White House says Putin guilty of ‘war crimes;’ stops short of calling atrocities ‘genocide’

by mcardinal

Chris Lange, FISM News


President Biden on Monday called for an “actual war crime trial” against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Biden made the remark to reporters yesterday morning in response to the emergence of horrific evidence of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians. 

Amid the withdrawal of Russian troops from areas surrounding Kyiv over the weekend, graphic images began to surface showing the bodies of more than 400 Ukrainian civilians lining the streets of Bucha revealing shocking evidence of torture and summary executions, sparking outrage around the world. 

“He is a war criminal,” Biden said as he disembarked from Marine One, adding that Putin “should be held accountable.” The president also vowed that the U.S. will “continue to provide Ukraine with weapons they need to continue to fight” and said he is “seeking more sanctions” against the Kremlin.

Asked whether he thinks the latest reported atrocities amount to genocide, Biden told reporters, “No, I think it is a war crime.”

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was also careful not to label Russia’s war crimes as genocide, though he said it is something the administration is monitoring.

“Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes.  We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide,” Sullivan said at a Monday press briefing. “But, again, that’s something we will continue to monitor,” he added.

The Biden administration’s careful posturing is likely linked to the fact that the term “genocide” is a strict legal definition under international law that carries significant implications including an obligation of prevention and punishment.

Western nations, facing mounting pressure to do more to stop Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, have been walking an increasingly fine line between supplying Ukraine with military and economic aid and provoking Putin into a world war that could potentially include nuclear conflict.

 Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, however, says the time has come for Western leaders to acknowledge that Putin is guilty of genocide, citing the Bucha images as ample evidence.

“Indeed, this is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people,” Zelenskyy said Sunday in an interview with CBS Face the Nation. “We are citizens of Ukraine, and we don’t want to be subdued to the policy of [Russia]. This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated. And this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So, this is the torture of the whole nation.” 

Human Rights Watch has documented evidence of summary executions, unlawful violence against civilians, and repeated rapes occurring between Feb. 27 and March 14. After interviewing victims, witnesses, and local residents of Russian occupied areas of Ukraine, Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch European director, said, “The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty, and violence against Ukrainian civilians.” 

Russia, however, continues to deny the widespread targeting, torture, and killing of Ukrainian civilians. “[W]e categorically reject the accusations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed in a statement that the Bucha images and videos of dead bodies “have been stage-managed by the Kyiv regime for the Western media.” 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced that the U.S. will ask U.N. members to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council as its invasion of Ukraine continues.

“Russia’s participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Monday, adding, “It is wrong, which is why we believe it is time the U.N. General Assembly vote to remove them.”