I, er, thought he already did. Yesterday morning outside church, remember?
Joe doesn’t always remember things at this point.
But I don’t think this is a case of faulty memory. It’s not even a case of him trying to be cute by finding a way to somehow reconcile what he said in Warsaw (“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power”) with what he said outside the church about not seeking regime change. I think he’s telling the truth here. He meant what he said in Warsaw as a moral condemnation of Putin, not as an announcement that the U.S. would now pursue Putin’s ouster as official policy. The White House isn’t going to lift a finger to get rid of him. They’re just rooting — openly — for Russians to do so.
Sloppy stuff from the head of state, whose words about a foreign leader are destined to be received as policy whether he meant them that way or not. But he’s also articulating the position here of, what, maybe 80 percent of Americans? Putin should go — but we shouldn’t spend any blood or treasure to make it happen.
Biden reverses course again, now says he does support regime change in Russia pic.twitter.com/RXi9JaoSD2
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 28, 2022
“The inevitable result of all this is that the president looked first bellicose and then both muddled and weak, a triply damaging impression that will not have been lost on our allies, opponents, or those undecided in which direction they should leap,” National Review wrote in an editorial this afternoon about what Biden said in Warsaw. “To say that that is unhelpful is an understatement. A statement intended to convey moral clarity and a unified West instead showed a president who can’t even be trusted to toe the White House line.” The message is even more muddled after this afternoon’s presser. He was bellicose in Poland, then muddled and weak outside church, and now he’s a bit of both in doubling down on regime change but not calling for anyone to do anything to make it happen.
This answer wasn’t half-bad, though:
Reporter: Are you confident that Vladimir Putin sees it that way…
Biden: I don’t care what he thinks… pic.twitter.com/oWDkLivqjG
— Acyn (@Acyn) March 28, 2022
It’s true that if Putin wants to escalate in Ukraine, he’ll find a pretext to escalate. The Kremlin has spent weeks babbling about Ukrainian biolabs and Ukrainian militias supposedly wanting to use chemical weapons. If Russia means to ramp up the war, they’ll false-flag themselves a provocation. And I suspect that, on a gut level, voters will appreciate Biden’s willingness to speak the moral truth about the bully terrorizing Ukraine even if it upsets Putin to hear it.
But he really does fear that the west might be plotting to remove him somehow, as I explained here. Biden was reckless in goosing those fears at a moment of high brinksmanship. And even if he’s right that Putin will do what he wants to do irrespective of what the United States says about him, he should be more mindful of Russian public opinion. The irony of Biden chattering about regime change is that doing so probably makes regime change in Russia less likely. Any Russian who’s tired of Putin may see the soundbite about regime change, feel their sense of patriotism inflamed, and conclude that supporting Putin’s ouster means becoming a useful idiot for the sinister Americans.
Why, take it from this Russian patriot:
The most needed regime change right now is the one in the United States for ruining our country.
— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (@RepMTG) March 28, 2022
While we’re all busy with the latest episode of “What did Biden really mean to say?”, events are afoot in Ukraine. If this Financial Times report is accurate, Putin has more to worry about than Biden giving him a symbolic thumbs down:
Russia is no longer requesting Ukraine be “denazified” and is prepared to let Kyiv join the EU if it remains military non-aligned as part of ongoing ceasefire negotiations, according to four people briefed on the discussions…
The draft ceasefire document does not contain any discussion of three of Russia’s initial core demands — “denazification”, “demilitarisation”, and legal protection for the Russian language in Ukraine — the people added…
As part of the agreement under consideration, Ukraine would also refrain from developing nuclear weapons, or hosting foreign military bases in addition to abandoning its pursuit of Nato membership.
In exchange, Ukraine would get what Arakhamia called “wording close to Nato’s Article 5” — whereby the alliances’ members must come to each others’ aid if one is attacked — for security guarantees from countries including Russia, the US, the UK, Canada, France, Germany, China, Italy, Poland, Israel, and Turkey.
That’s a *remarkably* weak deal for Russia if it’s accurate. All of the initial demands about “denazification” are gone and Ukraine gets to join the EU and it gets NATO-like security guarantees in exchange for letting Putin save face by pledging not to join NATO?
That’s what military defeat looks like if you’re Russia.
The big sticking point, territorial concessions, would be “settled in a tentative future discussion by Putin and Zelensky,” according to FT’s sources. It may be dawning on Putin that his adventure in Ukraine is a one-and-done deal in the sense that Russia will be in no position to re-invade again anytime soon. Even if they work out the kinks in their military in a few years and are ready for round two, Ukraine will have armed itself to the teeth in the interim and their military will have improved as well. The fact that Zelensky is insisting on western security guarantees also means that a second Russo-Ukrainian war would be a regional war, with other European countries and possibly the U.S. coming in. Russia’s not going to win that war. This is their last chance at gaining territory in Ukraine.
So maybe Putin is willing to give a lot on intangible concessions, like letting Ukraine join the EU, in exchange for Zelensky giving a lot on territory. If Russia agrees to give Kiev a relatively free hand on reorienting towards the west in return for recognition of Russia’s authority over Crimea and the Donbas, maybe both sides will take that deal. Russia gets one last bite of Ukrainian territory before it has to leave the country alone forever.
I don’t think Zelensky will go for it, though. Ukrainians aren’t fighting and dying as much as they are to hand over the eastern half of their beloved country to the guy who’s killing them.
Here’s one more bit from today’s Biden presser. Doocy is totally right that the White House had to clean up multiple statements by Biden during his trip. Biden’s attitude here, I think, is essentially, “I didn’t misspeak. You misunderstood.”
Doocy: "The big things you say on the world stage keep getting walked back."
Biden: "What's getting walked backed?"
Biden: You told troops they are going to Ukraine, the U.S. would use a chemical weapon, and called for regime change in Russia.
Biden: "None of the 3 occurred." pic.twitter.com/cwZPzANIoC
— Greg Price (@greg_price11) March 28, 2022