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‘The US does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop,’ ambassador says

Flags of NATO member countries flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels
Associated Press/Olivier Matthys
Flags of NATO member countries flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels on Feb. 22, 2022. As Western leaders congratulate themselves for their speedy and severe responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they’re also scratching their heads with uncertainty about what their actions will accomplish.

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith on Sunday made an effort to walk back President Biden’s comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin should not remain in power, asserting that America does not have a policy of regime change in Russia.

“The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, full stop,” Smith told co-anchor Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Biden turned heads on Saturday when, during a speech in Warsaw, he said Putin “cannot remain in power.” The ad-libbed comment came at the end of the president’s speech.

The White House attempted to walk back the comment on Saturday, with an official saying that the remark was referring to Putin exercising power outside of Russia. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday also said the U.S. has no plans for regime change in Russia.

Asked by Bash if Biden’s comment was a mistake, Smith said the remark was “a principled human reaction” to the stories he heard from Ukrainian refugees earlier that day.

“The president had spent the day visiting with Ukrainian refugees, he went to the National Stadium in Warsaw and literally met with hundreds of Ukrainians. He heard their heroic stories as they were fleeing Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith said.

Pressed on if the U.S. not having a policy of regime change in Russia means officials think Putin should remain in power, Smith said the administration, including Biden, does not believe American can empower the Russian president to wage a war in Ukraine.

“I think what it means is that we are not pursuing a policy of regime change. But I think the full administration, the president included, believes that we cannot empower Putin right now to wage war in Ukraine or pursue these acts of aggression,” Smith said.

Tags Antony Blinken Dana Bash Joe Biden Vladimir Putin
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