Joe Biden clashes with reporter over ‘outrageous’ Putin
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Speaking in a press conference at the White House on Monday, the president seemed to state that American troops are actively training Ukrainian forces to fight and kill Russian soldiers for the first time since the war began over one month ago. Mr Biden was responding to a journalist’s question about comments he made during his most recent visit to Poland, in which the president implied that US forces would be going to Ukraine.
The leader denied that was what he meant. He said: “We were talking about helping train the troops in — that are — the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland.”
When the reporter pressed him again, the president said: “I was referring to being with, and talking with the Ukrainian troops who are in Poland.”
The remarks appeared to suggest that American troops were training Ukrainian troops in the neighbouring country – something which US officials have consistently denied.
On March 22, the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan denied that US forces were “currently” training Ukrainians.
In response to a reporter’s question, he said: “On the question of US troops, we do not have US troops currently training Ukrainians. We do not have US troops on the territory of Ukraine.”
He added: “We do, of course, have US troops defending NATO territory, providing reassurance to our Allies, deterring Russian aggression.”
The US has been providing billions of dollars worth of military aid to Ukraine, including anti-aircraft systems, grenade launchers and ammunition, with much of the assistance going through Poland.
Some commentators have questioned whether Mr Biden meant to say “American” instead of “Ukrainian” on the second occasion, or exaggerated the extent of US troops’ advice to Ukrainian forces on how to use the military assistance the US has sent since the beginning of the conflict.
A White House official told Politico: “There are Ukrainian soldiers in Poland interacting on a regular basis with U.S. troops, and that’s what the President was referring to.”
President Biden visited Poland last week, where he met with US troops stationed in the southeast of the country as well as the Polish president and Ukrainian refugees who had fled the Russian invasion.
The leader also delivered an impassioned speech about the need to prepare for a “long fight ahead” and warned Russia of extending its war into NATO territory.
The president also reportedly veered off script when he said that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”, with a White House official later saying the comments were not calling for a “regime change”.
Mr Biden’s gaffe received an immediate and fiery response from Russia, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: “This [Putin remaining in power] is not to be decided by Mr Biden. It should only be a choice of the people of the Russian Federation.”
Clarifying the president’s comments after the speech, a Biden administration official said: “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.”
The president has made a number of other unscripted remarks in recent weeks that have escalated tensions with Russia, despite efforts by the White House to clarify his comments as quickly as possible.
Hours before his speech in Poland, Mr Biden called Putin a “butcher” in comments that appeared to be unplanned.
He also seemed to jump ahead of the US’ formal diplomatic channels last week when he branded Putin a “war criminal” in an off-the-cuff response to a reporter’s question.
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The White House later said that the president was “speaking from his heart”, but the Kremlin instantly hit back at the comments as “unforgivable rhetoric”.
There are fears that Mr Biden’s language has piled dangerous pressure on diplomatic relations between the US and Russia while some of America’s allies have also been keen to distance themselves from the remarks.
French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the US president’s rhetoric could be jeopardising ceasefire negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
He said: “We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation.
“If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things – neither with words or actions.”
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