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Biden says Putin ‘cannot remain in power’; White House walks back remark

President Biden met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Ukrainian refugees before his speech outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw on March 26. (Video: Joy Yi, Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

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WARSAW — President Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” in a forceful speech Saturday wrapping up a trip to Europe meant to bolster NATO’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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The president’s remark initially seemed to suggest support for regime change — something the Biden administration has taken pains to avoid — though the White House later said Biden only meant Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.

“That’s not for Biden to decide,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state media. “The president of Russia is elected by Russians.”

Biden’s words capped a fiery speech in which he called Putin a “dictator,” warning him not to encroach on NATO territory and urging Ukrainians to steel themselves for a long battle. He framed the Kremlin’s invasion as the “test of all time” for democracy.

Here’s what to know

  • Speaking by video to the Doha Forum in Qatar on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described the destruction in the port city of Mariupol, comparing it to “what we all saw in Aleppo” — a reference to the northern Syrian city battered by Syrian and Russian forces during the civil war in Syria.
  • The Pentagon said Friday that Russia has halted ground operations aimed at Kyiv and is instead focusing attacks on the eastern Donbas region. The move is seen as a sign that Moscow might be paring back its ambitions for the invasion. A U.S. military think tank, however, expressed skepticism that Russia’s war aims have changed.
  • For weeks, the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv north of the capital has been under near-constant Russian attack, almost entirely cut off from power, water, food and gas amid constant artillery fire. One resident has shared with The Washington Post the daily struggles that he and others face.
  • American teacher Tyler Jacob has been released from Russian custody and reunited with his wife and daughter. He was detained 10 days ago at a checkpoint in Crimea as he was seeking evacuation to Turkey.
  • The Washington Post has lifted its paywall for readers in Russia and Ukraine. Telegram users can subscribe to our channel for updates.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

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