Putin comments were an expression of ‘moral outrage,’ not policy change

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President Joe Biden speaks about his proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 in the State Dining Room of the White House

President Joe Biden speaks about his proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 in the State Dining Room of the White House

President Biden on Monday said his assertion days earlier that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” was an expression of moral outrage and not intended as a formal policy call for regime change.

“I’m not walking anything back,” Biden said Monday in his most extensive comments to date since his speech in Warsaw, Poland, on Saturday.

“The fact of the matter is I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward the way Putin is dealing and the actions of this man,” Biden continued, noting he had just met with Ukrainian refugees before giving his speech in Poland.

“But I want to make it clear: I wasn’t then nor am I now articulating a policy change,” Biden said. “I was expressing moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it.”

Biden said he does not believe his comments complicate relations with Russia, nor does he think they risk further escalating Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Biden on Saturday delivered remarks in Warsaw to cap off a two-day visit to Europe to shore up NATO and European allies. In his speech, Biden spoke of the importance of democracies standing together and condemned the attacks on Ukraine over the past month.

At the end, in an apparently unscripted moment, Biden said, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

White House officials quickly clarified Biden was not calling for regime change in Russia. But some lawmakers criticized the remark as undisciplined and potentially giving fodder to Putin as he wages war on Ukraine.

The Kremlin on Monday called Biden’s comments “alarming.”

Biden on Monday said he does not believe Putin will use his remarks for propaganda, and he expressed some irritation with repeated questions about the potential consequences of his comments.

“I don’t care what [Putin] thinks. Here’s the thing: He’s going to do what he’s going to do,” Biden said.

“This is a guy who goes to the beat of his own drummer,” he continued. “And the idea that he is going to do something outrageous because I called him for what he was and what he’s doing is just not rational.”

Updated at 3:32 p.m.

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