Biden Told Austin and Blinken to Tone Down Rhetoric Against Russia

The president reportedly was unhappy when Austin said a US goal in Ukraine was to ‘weaken’ Russia, but that is still US policy

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Categories President Biden was not happy with the rhetoric from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken following their visit to Kyiv in April, NBC News reported Thursday, citing unnamed administration officials.

In Poland after their trip to Ukraine at the end of April, Austin said that the US planned to help Ukraine “win” in its war and that one of Washington’s goals was to see a “weakened” Russia. Blinken agreed with Austin’s comments, which signaled a major shift in US rhetoric.

“Biden was not happy when Blinken and Austin talked about winning in Ukraine,” one administration official said. “He was not happy with the rhetoric.” The report said that despite Biden being “upset” about the rhetoric, he didn’t reprimand Austin and Blinken once they provided him with the context of the comments. One official said that what Austin said in Poland remains US policy.

Biden doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing fiery rhetoric as he declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” back in March. The White House walked back his remarks, insisting that the US policy in Russia is not regime change, but the damage was already done.

The NBC report said that some administration officials want Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to tone down his rhetoric about how his goal is to drive Russia out of all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea. The US isn’t pressing Ukraine to negotiate with Russia to end the war and is prepared to support Kyiv for years to come, but appears to want Zelensky to set more realistic goals.

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“We are planning for a long war. We intend to prepare the American people for that, and we are prepared to ask Congress for more money,” one official said. The US has already authorized $54 billion for Ukraine aid, the majority of which is direct military assistance and money for the Pentagon.

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