(CN) — With the war in Ukraine now in its second month, U.S. President Joe Biden called Vladimir Putin a “butcher” on Saturday and further escalated tensions with the Kremlin during a Warsaw speech in which he called the Russian leader a “dictator” who “cannot remain in power.”
“For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said at the end of the speech, a statement that was immediately seen as an endorsement of regime change in Moscow.
White House aides quickly tried to cast Biden’s comment as not calling for the removal of Putin. White House officials have been careful to not call for regime change because such a statement could be used by the Kremlin to escalate tensions. For years, Putin has alleged the U.S. wants to destabilize Russia and that it has used Ukraine to that end.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” officials said in a statement to reporters, according to the New York Times. “He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”
Biden delivered his remarks from inside the Royal Castle, a palace for Poland's past monarchs that was destroyed by German bombs during World War II, and he used the setting to call on the democratic West to “steel ourselves” for a long and difficult fight against authoritarians. He defined Ukraine as the “frontlines of freedom.”
“In this battle, we need to be clear-eyed. This battle will not be won in days, or months either. We need to steel ourselves for the long fight ahead,” he said.
In recent days, Biden has called Putin a “war criminal” and a “thug.” Such statements, some political analysts contend, make ceasefire negotiations in Ukraine much more difficult.
On Saturday, Biden called Putin a “butcher” because of the brutality of his onslaught in Ukraine.
“He’s a butcher,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question as he stood with Ukrainian war refugees in Warsaw.
Biden’s last day in Europe saw Russia striking the western Ukrainian city of Lviv near the Polish border. A fuel depot inside the city was struck, causing a massive fire, and a tank plant was reportedly hit on the city’s outskirts. This marked a serious escalation because Lviv and the rest of western Ukraine have largely been spared of attacks.
Striking Lviv was seen as another warning to the West from the Kremlin. Russia has struck military targets in western Ukraine, including a NATO training center in Yavoriv on March 13 that killed at least 50 soldiers, among them Western volunteers who’d come to Ukraine to fight.
“I think with these strikes the aggressor wants to say hello to President Biden who is in Poland,” Lviv's mayor, Andriy Sadoviy, told reporters.
Until Saturday, Russia had not launched rockets near residential areas. The fuel depot was located inside Lviv and large fires were seen raging near residential areas and huge black plumes of smoke covered parts of the city.
Russian rockets have been targeting fuel depots across Ukraine in an effort to cripple the army’s ability to supply its tanks and other military vehicles.
Fighting continued to rage around Kyiv, the capital in north-central Ukraine on the Dnieper River, and in eastern and southern regions.
Saturday marked the 31st day of a war that is bringing tremendous losses for both sides. Ukraine is claiming that it is on the counteroffensive, but its army is being pounded by Russia’s heavy artillery, long-distance missiles and warplanes. “Today, Russia has strangled democracy and sought to do so elsewhere, not only in his homeland,” Biden said in his Warsaw speech.