Antony Blinken says US is not seeking Russian regime change

The US is not seeking regime change in Russia, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, a day after President Joe Biden apparently called for his Russian counterpart’s ousting.

Biden on Saturday condemned Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, saying “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power”, in remarks that drew condemnation from Moscow.

Speaking in Jerusalem on Sunday, Blinken told reporters that “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.”

Biden’s speech came after three days of intense diplomacy in Europe that sought to stiffen western unity against Putin’s more than month-long invasion of Ukraine, which has triggered unprecedented financial sanctions against Moscow.

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.”

His comments were the second US attempt to walk back what appeared to be a call to oust Putin from power during a speech in Poland in which Biden warned transatlantic democracies to steel themselves for a “long fight ahead” to protect freedom in Europe.

The White House later said that “the president’s point was that Putin could not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region”, rather than a plan for regime change.

On Sunday, both France and the UK emphasized the importance of avoiding an escalation of the geopolitical situation.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would not echo Biden’s words and that efforts should be made not to worsen the situation, adding that he aimed to continue to talk to Putin in an attempt to bring about a ceasefire.

“I think we need to be factual and do everything not to allow the situation to spiral,” Macron told France 3 TV. “I will not make those kind of comments. . . We shouldn’t be in an escalation of words or actions. “

Britain said it was not pushing for regime change and believed Putin should be offered an “off ramp” from the war. “It’s good in principle to encourage good behavior, not encourage worse behavior by suggesting there’s nothing left to lose,” said one senior British official.

Liz Truss, the UK’s foreign secretary, said sanctions could be lifted if Putin withdrew from Ukraine and committed to “no further aggression”.

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In the event of a “full ceasefire and withdrawal”, sanctions against Russian banks and individuals could be relaxed but, she told the Sunday Telegraph, “snapback sanctions” could be reimposed if Putin renewed on any agreement. It is the first time a senior British figure has talked so openly about the scenario for lifting sanctions.

Truss has told colleagues that the West needs to “be tough to get peace” and that it is vital that the G7 remains united in its deals with Russia. “If sanctions are to come off, we need to do it together as one,” said one British official.

EU officials have previously denied that unseating Putin is their target, stating that sanctions are not aimed at provoking regime change. A European Commission spokesperson declined to comment on Biden’s remark.

Biden’s speech threatened to further inflame already febrile tensions with Moscow, where Putin has justified his invasion by claiming the US was using Ukraine as a platform to destroy Russia’s statehood.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told the state-run Tass agency that “these personal insults narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations [to improve] under the current [US] administration ”.

Russia’s military is pursuing its threat to encircle Ukrainian forces in the country’s east while stepping up attacks on fuel and food depots across the country according to western military assessments.

“Russian forces appear to be concentrating their efforts to attempt the encirclement of Ukrainian forces directly facing the separatist regions in the east of the country, advancing from the direction of Kharkiv in the north and Mariupol in the south,” the UK ministry of defense said. on Sunday.

It said fighting in northern Ukraine “remains largely static with local Ukrainian counter-attacks hampering Russian attempts to reorganize their forces.”

The governor of Sumy, a region on the northern border with Russia, said Ukraine’s forces had retaken two towns on the supply route to the regional capital.

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior ministry, said Russia had begun targeting food and fuel storage facilities and had begun to build up new groups of forces near the border, suggesting it was planning new assaults on Ukraine, according to Reuters.

Also on Sunday, the leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic, one of two Moscow-backed separatist groups in Donbas, said the group could soon hold a referendum on joining Russia – a possible precursor to the formal annexation of more Ukrainian territory by Moscow.

Additional reporting by Andres Schipani in Lviv, Sarah White in Paris and George Parker in London

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