President Biden called for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin following graphic images emerging of “outrageous” atrocities of civilian massacres allegedly carried out by Russian forces in Ukraine.
“We have to gather the information. We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight, and we have to gather all the detail, so this can be an actual — we can actually have a war crimes trial,” Biden told reporters Monday morning, a day after video and still images showed streets littered with dead bodies in the town of Bucha, northwest of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.
Biden noted that he had faced backlash late last month when he dubbed Putin a “war criminal,” but pointed out Monday that now it was clear that the label was warranted.
“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal. You saw what happened in Bucha,” Biden said. “This warrants him – he is a war criminal.”
“This guy is brutal and what’s happening with Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seeing it,” Biden added.
Biden, however, stopped short of labeling the killings a “genocide” when asked, given the term has a strict legal definition and the heavy implications it carries.
“No, I think it is a war crime,” Biden responded when asked whether the latest reported atrocities are genocide, adding that Putin “should be held accountable” and the United States needs to “get all the detail so this can be an actual war-crime trial.”
According to the 1948 treaty, “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” the term genocide is defined by international law as an attempt “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. It can involve acts of killing or harm, as well as preventing births, forcibly transferring children, or imposing dire conditions that are “calculated to bring about its physical destruction.”
The president vowed to hit the Kremlin with additional new sanctions to punish Russia over the atrocities in Bucha. However, the previous heavy imposed from the U.S. and allies has done nothing to stop Putin from ending his brutal war campaign as he has now focused on capturing areas in the south and east Ukraine.
“I’ll let you know,” Biden replied when a reporter asked him the nature of those expected new sanctions.
Later Monday afternoon, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan echoed Biden’s remark in characterizing the alleged action as a war crime, but also stopped short in designating it a genocide. Sullivan said the U.S hasn’t yet seen evidence of “systematic” killings to “rise to the level of genocide.”
“We had already concluded that Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine, and the information from Bucha appears to show further evidence of war crimes,” Sullivan said.”
“Based on what we have seen so far — we have seen atrocities. We have seen war crimes. We have not seen a level of systemic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide. But again, that’s something we’ll continue to monitor,” Sullivan added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday accused Russia of “genocide” after hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were found killed, with about 100 civilians buried in mass graves, while others were found dead in the street with their hands tied behind their backs. According to Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova, 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken by Russian forces.
“These are war crimes, and they will be recognized by the world as genocide. You are here today and can see what happened. We know of thousands of people killed and tortured with severed limbs, raped women, and murdered children. I think it is more than — this is a genocide,” Zelenskyy told reporters, according to an English translation shared by Ukrainian state-run TV in Bucha Monday, his first visit outside of Kyiv in the six weeks of the Ukraine war.
“What has been done to this modern town is a characteristic of the Russian military which treated humans worse than animals,” Zelenskyy added. “These are war crimes and need to be recognized by the world as genocide.”
Meanwhile, in response to the allegation, the Kremlin outright denied the accusations, claiming such allegations regarding war crimes were “another provocation,” and the photos and videos of the dead bodies “have been stage-managed by the Kyiv regime for the Western media.”
“During the time the settlement was under the control of the Russian armed forces, not a single local resident suffered from any violent actions,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. “In the settlements of the Kyiv region, Russian military personnel delivered and issued 452 tons of humanitarian aid to civilians.”
The International Criminal Court said earlier this month that it is opening an investigation into potential war crimes by Putin in his invasion of Ukraine which is now on Day 39. According to the United Nations, at least 1,400 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.