A “war criminal” and “butcher” which “can not remain in power” in recent weeks, US President Joe Biden made a series of unwritten comments raised the temperature in its relations with the Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
But Biden’s ad-libbed line during what was billed as a talk on biofuels and helping Americans with the cost of living in Iowa Tuesday may have struck the deepest.
Going further than any top official, Biden first characterized Russian attacks on Ukrainian civilians as “genocide,” a heavily loaded term that both he and the government had avoided.
The White House, as it has in the past, expected to have to later clean up the comment and prepped reporters behind the scenes that clarification would come – but, in particular, has none.
Instead, later asked by reporters if he meant what he said, Biden doubled down.
“Yes, I called it genocide,” the president said, adding that he would let lawyers decide “whether or not it qualifies” as such.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that Putin is just trying to stamp out the idea of even being a Ukrainian.”
AFP asked the US State Department if it had formally come to the same conclusion – that a genocide was being committed in Ukraine – but officials declined to offer a firm footing.
Russian troops are accused of indiscriminate killings of Ukrainian civilians in the city of Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital Kiev.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin hit back at Biden’s comments, calling it “barely acceptable to the President of the United States” to “attempt to disrupt the situation in this way.”
The “genocide” comment came amid unconfirmed reports of Moscow using chemicals that left the White House scrambling to formulate an appropriate response.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had no doubts about what Biden’s words meant.
“Real words from a true leader… Calling things by their names is essential to resisting evil,” he tweeted.
White House officials have been more choosy than the boss at plotting carefully worded responses to any new development in the conflict — yet Biden has repeatedly backfired with his spontaneous rhetorical attacks that went outside the line of government.
Last week, he called reports of Russian atrocities in Ukraine a “war crime” but opposed the use of the term genocide.
He also called Putin a “war criminal” after Zelensky’s highly charged appeal to the US Congress for help last month, only to have his officials try to soften the remark later.
White House staffers were also stunned ten days later when Biden said in Poland that Putin was a “butcher” who “cannot stay in power”.
The White House immediately sprang into action and clarified within minutes that Biden was not in favor of “regime change” in Russia.
But Biden largely stuck to his words, saying the comments were not a policy change, but expressed his “moral outrage.”
The president has been criticized at every opportunity, but the frequency of the controversies could indicate that he is leading rather than following — dragging more cautious aides into a tougher stance on Russia.
And while Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan have declined to use the word, Biden will certainly have been pleased with bipartisan hawks on Capitol Hill, who have pressured the White House into a tougher response. to give.
“It’s genocide,” Chuck Schumer, the leader of Biden’s Democratic Party in the Senate, said on April 6.
“If these people are shot just because of their nationality, they don’t have weapons, that’s genocide – especially when it occurs in large numbers it already has.”
Other leaders in the Western alliance are more reserved.
French President Emmanuel Macron criticized the use of the term “butcher” and refused to follow Biden’s use of the term “genocide.”
“It’s insane what’s happening, it’s unbelievably cruel,” he said.
“But at the same time, I look at the facts and want to try as much as possible to be able to continue to stop this war and rebuild peace. I’m not sure if verbal escalations serve this cause.”
A European diplomat agreed, telling AFP Biden he was trying to push the needle of speaking in terms that would be robust enough to satisfy Congress while avoiding hurting the pursuit of a negotiated settlement.
The president is reportedly preparing to grant an additional $750 million in weapons to Ukraine on Wednesday as it faces a renewed Russian offensive in the Donbas region.
But he has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine or otherwise getting involved in the conflict, meaning the only option left on the table to attack Putin is occasional verbal broadband.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)