UK distances itself from Biden saying Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ | Nadhim Zahawi

A UK cabinet minister has distanced the government from Joe Biden’s call that Russia’s Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” amid criticism that the comment could bolster the Kremlin.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said it was “for the Russian people to decide how they are governed” after the unscripted remark from Biden at a speech in Poland on Saturday, which the White House later said was not a call for regime change.

“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.”

The comments came from Biden at a speech in Poland, as Russia fired missiles aimed at the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, 40 miles from the Polish border. The city is the most pro-western in the country and the base of many western journalists. Analysts described the attacks as intending to send a clear signal to the White House.

Biden described Putin as a “butcher” and told an audience in Warsaw that the west must steel itself “for a long fight ahead”.

In what seemed to be a dramatic shift in US policy, Biden also appeared to urge those around the Russian president to oust him from the Kremlin. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said. US officials later said that the president had been talking about the need for Putin to lose power over Ukrainian territory and in the wider region.

Zahawi stopped short of saying Biden had been wrong to make the call. He said: “It’s an illegal invasion of Ukraine and that must end, and I think that’s what the president was talking about.

“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.”

Some have voiced fears that the speech would bolster Putin domestically. Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the Commons defence select committee, said it had been “unwise” to make the remark, saying Putin would “spin this, dig in and fight harder”.

The former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett said she could understood what prompted the call. “I rather like what we’ve seen in Joe Biden. I know that he gets a lot of criticism but he strikes me as being somebody who has strong feelings and is inclined to then just voice them,” she told Sky.

“And, you know, maybe we don’t get quite enough of that sincerity and reaction, sometimes, from people in our political world. I’m sure that his staff and the people around him are right to say America’s not calling for regime change, but equally I think many people will sympathise with the sentiments that led him to say what he did.”

On Sunday, the UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, also told the Sunday Telegraph that sanctions on Russian banks, businesses and individuals could be lifted if Putin withdrew from Ukraine. The comments were similar to that of her US counterpart, Antony Blinken, who said that the crushing economic sanctions were “not designed to be permanent”.

Truss said there were strict conditions for the measures to be eased: “Those sanctions should only come off with a full ceasefire and withdrawal, but also commitments that there will be no further aggression.

“And also, there’s the opportunity to have snapback sanctions if there is further aggression in future. That is a real lever that I think can be used.”

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