President Joe Biden said Saturday in Poland that Russian leader Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” after launching an invasion of Ukraine, capping off a speech that included a strident defense of NATO and a call for “a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle.”
It is Biden’s first statement calling for an end to Putin’s rule, a month after he launched a war in Ukraine that has resulted in death and destruction throughout the country. More broadly, Biden used the speech to call for America’s allies to be “clear eyed” in a “battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression.”
Biden also spoke directly to the Russian people in his speech, before turning back to Putin at the end.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness,” Biden said. “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.”
The president is on the final leg of a four-day trip to Brussels and Warsaw, with the war across the border from NATO allies at the top of his agenda.
“We stand with you,” Biden said in an address at the Royal Castle in the Polish capital to around 1,000 attendees including Polish President Andrzej Duda and U.S. embassy staff. “Period.”
“Every generation has had to defeat democracy’s moral foes. That’s the way of the world. For the world is imperfect as we know. Where the appetites and ambitions of a few, seek to dominate the lives and liberty of many,” Biden said.
“Today’s fighting in Kyiv and Metropol and Kharkiv are the latest battles in a long struggle. … Over the last 30 years, the forces of autocracy have revived all across the globe. Its hallmarks are familiar ones, contempt for the rule of law, contempt for democratic freedom, contempt for the truth itself.”
Biden also said there was “simply no justification or provocation for Russia’s choice of war. … It’s nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of World War II. And it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place. We cannot go back to that.”
Speaking directly to the Russian people, Biden said: “This is not who you are. This is not the future you deserve for your families and your children. I’m telling you the truth. This war is not worthy of you, the Russian people. Putin can and must end this war. The American people will stand with you.”
Earlier, following a bilateral meeting with Duda at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, Biden said Article 5 is a “sacred commitment” for the United States, referring to the article that treats an attack on one NATO nation as an attack on all NATO nations. “Your freedom is our freedom,” Biden added.
Biden said Putin was “counting on a divided NATO” — which Biden repeatedly has said has not happened — and that the U.S. and Poland need to stay in “constant contact.”
“America’s ability to meet its role in other parts of the world rests upon a united Europe and a secure Europe,” Biden said. “Stability in Europe is critically important to the United States in terms of our interest not only in Europe, but around the world.”
Biden also alluded to the “great sense of threat” the Polish people are feeling from extensive Russian shelling just 10 miles from their border. Some 2 million Ukrainian refugees have fled across the western border to Poland.
On Saturday afternoon, Biden met with refugees, Polish officials and providers of humanitarian services at the PGE Narodowy Stadium in Warsaw. The president, who was wearing a mask, talked with World Central Kitchen chef Jose Andres while touring food tents in the stadium courtyard, according to pool reports. After talking with refugees, some from the devastated southeastern city of Mariupol, he called Putin “a butcher.”
In Biden’s meeting with Duda, the two leaders discussed “our robust bilateral defense cooperation, US support for Europe’s efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian energy and to meet our climate goals,” according to a White House readout.
Earlier Saturday, Biden joined Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a meeting at the Warsaw Marriott with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleskii Reznikov, where they discussed military, diplomatic and humanitarian goals. They also discussed “ongoing actions to hold President Putin accountable for Russia’s brutal aggression, in coordination with our allies and partners, including through the new sanctions actions announced by the President in Brussels on March 24,” according to a White House readout.
Biden’s Warsaw tour came as Russia appeared to shift its aggressive focus from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to undertake a renewed effort to consolidate control in the disputed region of Donbas in the east, according to Russian and U.S. officials.
“We think they’re trying to cut off the Donbas area,” a senior defense official told reporters at the Pentagon Friday, “they are putting their priorities and their efforts in the east of Ukraine, and that’s where still there remains a lot of heavy fighting.”
However, Biden on Saturday seemed to cast some doubt on that assessment. Asked by a reporter whether he thinks Russia has changed its strategy, he replied, “I am not sure they have.”
The stalled Russian offensive in the north and west of Kyiv has been a major concern for the Kremlin, which has seen heavy troop losses and plummeting morale, according to U.S. officials. At the same time, Russia has intensified its assault on the northern city of Chernihiv and the western city of Lviv, some 40 miles from the Polish border, which on Saturday was the site of a Russian shelling of a fuel depot.
Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz, on Saturday said Putin may be considering “kind of a face-saving exit strategy.”
“Russia has not achieved its goals. It has not seized Kyiv, it has not changed the government of Ukraine,” the Associated Press reported. “And that is only because of the fact that the Ukrainian army is doing so well.”
Biden is scheduled to return to Washington, D.C., later Saturday, departing from Warsaw’s Chopin Airport with a refueling stopover in Mildenhall, U.K.