There’s been plenty of fallout following Joe Biden’s speech in Europe where he declared that Vladimir Putin needed to be removed from office and called the Russian leader a “butcher.” His staff had to quickly rush out and “clarify” that what Biden actually meant was the exact opposite of what he’d said. Of course, this is far from the first time we’ve seen this during the Biden administration. One person who seemed particularly put out by the gaffes was French President Emmanuel Macron. He’s been busily trying to play the role of peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine ever since the shooting started (while making no observable difference) and he found Biden’s remarks to be unhelpful, insisting that we must not escalate the tensions with “either words or actions.” (Mediaite)
In an interview with France’s Channel 3 (via Reuters), Macron called for Biden to hold his verbal fire.
“I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin,” Macron said. He added, “We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective. If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things — neither with words nor actions.”
After visiting with Ukrainian refugees in Poland on Saturday, reporters asked Biden what the experience of seeing those people made him think as he deals with Putin.
To be clear, Joe Biden was only saying what most reasonable people from the west have already been thinking. The Madman of Moscow has proven himself to be a butcher without a doubt and having him removed from office would almost certainly be the best thing that could happen about now. Macron is trying to make the point that you’re not supposed to say the quiet part aloud. Every perceived insult or slight will likely only cause Putin to stiffen his back and press on with his conquest. A clip of a western world leader apparently calling for regime change in Russia will be played in a loop on Russian state television, offered as evidence supporting Putin’s claim that the west is coming to destroy Russia as a nation.
Of course, taking Macron’s cautionary guidance seriously relies on the possibility that having Biden hold his tongue will actually make a difference. Russia does seem to be “pivoting” in its war strategy, with some troops and armor being pulled out to presumably be reassigned to the Donbas region in the east. But that’s not because Putin has suddenly become reasonable and is looking to de-escalate. He’s doing it because his inept army is stalled in the west and he may be forced to settle for just taking some new territory around Donetsk and Luhansk. He’s still shelling the western cities on a daily basis, though.
Back in the United States, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho was begging the President to “just stay on script.” (Washington Times)
“He gave a good speech … but as you’ve pointed out already, there was a horrendous gaffe right at the end of it,” Mr. Risch said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I wish he would stay on script. Whoever wrote that speech did a good job for him, but my gosh, I wish they would keep him on script.”
He said the off-the-cuff comment could cause a “huge problem” for the administration as it pursues its foreign-policy goals.
Risch was walking a fine line in those remarks. He took the opportunity to look like he was initially praising the President, saying “he gave a good speech.” But he then tossed in the comment about “whoever wrote that speech,” implying that Biden needs to be kept on a prompter and is incapable of coming up with his own commentary and freelancing on the fly. (That should have been obvious by now anyway.) It just served as another reminder that the person in charge isn’t exactly on the ball these days.
Meanwhile, Zelenski says he’s willing to discuss “neutral status” but his negotiating team doesn’t expect any breakthroughs
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country is prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia, though an agreement would need to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.
“Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it. This is the most important point,” Zelenskyy said in a 90-minute video address with Russian journalists.
Zelenski is already offering more than the Russians should have any right to expect as a country that was just invaded. But at least thus far these talks, including the ones that will likely begin in Turkey tomorrow, appear to just be window dressing. They allow Putin to claim that he’s being reasonable and trying to find a diplomatic resolution while he presses ahead with the war anyway. We’ve already seen Russia agree to humanitarian evacuation routes only to start shelling the evacuees as soon as they open. Even if the teams in Turkey announced some sort of agreement, I’m not going to believe it until I see entire legions of Russian forces heading back over the border. And even then we’d have to keep an eye on them.