Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power, and his war against Ukraine has been a strategic failure for Moscow, US President Joe Biden said on Saturday.
"For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden told a crowd in Warsaw at the end of a two-day trip to Poland.
The unusually strong rhetoric was quickly played down by the White House, which said the president was not calling for regime change in Russia.
"The President's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region," the official said. "He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change."
When the Kremlin was asked about the US president's remark, a spokesperson said "that's not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians."
During his oftentimes fiery speech, Biden warned Russia against stepping foot on NATO soil but said American forces were stationed in Europe to defend NATO allies, not to engage with Russian forces.
He then cautioned that only "swift and punishing costs" would get Russia to change its course in Ukraine, in a reference to several rounds of sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow.
Biden said the war, now in its second month, had united the West, before telling the Ukrainian people: "We stand with you."
During the speech that was broadcast on Polish TV, Biden also said he was "struck by the generosity of … all the Polish people … opening their hearts and their homes" to help Ukrainian refugees.
Poland handed a 'big responsibility'
Earlier, Biden held talks with President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw and sought to reassure Poland of Washington's commitment to the defense of Eastern Europe.
He insisted that the NATO mutual defense pact was a "sacred commitment."
"I'm confident that Vladimir Putin was counting on dividing NATO," Biden said about the Russian president. "But he hasn't been able to do it. We've all stayed together.''
As the largest NATO member in the former eastern bloc, Poland is playing a key role in the Western response to Russia's invasion.
The US president noted that Poland was "taking on a big responsibility, but it should be all of NATO's responsibility."
Warsaw has called for NATO peacekeepers on the ground in Ukraine, which Washington has rejected.
Duda, meanwhile, said he had asked Biden about the possibility of speeding up military purchases, referring to purchases of Patriot missile systems, artillery rocket systems, F-35 jets and Abrams tanks.
Biden also responded to speculation that Russia has changed its military strategy, after Moscow said its focus was now to completely "liberate" the breakaway eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas.
"I am not sure they have," Biden said when asked by a reporter if Russia had altered its course.
Three-way talks in Warsaw
Earlier, Biden dropped in on talks between US, Polish and Ukrainian government officials about the global response to the conflict.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin attended the meeting along with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov.
The officials discussed "the US' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
Biden visits refugee center in Warsaw
The US president also accompanied Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski to Warsaw's National Stadium, where Ukrainian refugees are being registered and provided with aid.
Poland has taken in more than 2.2 million out of an estimated 3.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began more than a month ago.
Asked what he thought of Putin after meeting the refugees, Biden said: "He's a butcher."
After arriving in Poland on Friday, Biden visited a refugee center near the southeastern city of Rzeszow, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the Ukrainian border.
Biden's visit to Poland follows his appearance at a trio of summits in Brussels on Thursday.
mm, wmr/kb (Reuters, dpa, AFP)