Joe Biden has called for Vladimir Putin to be tried for war crimes as Western leaders prepare a new round of economic sanctions against Moscow amid growing global outrage over allegations of civilian killings by Russian soldiers in Ukraine.
The American president was reacting to the heartbreaking images broadcast around the world after the discovery this weekend of a mass grave and bodies in civilian clothes, some of them hands tied, in the town of Bucha, near kyiv.
“You may remember that I was criticized for calling Putin a war criminal”, Biden told reporters at the military post of Fort McNair in Washington. “Well, the truth of the matter – we saw it happen in Bucha – he’s a war criminal.”
During a visit to Bucha, about 30 km northwest of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volloymir Zelenskiy went further, saying the city had been the scene of war crimes that are said to be ” recognized by the world as genocide”.
“You stand here today and see what happened,” Zelenskiy told reporters, wearing a bulletproof vest on a rare trip outside the capital. “We know that thousands of people have been killed and tortured with their extremities cut off; women raped, children killed.
The scale of the killings is still unclear. Ukraine’s chief prosecutor Iryna Venediktova said 410 civilian bodies were found in the greater Kyiv region after Russian troops withdrew, while Bucha Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk said the city had buried 280 people in mass graves because its cemeteries were under fire.
In the nearby town of Motyzhyn, an adviser to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, Anton Herashchenko, showed reporters the partially covered bodies of the village chief, her husband and their son. They had been shot and buried in a shallow grave, he said.
“The occupiers suspected that they were collaborating with our military, telling us where to target our artillery,” Herashchenko said. “These scum tortured, massacred and killed the whole family. They will be held responsible. »
French President Emmanuel Macron called for “very clear measures” against Moscow, including an embargo on Russian oil and coal, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc was urgently working on a new round of sanctions and standing firm. in solidarity with Ukraine during the “dark hours for the whole world”.
Macron said there was “clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha: “It was the Russian army that was there. We told the Ukrainian authorities that we were at their disposal to help them in the investigation they are carrying out.International justice must prevail.
Germany on Monday expelled some 40 Russian diplomats in response to what its foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, called the Kremlin’s “unbelievable brutality” and “unbounded will to exterminate” in Ukraine, as well as temporarily taking control of the German subsidiary of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. to secure its energy supply.
France then announced that it was also expelling a number of Russian diplomatic staff, saying their actions were “contrary to our security interests”.
As the UN Security Council prepared to discuss Ukraine on Tuesday, its human rights commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said airstrikes and heavy shelling during the Russian invasion had killed civilians in acts that may constitute war crimes.
Britain’s mission to the UN, which holds the presidency of the 15-member security council for April, said the council would not meet on Monday as requested by Russia to discuss what Moscow called a “heinous provocation from Ukraine.
The Kremlin on Monday again dismissed all charges related to the killing of civilians in Bucha, saying the Ukrainian allegations should be treated with skepticism and suggesting that the images of dead bodies “do not correspond to reality”.
“We categorically reject all allegations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, alleging that Russian Defense Ministry experts had “identified signs of various fakes” and asking international leaders not to rush to hasty accusations and at least listen to our arguments”.
Biden said it was essential that the international community “gather all the details” to ensure the Russian president stands trial for war crimes, calling Putin “brutal”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU was sending investigators to Ukraine to help local authorities document war crimes.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called for an international investigation into what he called a ‘genocide’ perpetrated by Russian troops, saying it was vital to ‘find out the truth about the extent of Russian fascist crimes “.
Calling for increasingly harsh Western sanctions and an end to “negotiations with the criminals”, Morawiecki said the “bloody massacres committed by Russian soldiers deserve to be called what they are. It is a genocide and it must be judged.
The Polish leader criticized Macron’s efforts in recent weeks to keep lines of communication open with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, saying, “Nobody negotiated with Hitler.” He also told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Berlin should not listen to “German business leaders and German billionaires” about sanctions, but “the voices of innocent women and children”.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also said the West must do everything in its power to ensure that those responsible for “these alleged cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes and – why not also say – of genocide” do not go unpunished.
When asked if he agreed with the characterization of genocide, Biden replied, “No, I think it’s a war crime.” But the US president confirmed he would seek to inflict more economic pain on Russia, saying: “I will continue to add sanctions.”
Scholz, said further EU sanctions would be agreed in the coming days, while Italy’s foreign minister – another member who, like Germany, is dependent on Russian gas imports – said that he would not veto energy embargoes.
But German Finance Minister Christian Lindner warned it was too early to cut off Russian gas to Europe. “We must cut off all economic relations with Russia, but at the moment it is not possible to cut off the gas supply,” he said. “We need time.”
The worst European conflict in decades, triggered by the Russian invasion on February 24, has already claimed 20,000 lives, according to Ukrainian estimates. The UN refugee agency said on Monday that more than 4.2 million refugees had fled the country.
“Humanitarian needs are increasing minute by minute as more and more people flee the war in Ukraine,” the International Organization for Migration said, adding that in addition to Ukrainian refugees, nearly 205,500 non-Ukrainians living, studying or working in the country had left and nearly 6.5 million people were internally displaced.
The United States also said on Monday it would ask the United Nations General Assembly to suspend Russia from the body’s human rights council. “Russia’s participation in the Human Rights Council is a farce,” Washington’s UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said. “It’s time for the UN General Assembly to vote to remove them.”
Biden first described Putin as a “war criminal” in an impromptu exchange with a reporter on March 16, apparently taking his own officials by surprise.