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“I wouldn’t use this type of wording because I continue to hold discussions with President Putin,” Macron said Sunday during an appearance on France 3 TV channel. “We want to stop the war that Russia has launched in Ukraine without escalation — that’s the objective.”
His main goal remained “achieving first a ceasefire” and then a “total withdrawal” of Russian troops from Ukraine through “diplomatic means,” Macron told broadcasters Sunday. “If this is what we want to do, we should not escalate things — neither with words nor actions.”
Macron said Friday that he would be continuing discussions with Putin in the coming days as part of an effort for France to spearhead evacuations from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol which has suffered heavy Russian bombardment. Several attempts at humanitarian corridors have failed as an estimated more than 100,000 people remain in the port city with a pre-war population of 300,000.
This comes before France’s first round of the presidential election takes place on April 10, with a presidential runoff on April 24 if no candidate wins outright. Supporters of French far-right presidential candidate Eric Zemmour gathered for a campaign rally on the Trocadero square on Sunday.
In a pre-recorded interview that aired on France 3 Sunday, another far-right French presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, said she supported Macron’s approach, describing Biden’s remarks as “words that add oil to the fire,” according to a translation by Reuters. “The fact that the president of the Republic is not entering into this escalation is a good thing,” she added.
During a speech at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Biden said Putin was “bent on violence” and declared “there’s simply no justification or provocation for Russia’s choice of war.”
Speaking for about 30 minutes, Biden also referenced Poland’s decades of Soviet control behind the Iron Curtain before the end of the Cold War and declared “democracy will prevail” again in Ukraine.
“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said, concluding his address.
Earlier in the day, during a visit with Ukrainian refugees at Stadion Narodowy in Warsaw, Biden had also remarked to reporters that Putin was a “butcher.”
Biden’s off-script comments prompted instant rebuke from the Kremlin, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling Russian state-media that such “personal insults” narrow the window for bilateral relations.
“A state leader should control his temper, nonetheless,” Peskov added.
The White House was forced to walk back Biden’s statements, saying he was not calling for a regime change in Russia, but rather was preparing the world’s democracies for an extended conflict and making the point that “Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region.”
Further clarifying Biden’s comments, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that the U.S. “does not have a policy of regime change towards Russia,” and that the president was speaking “in the moment” if he had appeared to suggest otherwise during his speech Saturday in Poland.
At a press conference in Jerusalem earlier Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also told reporters that the U.S. does not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, adding that Biden made the point that “Putin cannot be empowered to wage war or engage in aggression against Ukraine or anyone else.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.