President Joe Biden on Wednesday referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal,” a rhetorical leap that comes as civilian deaths in Ukraine continue to rise.
It was the most vehement condemnation of Putin’s conduct by a US official since the conflict in Ukraine broke out three weeks ago. Biden had previously refrained from using the term “war crimes” to describe atrocities documented on the ground in Ukraine, citing ongoing UN and US investigations.
However, while speaking with reporters at a different occasion on Wednesday, Biden gave Putin the moniker. After statements at the White House, the President stated, “I believe he is a war criminal.”
After an emotional address to Congress by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who played a film showing Ukrainians suffering as a result of Russia’s attack, the administration reversed its previous position. Zelensky has requested American legislators and Vice President Joe Biden for further assistance in securing the country, including a no-fly zone and fighter jets.
A few hours later, Biden delivered his own speech, outlining fresh American military support to Ukraine, including anti-air and anti-armor systems, missiles, and drones, but stopping short of fulfilling Zelensky’s demands.
Despite this, Biden acknowledged the atrocities taking on on the ground.
Biden stated, “We saw allegations that Russian soldiers were keeping hundreds of doctors and patients hostage in Mariupol’s major hospital.” “These are crimes against humanity. They’re a disgrace to the entire planet. And the entire world is united in our support for Ukraine and our desire to hold Putin accountable.”
Biden didn’t answer a question about Putin being a war criminal until a few hours later. Biden initially responded with a “no,” but then went to a group of reporters to clarify the question. Putin responded affirmatively when asked if he was a war criminal again.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, told reporters on Thursday that Biden’s words were “totally wrong and irresponsible.”
Officials, including Biden, had previously refrained from using the term “war crimes” to describe what was happening in Ukraine, citing pending investigations into whether the term could be used. Other foreign leaders, such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have been less reserved, claiming last week that war crimes were being perpetrated. A war crimes inquiry has also been launched by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. On Tuesday, the United States Senate unanimously requested an international investigation into war crimes.
Last Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield claimed that Russia’s actions against the Ukrainian people “constitute war crimes,” the first time a senior US official openly accused Moscow of war crimes since the campaign on Ukraine began last month.
Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking in Poland last week, urged for international inquiries into war crimes and stated that she believes atrocities are taking place. War crimes, she argued, would be committed if people were deliberately targeted.
The White House announced after Biden’s assessment that the administration’s inquiry into war crimes would continue.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said, “The President’s statements speak for themselves.” Biden was “speaking from the heart,” she remarked.
Later Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price echoed Psaki, telling CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront” that “it’s hard not to walk away with that conclusion” when “you’re speaking from the heart, speaking like a human and you’re seeing what we’ve all seen, these searing images on TV, a Russian strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, strikes against residential buildings, against schools, against civilian neighborhoods.”
“We are gathering every bit of information, evaluating it, documenting it, and sharing it with our counterparts at the State Department. There is a process at work here, and people are working practically 24 hours a day to document, evaluate, and discuss what is going on as we all watch in horror.”
When asked how Putin’s acts aren’t currently considered war crimes, Price emphasized that they are “There is a formal mechanism in place at the department to register war crimes in accordance with international humanitarian law. That’s something we’re working on.”
While the word “war crimes” is frequently used informally, as Biden did on Wednesday, it does have a legal definition that may be utilized in possible prosecution. This is reflected in the Geneva Convention, which defines intentional civilian targeting as a war crime.
However, the solid proof is required to prosecute a war crime. And, in order to be held accountable, Russian officials would have to leave the country.
Even yet, an official declaration of war crimes, backed up by proof, would provide the West a symbolic instrument to use in characterizing Putin’s conduct in Ukraine.
As Russia’s campaign continues, Biden is under increasing pressure to do more to assist trapped Ukrainians. The latest incident of Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment was the bombing of a theater in Mariupol where civilians were sheltering on Wednesday.
After Zelensky’s emotional appeal to lawmakers for further assistance, the strain was only going to become worse. He compared the situation in Ukraine to Pearl Harbor and September 11th, and stated, “Right now, we need your help.”
From the library of his private estate, Biden observed the speech and afterward described it as “convincing” and “important.”
Afterward, he remarked, “Putin is inflicting horrible, appalling damage and suffering on Ukraine, bombing residential buildings, maternity rooms, hospitals.” “I mean, it’s terrible.”
Biden will fly to Brussels next week for an unusual meeting of NATO leaders, where he intends to show western solidarity in the face of Russian aggression.
News Source: CNN