Vladimir Putin is a “butcher”, declared Joe Biden after he met Ukrainian refugees in Poland. This is no more than a factual description of a brutal leader for whom life is cheap. Unfortunately, the US president went beyond mere facts in the last line of his speech in Poland, when he declared: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
It is an admirable sentiment, but it was a mistake for Mr Biden to express it. It looked as if he were setting out US policy, which was why White House officials immediately “clarified” that the president had not meant what he said: “The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”
They know, even if Mr Biden briefly forgot, that Mr Putin is desperate for his fight to be with the US. The Russian president’s worldview seems to be based on a mythical history of the Greater Russian people, who include Ukrainians and other Eurasians, in a struggle of civilisations against the decadent west, led by a morally compromised America. He thought he had taken up arms against a “Nazi”, westernised elite that is oppressing the Ukrainian people, only to discover that the Ukrainians do not want to be part of his empire.
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