President Joe Biden on Monday called for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin and more sanctions against Russia following new reports of atrocities in Ukraine after Russian troops retreated from areas around Kyiv.
“We saw what happened in Bucha. He is a war criminal,” Biden told reporters when returning to the White House from Delaware, adding the Russian leader is “brutal.”
Biden joined a growing chorus of world leaders on Monday who condemned Russia after Ukrainian officials said the bodies of 410 civilians were found in Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian forces.
In Bucha, 280 people were buried in mass graves, according to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who visited the city Monday. Associated Press reporters saw the bodies of at least 21 people in various spots around Bucha.
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Leaders and top government officials in France, Albania, Kosovo, Spain, Poland, Estonia, Japan, New Zealand and the EU’s top diplomat condemned the actions, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called for an investigation. Russia has dismissed the accusations.
A new report from Human Rights Watch says the nonprofit has documented several cases of Russia committing “laws-of-war violations” against civilians in Ukraine. The report, released Sunday, said Russian military forces have committed war crimes in Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Kyiv, including repeated rape, two cases of summary execution and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians from Feb. 27 to March 14.
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►Germany’s defense minister floated the idea of European countries halting gas supplies from Russia in light of the alleged attacks on civilians in Bucha.
►Lithuania says it has cut itself off entirely of gas imports from Russia, apparently becoming the first of the European Union’s 27 nations using Russian gas to break its energy dependence upon Moscow.
►The UK Ministry of Defense said heavy fighting has continued in Mariupol, and that the city is “almost certainly a key objective of the Russian invasion” because it would connect Russia to the occupied territory of Crimea by land.
►In his annual letter to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said managing sanctions against Russia has been an “enormous undertaking” and that the bank could lose $1 billion over time. The war and prior trade disputes with China “likely will affect geopolitics for decades,” he said.
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Visiting Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv, where reports of dead civilians and mass graves have come to light after Russian troops retreated, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Russia to reach an agreement to end the war.
Zelenskyy, however, also acknowledged the challenges in conducting peace talks after the killings in Bucha. “It’s very difficult to conduct negotiations when you see what they did here,” Zelenskyy said, adding that “dead people have been found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured” in the suburb and elsewhere.
The BBC reported Zelenskyy met with local residents and reiterated that Russia had committed war crimes. He also called on Western leaders to come to Bucha to see the destruction.
“The longer the Russian Federation drags it out, the worse it will exacerbate its own situation and this war,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the country will investigate alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine as mounting reports show dead civilians outside Kyiv. The EU is offering to lend a hand.
Calling it a special justice mechanism, Zelenskyy said the probe would be in conjunction with international prosecutors and judges. “The time has come to make the war crimes committed by Russian troops the last such evil on Earth,” he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union was prepared to help Ukraine in the investigation.
“The perpetrators of these heinous crimes must not go unpunished,” she said in a statement after a call with Zelenskyy. Von der Leyen said the European Union would send a joint investigation team to help Ukrainian prosecutors collect evidence.
The long arm of the U.S. law has reached all the way to Spain to capture one of a Russian oligarch’s prized possessions.
The U.S. government on Monday seized a 254-foot yacht owned by Viktor Vekselberg, an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is the first such seizure by the Biden administration under sanctions imposed after the invasion of Ukraine. Some of the sanctions target pricey assets of Russian elites.
Associated Press reporters in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands, watched FBI and Homeland Security agents along with members of the Spanish Civil Guard go in an out of the Tango, Vekselberg’s $120 million vessel.
All of Vekselberg’s assets in the United States are frozen and American companies are barred from doing business with him and his entities. The Ukrainian-born businessman built his fortune by investing in the aluminum and oil industries in the post-Soviet era.
The United States is calling for Russia’s suspension from the United Nations Human Rights Council, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Monday.
The announcement comes after news of dead civilians and mass graves in Bucha, about 35 miles northwest of Kyiv. Noting the 140 countries that voted to condemn Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, “My message to those 140 countries: the images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us to now match our words with action,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a tweet.
Thomas-Greenfield said Russia should not have a position in a body that promotes human rights around the world and looks into alleged violations, where it’s able to use its position as “a tool of propaganda to suggest they have a legitimate concern about human rights.”
WHAT IS A WAR CRIME? Ukraine accuses Russia of them, but what exactly constitutes a war crime?
The atrocities allegedly committed by Russian forces in Ukraine have not only been witnessed by reporters but also documented by the non-government organization Human Rights Watch.
HRW said interviews with victims, witnesses and residents of Ukrainian territories occupied by the Russians yielded accounts of several war crimes, including executions, rapes and other forms of violence against civilians.
In one instance in late February, the Russians executed six men in the village of Staryi Bykiv, in Chernihiv region, the organization said, citing a report from the mother of one of the victims.
“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the 64th Grammy Awards Sunday, speaking in a pre-recorded segment shown at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas before John Legend performed a tribute to the war-torn country.
Zelenskyy urged the assembled artists to “tell our story” of a country under attack by Russian forces.
“Our musicians wear body armor instead of tuxedos. They sing to the wounded in hospitals,” Zelenskyy said. “Even to those who cannot hear them, but their music will break through.”
Zelenskyy ended the speech by listing Ukrainian cities under siege. “I have a dream of them living, and free,” he said. “Free like you and the Grammy stage.”
– Bryan Alexander
Contributing: Rebecca Morin; The Associated Press