U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed Sunday it is not the Biden administration’s policy to seek the overthrow of Russian President Vladimir.
His comments came a day after President Joe Biden said during a speech in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power.”
“I think the President, the White House made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” Blinken said Sunday in Jerusalem. “As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else.”
During his Saturday remarks in Poland, Biden also declared that the West’s defense of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion is vital to protect democracy worldwide for generations to come.
“It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end [of] World War II,” Biden said of Russian aggression.
But it was Biden’s comments about Putin that drew surprise around the world.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters, “That’s not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
French President Emmanuel Macron told France 3 TV channel Sunday, “I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin.”
U.S. envoy to NATO Julianne Smith told CNN’s State of the Union Biden’s comments were a reaction to spending the day with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees.
“In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith said. “But no...the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop.”
The U.S. president’s comments in Warsaw came shortly after meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda and other Polish officials to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as Russia appears to have shifted its military offensive away from Ukraine's capital of Kyiv and toward the country’s east.
Biden listed many of the crippling financial sanctions Western nations have imposed on Russia in response to its invasion and did not rule out a military response if Russia used chemical weapons in Ukraine.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Senator Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed those concerns.
“There's four game changers here. That could happen. No.1, if the Russians tried to trespass on one square inch of NATO ground, obviously, chemical weapons, biological weapons, or nuclear weapons, all four of those would be game changers. I think that if Russia does that, there's going to be some very difficult decisions that are going to have to be made by the NATO alliance,” Risch said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the West Sunday to do more to support Ukraine to defend against the unprovoked Russian invasion that now entered its second month.
In a video address, Zelenskyy said the West is "afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision." Referencing the confusion and delay over giving Ukraine fighter jets, Zelenskyy said, "So, who is in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it still Moscow, thanks to its scare tactics? Our partners must step up their aid to Ukraine."
Addressing Zelenskyy’s Sunday comments about Western assistance, Smith said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “The United States since January of last year has already provided $2 billion worth of legal assistance to Ukraine. We've talked with them regularly about their defense needs. We are working with them each and every week to determine how we can continue to help them with anti-air assets, anti-armor, we've offered stingers, we've provided javelins and many other members of the NATO alliance are doing the same thing. I think about two-thirds of the NATO alliance are now providing legal assistance to Ukraine.”
Smith said the particular proposal for Poland to supply Ukraine with MiG fighter jets was “untenable” but said it was up to each sovereign country to decide how to supply Ukraine for the effort to fight off Russia.
Ukraine and Russia are set to begin a new round of talks for a cease-fire this week, according to Davyd Arakhamia, the leader in parliament of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party. Arakhamia said on Facebook the talks would be held in Turkey beginning Monday. Russia said in-person talks would begin Tuesday.
Olga Stefanishyna, the deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that Ukraine “will never step up for any element of discussions which would anyhow legitimize all the war crimes which has been committed in Ukrainian territory.”
In call with Russian journalists Sunday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine was open to adopting neutral status as part of a peace deal, if it came with third-party guarantees and was put to a referendum. He did not address if Ukraine was prepared to accept demilitarization as part of that status.
Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson, Chief National Correspondent Steve Herman, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report. Some information for this report also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.