Joe Biden’s speech at the Royal Palace in Warsaw was heralded as “great” and “historic.” A month after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the 45th president of the US wanted to make clear what the battlefield is really about and emphasize that the free world must not be intimidated.
It turned out to be a forceful, historic speech that addressed everything that was expected: that the West is with Ukraine, that the Russian people are not the enemy, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is in charge of protecting the democracy that he wants to “suffocate ”. . That the world should not be afraid, even when times are hard and difficult trials lie ahead.
“Do not be afraid”
He quotes the first Polish pope, John Paul II, who began his speech at the beginning of his pontificate in 1978, at the height of the Cold War, with the words “Do not be afraid.” Those words would have changed the world. Biden also wants to encourage the free world not to shy away from fighting autocracies.
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But then, at the end of his half-hour speech, Biden says a phrase that causes a lot of emotion: “For God’s sake, this man can’t stay in power,” Biden yells.
Did the American president really call for a “regime change” and the overthrow of the head of the Kremlin? That would be a stunning sea change in US strategy toward Russia; after all, US officials have repeatedly emphasized that this is not “regime change.”
Previously, Biden called Putin a ‘butcher’
It is not immediately clear what exactly Biden means by this sentence and whether this sentence was planned that way. Did he mean morally that a “butcher”, as he had recently called Putin in a meeting with Ukrainian refugees, had forfeited any right to be recognized by the world as a legitimate head of state? Or did he really call for the removal of Putin, the man at the helm of a nuclear power, from his post?
A little later, the White House made it clear: no, the United States is not calling for the overthrow of Putin. The president meant that Putin should not exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He did not talk about Putin’s power in Russia. The momentary excitement fades again.
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Two things remain: Yes, Biden delivered what may be the most important speech of his life. In a symbolic place: in the capital of Poland, which has suddenly become a frontline state, he cheered on the West.
The US president himself curbs the force of his words
But with his ambiguous comment, which he obviously spontaneously inserted into the carefully prepared text of the speech, he temporarily checked the force of his words. He wouldn’t have needed that.
It is not unlikely that Biden was overwhelmed by his own expectations about the “historical” meaning of his speech. Or because of what he had just learned from the Ukrainian refugees at the National Stadium in Warsaw: he had called Putin a “butcher”.
In front of an audience of around 1,000 people, which also apparently included Ukrainian refugees, he spoke quietly about a girl in the stadium who whispered to him if he would ever see her father and brother again. Biden, who has endured many tragedies, is known to empathize with the pain of others. He sees himself as someone who is empathic and can “heal”.
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However, it becomes difficult when the 79-year-old gets carried away with statements that distract from the real message. Because he is “big” enough.
The war is already “a strategic failure” by Putin
The West is more united than ever thanks to the heroic resistance of the Ukrainians, says Biden. There are now significantly more troops on NATO’s eastern flank than before, sanctions would halve Russia’s economic power for years to come: this war, according to Biden, is already “a strategic failure” on Putin’s part. He could and should end the war.
It is also smart for the president of the United States to address the Russian people directly. The people of Russia are not enemies of the West. What is happening today, especially the attacks directed at civilians, “are not the actions of a great people.” There is no justification for Russian aggression and Putin is isolating the country from him from the rest of the world. He urged the Europeans to end their dependence on Russian energy and promised that the Americans would help.
Refugees not only concern Poles
Biden reiterated NATO’s “sacred” promise to help all 30 allies by telling Putin: “Don’t even think about pushing an inch of NATO territory.” only from Poland.
For the Ukrainians, however, it brought little news. At least for now, Biden’s red line remains on NATO’s external border, not Ukraine. He continues to reject direct participation in his country’s war and anything that could be interpreted as such, for example a no-fly zone over Ukraine.