US President Joe Biden on Saturday castigated Russian President Vladimir Putin over the month-old war in Ukraine, bluntly calling him “a butcher” who “cannot remain in power.”
In an impassioned speech from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, delivered after meeting top Ukrainian ministers in Poland and earlier conferring with NATO and EU allies on the conflict, Biden plainly warned Russia: “Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of NATO territory.”
Although the White House moved quickly to temper Biden’s unprecedented comments on Putin — saying the US leader is not seeking “regime change” in Russia and was referring to Putin’s influence over neighbors in the region — the Kremlin made its displeasure clear.
Personal attacks were “narrowing down the window of opportunity” for bilateral relations, an official said.
French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday warned against a verbal “escalation” of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.
Macron said he would speak to Putin in the next two days to organize the evacuation of civilians from the heavily bombarded port city of Mariupol.
The French leader told broadcaster France 3 that he saw his task as “achieving first a ceasefire and then the total withdrawal of [Russian] troops by diplomatic means.”
“If we want to do that, we can’t escalate either in words or actions,” he added.
Biden coupled his harsh words for Putin with a pointed attempt to appeal to ordinary Russians, saying they were “not our enemy” and urging them to blame their president for the heavy sanctions imposed by the West.
He offered reassurance to Ukrainians in the audience and elsewhere, at a time when nearly 4 million of them have been driven out of their country.
“We stand with you,” he said.
Biden also cast doubt on Russia’s signal that it might scale down its war aims to concentrate on eastern Ukraine — even as two Russian missile strikes slammed into the west of the country.
The US president said he was “not sure” Moscow has indeed changed its objectives, which, so far, he said had resulted in “strategic failure.”
Two Russian missiles earlier struck a fuel depot in western Ukraine’s Lviv, a rare attack on a city just 70km from the Polish border that has escaped serious fighting.
At least five people were wounded, Lviv Governor Maksym Kozytsky said, as Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists in the city center saw plumes of thick black smoke.
Biden, who was winding up a whirlwind visit to Poland after holding a series of urgent summits in Brussels with Western allies, earlier met Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw in an emphatic show of support for Kyiv.
Both ministers had made a rare trip out of Ukraine for the face-to-face talks, in a potential sign of growing confidence in their battle against Russian forces.
In a possible shift on a plan to transfer Soviet-era fighter jets from Poland to Kyiv to boost Ukraine’s firepower in the skies — rejected last month by the Pentagon as too “high-risk” — Kuleba said the US now did not object.
“As far as we can conclude, the ball is now on the Polish side,” Kuleba said in written comments to AFP after the meeting.
In a video address, Zelenskiy reiterated a call for planes while urging allies to supply Ukraine with more weapons.
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