Biden lashes at Putin, calls for Western resolve for freedom

(AP) — President Joe Biden delivered a forceful and highly personal condemnation of Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Saturday, summoning a call for liberal democracy and a durable resolve among Western nations in the face of a brutal autocrat.

As he capped a four-day trip to Europe, a blend of emotive scenes with refugees and standing among other world leaders in grand settings, Biden said of Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

It was a dramatic escalation in rhetoric — Biden had earlier called Putin a “butcher” — that the White House found itself quickly walking back. Before Biden could even board Air Force One to begin the flight back to Washington, aides were clarifying that he wasn’t calling for an immediate change in government in Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly denounced Biden, saying “it’s not up to the president of the U.S. and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”While Biden’s blunt language grabbed headlines, in other pieces of his roughly 30-minute speech before Warsaw’s iconic Royal Castle he urged Western allies to brace for what will be a turbulent road ahead in a “new battle for freedom.”

He also pointedly warned Putin against invading even “an inch” of territory of a NATO nation.

The address was a heavy bookend to a European visit in which Biden met with NATO and other Western leaders, visited the front lines of the growing refugee crisis and even held a young Ukrainian girl in his arms as he sought to spotlight some of the vast tentacles of the conflict that will likely define his presidency.

“We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after, and for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy,” Biden said as Russia continued to pound several Ukrainian cities. “There will be costs, but the price we have to pay, because the darkness that drives autocracy is ultimately no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere.”

Biden also made the case that multilateral institutions like NATO are more important than ever if the West and its allies are going to successfully push back against autocrats like Putin.During his campaign for president, Biden talked often about the battle for primacy between democracies and autocracies. In those moments, his words seemed like an abstraction. Now, they have an urgent resonance.

Europe finds itself ensconced in a crisis that has virtually all of Europe revisiting defense spending, energy policy and more, and so does the U.S.

Charles Kupchan, who served as senior director for European affairs on the White House National Security Council during the Obama administration, called the invasion a “game-changer” that left Atlantic democracies with “no choice” but to bolster their posture against Russia.

But the path ahead for Biden — and the West — will only grow more complicated, Kupchan said.