French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday distanced himself from comments by U.S. President Joe Biden, who called Vladimir Putin a â€œbutcherâ€ who â€œcannot remain in power.â€
Macron told broadcaster France 3 that his focus was on helping broker a ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow, followed by a complete withdrawal of Russian troops through diplomacy.
â€œIf we want to do that, we canâ€™t escalate either in words or actions,â€ Macron said.
Biden reportedly went off-script and made the remarks Saturday during a speech in Poland, as the conflict moved into its second month.
â€œFor Godâ€™s sake, this man cannot remain in power,â€ Biden said, triggering a rebuke from the Kremlin, with a spokesperson warning that personal insults would do little to help bilateral relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has since played down any suggestions that Washington is seeking regime change in Russia.
Macronâ€™s comments were echoed in the U.K. Britainâ€™s education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, said on Sky News that itâ€™s the Russian people who should decide who leads them.
â€œI think thatâ€™s up to the Russian people,â€ Zahawi told the broadcaster when asked whether Downing Street believes Putin should leave power. But Russiaâ€™s continued aggression in Ukraine, coupled with crippling sanctions from Western nations, could play a factor in who is in charge in Russia, the education secretary added.
â€œThe 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,â€ he said.
â€œRegime changeâ€ in Russia is not American policy, the U.S. ambassador to NATO said Sunday.
Speaking on â€œFox News Sunday,â€ Ambassador Julianne Smith said Bidenâ€™s statementÂ in Poland was not meant to demand that President Vladimir Putin be toppled in Russia.
â€œLet me be clear and just state right off the bat that the U.S. does not have a policy of regime change toward Russia,â€ Smith told host John Roberts.
She added: â€œBut I think what we all agree on is that President Putin cannot be empowered to wage war. He has attacked Ukraine in a premeditated, unprovoked conflict.â€
David Cohen contributed reporting.