The UK has distanced itself from Joe Biden’s controversial comments calling for a regime change in Russia.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said it was “up to the Russian people” to decide the fate of Vladimir Putin.
He made the comment when asked about Biden’s remarks made in a passionate speech in Poland on Saturday.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said in an apparent call for regime change in Moscow.
The unscripted remark left the White House scrambling around in a bid to dial down the rhetoric.
“The president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change,” a White House official stressed.
However, the comment sparked criticism from foreign policy experts who described it as “dangerous” and warned it would play into Putin’s narrative.
Asked if the UK government agreed with Biden that Putin “cannot remain in power”, Zahawi said: “I think that’s up to the Russian people.
“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.”
Zahawi added there is “evidence that war crimes have been committed in Ukraine”.
Pressed on the comments, Zahawi told Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News: “It’s an illegal invasion of Ukraine and that must end, and I think that’s what the president was talking about.”
Quizzed on whether Biden was wrong to say what he did, 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.”
“I’ll leave the comments that the president of the United States has made for the White House to clarify”
Asked if it was right for Biden to call for a regime change, Labour’s shadow pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth swerved the question.
He said: “I’ll leave the comments that the president of the United States has made for the White House to clarify, I think they have put out comments about that.”
Richard Haass, the Council on Foreign Relations president, raised concerns that Biden had “just expanded US war aims, calling for regime change.”
He tweeted: “The comments by [Biden] made a difficult situation more difficult and a dangerous situation more dangerous. That is obvious.
“Less obvious is how to undo the damage, but I suggest his chief aides reach their counterparts and make clear US prepared to deal with this Russian government.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov quickly denounced Biden, saying: “It’s not up to the president of the US and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia.”