White House Walks Back Biden Comment That Putin 'Cannot Remain in Power'

The White House walked back President Joe Biden's remark on Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin "cannot remain in power" amid his invasion of Ukraine.

The remark closed a speech Biden gave in Warsaw, Poland, where he spoke to about 1,000 people—including Ukrainian refugees—about the conflict, defending democracy and further condemning Putin.

"We will have a different future—a brighter future rooted in democracy and principle; hope and light, decency and dignity; of freedom of possibilities," Biden said. "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power."

Many initially believed the comment was Biden calling for the removal of Putin, but in a statement, a White House spokesperson clarified that Biden was not calling for regime change.

"The President's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region," the statement said. "He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change."

During the speech inside Warsaw's Royal Castle, Biden defended the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and spoke on what the future of the conflict could look like.

"In this battle we need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days, or months, either," Biden said. "We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead."

He also spoke on efforts from the U.S. and NATO to avert the war, but said Putin was "bent on violence from the start."

The speech came at the end of Biden's four-day trip to Europe, where he met with Ukrainian refugees, European leaders and American troops. He is set to return to the United States later Saturday.

Earlier on Saturday, Biden called Putin a "butcher" after he met with Ukrainian refugees, some of the 3.2 million people who have been displaced by the war.

"What I am always surprised by is the depth and strength of the human spirit," Biden said after meeting with the refugees. "Each one of those children said something to the effect of, 'Say a prayer for my dad or grandfather or my brother who is out there fighting.'"

He also met with Polish President Andrzej Duda, to whom he spoke of NATO as a "sacred commitment" that has "stayed together" amid the conflict, according to Deutsche Welle.

Earlier this month, Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, called for Putin's assassination in a tweet—but the idea received significant backlash.

Since the Russian invasion began in February, Biden has sharply rebuked Putin's leadership, also calling him a "war criminal."

On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced its determination that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine, including deliberate attacks on civilians, pointing to attacks on Ukrainian schools, hospitals and other civilian spaces, the Associated Press reported.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment on Saturday. This story will be updated with any response.

Biden says Putin cannot stay in power
President Joe Biden, above, seemed to call for the removal of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a speech in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images