Putin 'cannot remain in power': Biden sparks chaos as Kremlin hits back over Poland speech

26 March 2022, 18:49 | Updated: 27 March 2022, 00:11

By Emma Soteriou

The White House has been thrown into chaos after Joe Biden declared in a speech that Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power".

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It comes after the Kremlin hit back at Mr Biden's remarks, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov, saying: "This not to be decided by Mr Biden. It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation."

The White House was forced to quickly deny that it was a call for regime change, insisting: "The President's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region.

"He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change."

During his speech in Poland, the US President had called on the world to not be afraid, claiming Russia's invasion in Ukraine was a "strategic failure".

He built on earlier comments in which he slammed Mr Putin as a "butcher" and "dictator".

"In this hour, let the words of Pope John Paul burn as brightly today - never, ever give up hope, never doubt, never tire, never become discouraged. Be not afraid," Mr Biden said.

"A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people's love for liberty. Brutality will never grind down their will to be free.

"Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refused to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.

"We will have a different future, a brighter future, rooted in democracy and principle, hope and light, of decency and dignity, of freedom and possibilities.

"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power."

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Mr Biden stood firm on Nato's response if Russia moved a "single inch" into its territory, saying "swift and punishing costs" were the only way to make Moscow change course.

He added that the war had "already been a strategic failure for Russia" and by mis-calculating the Ukrainian response, Mr Putin was "not much of a student of history".

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The leader also spoke directly to the Russian people, telling them the invasion of Ukraine was "not worthy of you", as he drew comparisons between Mr Putin's actions and the Second World War.

"I've always spoken directly and honestly to you, the Russian people. Let me say this, if you're able to listen: you, the Russian people, are not our enemy," Mr Biden said.

He added: "These are not the actions of a great nation.

"Of all people, you, the Russian people, as well as all people across Europe, still have the memory of being in a similar situation in the 30s and 40s, the situation of World War Two, still fresh in the mind of many grandparents in the region.

"Whatever your generation experienced, whether it experienced the siege of Leningrad, whether you heard it from your parents or grandparents, train stations overflowing with terrified families fleeing their homes... these are not memories of the past - not any more, it's exactly what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine right now."

It comes after Russia gave its strongest indicator yet on Friday that it would scale back its invasion of Ukraine after weeks of minimal progress.

The Russian defence ministry said that, having completed the "first phase" of operations, troops would now "focus our core efforts" on the Donbas region, part-held by Russian-backed separatists.

However, Russia's attack moved further west in Ukraine on Saturday, with several missile strikes reported in the city of Lviv. Five people were injured, officials said.

"There were three powerful explosions near Lviv from the direction of Kryvchytsy, now there is an air raid warning, so keep calm and take shelter," said regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy in an online post.

Western officials said the latest move from Russia could mean a "pause" in operations around Kyiv and elsewhere as the Russians move resources into the east of the county, although they remain cautious about the apparent switch in strategy.

Meanwhile, thousands gathered in London on Saturday to show a unified message of support to the people of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had previously appealed to people across the world to take to the streets to mark one month of the Russian invasion.