Experts warn that a nine-word blunder from US President Joe Biden could spell dire consequences for Ukraine

In a forceful and highly personal condemnation of his Russian counterpart today, US President Joe Biden declared that Vladimir Putin, now a month into his brutal invasion of Ukraine, “cannot remain in power”.

The reportedly unscripted remark, made at the end of a speech in Warsaw that served as the capstone on a four-day trip to Europe, prompted dozens of people to quickly label Biden a “hero” on social media, commending him for his “strong leadership”.

Experts, however, have warned the gaffe could confirm what Putin “has believed all along” — that America is in favour of deposing him as Russian President and therefore may have crossed one of his murky, nuclear red lines.

“There ought to be two priorities right now: Ending the war on terms Ukraine can accept, and discouraging any escalation by Putin. And this comment was inconsistent with both of those goals,” veteran diplomat and Council on Foreign Relations president, Richard Haas, told The Washington Post.

“It discourages Putin from any compromise essentially — if you’ve got everything to lose, it frees him up. Why should he show any restraint? And it confirms his worst fears, which is that this is what the United States seeks. His ouster and systemic change.”

Within minutes, the White House was walking back the comments, insisting before the President could even board Air Force One to fly back to Washington that he wasn’t calling for an immediate change in government in Moscow.

One official asserted that Biden was “not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or (a) regime change”; instead, his point was that “Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region”.

But as Haas told The Post, the damage had already been done.

“What’s frustrating about this is, up to now, the Biden administration has conducted itself with significant discipline … This goes against the grain of their handling of this crisis,” he said.

“They obviously recognise that, they walked it back in a matter of minutes. The problem is, from Putin’s point of view the President revealed his and our true intentions.”

Putin established the threat of nuclear war from the very beginning of his bloody invasion into Ukraine.

“No matter who tries to stand in our way or all the more so create threats for our country and our people, they must know that Russia will respond immediately,” he said in a televised address, announcing his nation’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“And the consequences will be such as you have never seen in your entire history.”

In the month since, while the prospect of a nuclear war “remains low”, the risk has grown, research analyst at the US Centres for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Monica Montgomery, told Vanity Fair on Friday.

Russian military officials are reportedly snubbing calls from the US, raising the risk of miscalculating into a nuclear crisis.Putin has become increasingly isolated, boosting concerns about what he could do should he feel backed into a corner.

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