that will overcome the cruelty and brutality of this unjust war.”
He noted that a year later, the solidarity movement took hold in Poland and 10 years after that, the Soviet Union collapsed, sharing a warning that there could be a long road ahead.
“This battle will not be won in days or months either. We need to steel ourselves of the long fight ahead,” he said, calling out the people of Ukraine in the audience. They applauded.
He also invoked former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who died on Wednesday. Albright was born in Prague and came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1948 after a communist coup in Czechoslovakia. He called her “one of the most ardent supporters of democracy in the world.”
“Under siege, every generation has had to defeat democracy’s moral foes,” Biden said.
“The world is imperfect, as we know,” he added. “Where the appetites and ambitions of a few forever seem to dominate the lives and liberty of many.”
— Updated at 3 p.m.