Keir Starmer today rebuked Joe Biden over his ‘unhelpful’ jibe that Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ after the Ukraine invasion.
As the White house scrambled to deny that the US is seeking regime change, the Labour leader voiced frustration at the slip.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted that the UK is in ‘lockstep’ with America but it is for the Russian people to decide who runs their country.
However, joking about the role of ‘education tsars’ in his own department during a visit to a London school, Mr Zahawi said: ‘There’s one tsar I would like to get rid of now – but that’s up to the Russian people.’
Downing Street reiterated Mr Zahawi’s comments about the decision being for Russians and denied there were any concerns about Mr Biden’s competence.
A tetchy Mr Biden tried to clarify his comments overnight after Moscow seized on them and allies sounded dismay.
The President was asked by reporters if he ‘wants Putin removed’ as he left church in Washington DC.
He yelled ‘No!’ before getting into his motorcade.
Less than 24 hours earlier, Biden said: ‘For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,’ in a shocking apparent call for regime change in Moscow.
President Joe Biden, leaving the Holy Trinity Church in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington told a reporter ‘No!’ when asked if he was calling for regime change
Keir Starmer today rebuked Mr Biden over his ‘unhelpful’ jibe that Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ after the Ukraine invasion
‘For god’s sake this man cannot remain in power,’ Mr Biden said of Putin, describing the Russian president as having a ‘craving for absolute power and control.’
A wrecked tank is seen near a damaged building in Mariupol on Saturday as civilians are being evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city under the control of Russian military and pro-Russian separatists
The unscripted remark came at the end of an impassioned speech from Poland on Saturday.
Emmanuel Macron warned afterwards against an escalation ‘in words and action’ – saying it could hamper vital humanitarian efforts, including hopes of evacuating the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
Asked about Mr Biden’s comments this morning, Sir Keir told LBC radio: ‘Not helpful, to say something, to row back – big thing to say, for obvious reasons.’
The Labour leader said the Ukraine situation is ‘thoroughly depressing’ and, following the end of the Cold War, ‘I didn’t think in my lifetime we would see Russian tanks going into a European country’.
Mr Zahawi told Sky News: ‘Both the White House and the President have been clear on this.
‘We are in lockstep with them that it is up to the Russian people to decide who governs them and the future of their country.’
Asked whether he supported Mr Biden saying Mr Putin should not remain in power, Mr Zahawi said: ‘No, what I would say is it is up to the Russian people.
‘I think the Russian people are pretty fed up, not only because they are watching their friends – and some of them have family in Ukraine – being attacked by the Putin regime – clearly war crimes have been committed because they are targeting innocent civilians, in civilian areas.
‘But I think President Biden is right to say that Putin has no place in the Ukraine. They have to make sure that they withdraw from Ukraine because it is an illegal invasion of the Ukraine – I think he is absolutely right in that.’
Emmanuel Macron has warned against escalating the situation ‘in words and action’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken played down the idea of regime change during a press conference in Jerusalem on Sunday
Mr Macron said: ‘I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin.
‘We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation – that’s the objective.’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem that the US is not looking for ‘regime change’ in Moscow or anywhere else in the world.
Mr Blinken said Mr Biden referring to Putin’s influence outside of his country – including Moscow’s bloody and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine which has now spanned over a month.
‘I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, quite simply, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,’ Mr Blinken said.
‘As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia – or anywhere else, for that matter.’
‘For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,’ said President Biden in a shocking apparent call for regime change in Moscow on Saturday
There are concerns that Mr Biden’s slip could convince Putin that there is no point in pursuing compromise.
In contrast, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has stressed that sanctions could be dropped if Russia withdraws fully and commits to not repeating the aggression.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly denounced Biden, saying ‘it’s not up to the president of the US and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.’
The White House has been forced to clarify other awkward remarks from the president suggesting that US troops would deploy, and had already deployed, to Ukraine.
In a speech to US paratroopers in Poland on Friday, Mr Biden said: ‘You’re going to see when you’re there – some of you have been there – you’re going to see women, young people, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, saying, ‘I’m not leaving’.’
Mr Biden’s mention of ‘when you’re there’ seem to suggest that the troops would be deployed across the border to Ukraine, but the administration insisted there has been no change in his stance that the US will not enter the conflict.
The White House was forced to clarify on Friday that American troops would not be going into Ukraine after President Biden appeared to make a slip in his speech to paratroopers in Poland