The last time President Joe Biden spoke from the courtyard of the Royal Castle in Poland, the content of his 27-minute speech was mostly obscured by what he ad-libbed about Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end.
“For God’s sake,” he proclaimed, “this man cannot remain in power.”
Nearly a year later, Biden returns to the Royal Castle this week to mark the anniversary of a war that has increasingly put him directly at odds with the Russian leader, a Cold War dynamic underscored by Biden’s highly secretive visit to Kyiv a day earlier.
Standing alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Biden used his very presence in the Ukrainian capital to taunt Putin for failing in his ambitions to invade and control the country.
“Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” Biden said, adding later: “He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.”
If there was ever a point when Biden and his aides hoped to avoid personalizing the Ukraine conflict, it was over long before this week’s anniversary. Biden has declared Putin a “war criminal” and a “pure thug,” accusing Russia of genocide and, in his castle speech, making an implicit call for regime change.
Yet this week’s carefully planned choreography is striking nonetheless in its overt pitting of Biden against his counterpart in the Kremlin. On Tuesday, each will again engage in a remote rhetorical contest, delivering important speeches to mark one year since Russia launched its invasion.
From the Warsaw castle, Biden intends to recommit to supporting Ukraine, even as the costs mount and public support appears to wane. And in Moscow, Putin will deliver a major speech to the Federal Assembly, in which he will discuss his own views of the ongoing war, which US and European officials believe has reached an important juncture.