Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the United States doesn’t have any plans for a regime change in Russia, following comments from President Joe Biden that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot stay in power amid the conflict in Ukraine.
“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 told reporters while in Israel.
“As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia—or anywhere else, for that matter,” Blinken added. “In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people.”
In a speech in Poland, Biden declared that “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” referring to Putin. The comment drew speculation that the White House was pushing for a regime change to potentially topple Putin’s government.
Biden’s remark was quickly dismissed by the Kremlin, with top spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling Reuters that it’s “not for Biden to decide” while asserting that “president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
“We have a strategy to put unprecedented pressure on Russia, and we’re carrying that forward,” Blinken also told reporters. “And we have a strategy to make sure that we’re providing all of the humanitarian support that we can, and we have a strategy to reinforce NATO.”
Other than Blinken, White House officials and Western leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron distanced themselves from Biden’s remarks.
Macron on Sunday warned against verbal escalation with Moscow, saying: “I would not use those words.”
The French president on Friday had said he was seeking to hold more talks with Putin in the coming days regarding the situation in Ukraine as well as an initiative to help people leave the besieged city of Mariupol.
Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 for what he calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Russia has launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
The United Nations human rights office said on Sunday that 1,119 civilians had so far been killed and 1,790 wounded since Russia began its attack on Ukraine.
Some 15 girls and 32 boys, as well 52 children whose sex is as yet unknown, were among the dead, the United Nations said in a statement which covered the period between when the war began on Feb. 24 and midnight on March 26.
The true casualty figures are expected to be considerably higher, the world body said, with reports delayed in some regions where intense hostilities are going on, while many reports still require corroboration.
Reuters contributed to this report.