Washington : President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” Wednesday, a rhetorical leap that came as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine.
“He’s a war criminal,” the president said of Putin as he left an unrelated event. It’s the sharpest condemnation yet of Putin and Russian actions by a US official since the invasion of Ukraine.
While other world leaders have used the words, the White House had been hesitant to declare Putin’s actions those of a war criminal, saying it was a legal term that required research.
But in a speech Wednesday, Biden said Russian troops had bombed hospitals and held doctors hostage. He pledged more aid to help Ukraine fight Russia.
It was the harshest condemnation of Putin’s actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as “war crimes,” citing ongoing international and US investigations.
But on Wednesday, speaking with reporters at an unrelated event, Biden affixed the designation on the Russian leader.
The shift from the administration’s previous stance came after an emotional address to Congress from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who aired a video showing Ukrainians suffering amid Russia’s onslaught. Zelensky asked American lawmakers and Biden for more help defending itself, including a no-fly zone and fighter jets.
Biden responded in his own address a few hours later, laying out new American military assistance to Ukraine — including anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, weapons and drones — but stopping short of acceding to Zelensky’s requests.
Still, Biden acknowledged the horrors transpiring on the ground.
“We saw reports that Russian forces were holding hundreds of doctors and patients hostage in the largest hospital in Mariupol,” Biden said. “These are atrocities. They’re an outrage to the world. And the world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price.”
It wasn’t until a few hours after that that Biden responded to a question about Putin being a war criminal. Biden initially said “no,” but immediately returned to a group of reporters to clarify what had been asked. When asked again whether Putin was a war criminal, he answered in the affirmative.
Officials, including Biden, had previously avoided saying war crimes were being committed in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term could be used. Other world leaders have not been as circumspect, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said last week war crimes were being committed. The International Criminal Court at the Hague has also opened an investigation into war crimes. And the US Senate unanimously asked for an international investigation into war crimes on Tuesday. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last week that actions committed by Russia against the Ukrainian people “constitute war crimes,” marking the first time a senior US official directly accused Moscow of war crimes since last month’s attack on Ukraine began.– IANS