UK distances from Biden’s plea that Vladimir Putin ‘cannot remain in power’

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it is ‘for the Russian people to decide how they are governed’.

27 March 2022

A Cabinet minister has distanced the UK from Joe Biden’s apparent call for regime change in Russia when he said in an impassioned speech that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said whether to overthrow Mr Putin for his invasion of Ukraine is “up to the Russian people” after the US President’s apparently unscripted call caused the White House to scramble to row back on the remark.

In a highly-charged speech in Warsaw, Mr Biden appealed to Russian people directly, with comparisons between the invasion of Ukraine and the horrors of the Second World War.

“For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,” he said of the Russian president at the close of his speech. He earlier described Mr Putin as a “butcher”.

As multiple rockets struck the city of Lviv near the Polish border in the west of Ukraine, Mr Biden pleaded: “If you’re able to listen – you, the Russian people, are not our enemy.”

But a White House official tried to argue that the US president’s point was that the Russian leader “cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region”.

“He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” the official said, before reports in the US suggested the remarks in question had not been scripted.

Interviewed on Sunday, Mr Zahawi said it is “for the Russian people to decide how they are governed” but suggested they “would certainly do well” to have someone who “is democratic and understands their wishes”.

“I think that’s up to the Russian people,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday.

“The Russian people, I think, are pretty fed up with what is happening in Ukraine, this illegal invasion, the destruction of their own livelihoods, their economy is collapsing around them and I think the Russian people will decide the fate of Putin and his cronies.”

Poland Russia Ukraine War
US president Joe Biden delivers a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw (Petr David Josek/AP/PA)

But he declined to criticise Mr Biden, unlike Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons Defence Committee, who said Mr Putin will now “spin this, dig in and fight harder”.

Asked if Mr Biden was wrong to issue the call, Mr Zahawi replied: “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 and I think both the United States and the United Kingdom agree that it’s up to the Russian people to decide who should be governing them.”

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