Former US envoy to Northern Ireland Haass says focus should be focused on de-escalation
A former US envoy to Northern Ireland has criticised Joe Biden’s remarks about Vladimir Putin’s removal.
Richard Haass, a veteran US diplomat who is president of the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said Mr Biden’s remarks made “a dangerous situation more dangerous” when the strategy should be focused on de-escalation.
“For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,” the US president had said at the close of his speech in Poland, after earlier describing the Russian president as a “butcher”.
The Kremlin responded: “That’s not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
The White House has scrambled to row back the US president’s remarks, insisting that Biden was “not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change” with the comments made in Poland.
An official tried to argue that the US president was only making the point that the Russian leader “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also denied the US has plans for regime change.
“I think the president, the White House, made the point last night that, President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else,” Mr Blinken said yesterday in Israel.
“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. In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question, it’s up to the Russian people.”
Mr Haass, who succeeded Good Friday Agreement talks chairman George Mitchell as the US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland and later returned in 2013 to chair talks on flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles, suggested Mr Biden’s comments would reinforce the idea that the US wants Putin ousted.
“The fact that it was so off-script in some ways makes it worse,” as it could be interpreted as Mr Biden’s genuine belief as opposed to his official policy, Mr Haass added.
“It discourages Putin from any compromise essentially — if you’ve got everything to lose, it frees him up. Why should he show restraint? And it confirms his worst fears, which is that this is what the United States seeks. His ouster and systemic change”, the diplomat added.
He urged the Biden administration to reach out to Russia to clear up any misunderstandings.
A UK cabinet minister also said regime change in Russia would be “up to the Russian people”, as the UK Government distanced itself from the US president’s comments.
Asked if the UK Government agreed with Mr Biden that Mr Putin “cannot remain in power”, Nadhim Zahawi said: “I think that’s up to the Russian people.”
Pressed further about the US president’s comments on regime change, the education secretary told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “It’s an illegal invasion of Ukraine and that must end, and I think that’s what the president was talking about.”
Pressed again if Mr Biden was wrong to say what he did, Mr Zahawi said: “No, what I’m saying to you is the White House has been very clear on this, the president gave a very powerful speech on this.”