WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. envoy to NATO said on Sunday that the United States does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, in the latest effort to clarify President Joe Biden’s statement that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
Julianne Smith sought to contextualize Biden’s remarks in Poland on Saturday, saying they followed a day of speaking with Ukrainian refugees. Russia’s month-old invasion has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s population of 44 million from their homes.
“In the moment, I think that was a principled human reaction to the stories that he had heard that day,” Smith told CNN’s “State of the Union” program before adding: “The U.S. does not have a policy of regime change in Russia. Full stop.”
Biden’s comments in Poland also included a statement earlier on Saturday calling Putin a “butcher,” and appeared to be a sharp escalation of the U.S. approach to Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Biden’s remarks a “horrendous gaff” and said he wished the president would have stayed on script.
“Most people who don’t deal in the lane of foreign relations don’t realize those nine words that he uttered would cause the kind of eruption that they did,” he told CNN.
“It’s going to cause a huge problem.”
Senator Cory Booker, one of Biden’s fellow Democrats and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the “Meet the Press” program on NBC News that although regime change was not the U.S. policy, he didn’t see Ukraine’s war ending well for Putin.
“I don’t see a real victory for him. His country is suffering extraordinarily. He is depleting critical resources from his own nation for this awful war. So I just don’t see how this ends well for him,” Booker said.
The United States has avoided direct military involvement in Ukraine, instead joining NATO allies in speeding weapons deliveries to Ukrainian forces to help them thwart Russia’s advance.
After more than four weeks of fighting, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and the conflict has killed thousands of people, sent nearly 3.8 million abroad and driven more than half of Ukraine’s children from their homes, according to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Brendan O’Brien; editing by Diane Craft and Paul Simao)
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