It was the strongest condemnation of Putin’s move by any US official since the start of the war in Ukraine three weeks ago. Earlier, Biden stopped labeling recorded atrocities on Ukrainian soil as “war crimes”, citing ongoing international and US investigations. But on Wednesday, while speaking to reporters at an unrelated event, Biden imposed the title on the Russian leader. “I think he’s a war criminal,” the president said after his speech at the White House. The administration’s previous stance has changed after an emotional speech to Congress by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who broadcast a video showing the plight of Ukrainians in the wake of the Russian invasion. Zelensky sought more help from American lawmakers and Biden for self-defense, including the no-fly zone and fighter jets.
Biden responded hours later in his own speech, offering new American military assistance to Ukraine – including anti-aircraft and anti-armament systems, weapons and drones – but refusing to comply with Zelensky’s request. Nevertheless, Biden admits that the horrors are happening “We have seen reports that Russian forces have taken hundreds of doctors and patients hostage at the largest hospital in Mariupol,” Biden said. “These are atrocities. They are a nuisance to the world. And the world is united in our support for Ukraine and in our determination to pay a heavy price for Putin. Biden initially said “no”, but immediately returned to a group of journalists to clarify what was being asked. Asked again if Putin was a war criminal, he answered in the affirmative. Officials, including Biden, have previously ruled out war crimes in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether the term could be used. Other world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said last week that war crimes were being committed. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has also launched an investigation into the war crimes. And the U.S. Senate unanimously called for an international investigation into war crimes on Tuesday. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said last week that Russia’s actions against the Ukrainian people “constitute war crimes,” and for the first time since the invasion of Ukraine last month, a senior U.S. official has directly accused Moscow of war crimes. In Poland last week, Vice President Kamala Harris called for an international investigation into war crimes, and made it clear that he believed atrocities were taking place. He said it would be a war crime to deliberately target civilians. After Biden made his assessment, the White House said the administration’s investigation into the war crimes would continue. “The president’s statement speaks for itself,” the press secretary said.
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