Politics

U.S. government formally accuses Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine

Key Points
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally announced that the U.S. government has determined Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine.
  • "Russia's forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers, and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded," Blinken said in a statement. 
  • The determination was announced while President Joe Biden was in the air en route to Brussels for NATO and G-7 summits.
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Russian forces continue to bombard Mariupol with airstrikes to weaken Ukrainian forces

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally announced Wednesday that the United States government believes Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine and should be prosecuted.

In a statement, Blinken repeatedly raised the brutality in the city of Mariupol, Ukraine and he compared it to similar Russian campaigns against Grozny in the Second Chechen War and Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.

"Russia's forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centers, and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded," he said. 

Many of the buildings Russian forces have hit are "clearly identifiable as in-use by civilians," Blinken said, citing bombings of the Mariupol maternity hospital and a theater there that was clearly marked with the word for children in Russian "in huge letters visible from the sky."

This image made available by Azov Battalion, shows the drama theater, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday March 17, 2022. Rescuers are searching for survivors in the ruins of a theater ripped apart by Russian airstrikes.
Azov Battalion | AP

The U.S. assessment is based on publicly available information and intelligence sources, said Blinken, who issued the statement while President Joe Biden was in the air en route to Brussels for NATO and G-7 summits this week.

Blinken noted that the question of Russia's guilt or innocence would ultimately be left in the hands of a court of law. And while he did not mention it by name, the traditional court of jurisdiction in cases of alleged war crimes is the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

The United States is not a member of the ICC. Created in 2002 to prosecute international war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, at the time of its founding the U.S. was embroiled in a war in Afghanistan and gearing up for an invasion or Iraq.

Image appearing to show theater in Mariupol on March 14, prior to its bombing on March 16. The image appears to show the word "children" spelled out in Russian in front of and behind the theater.
Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

The decision to release this assessment now was hardly accidental. The White House has spent weeks preparing a long list of so-called deliverables for Biden to bring with him to the Brussels summits --- concrete U.S. actions, positions and commitments to showcase America's steadfast loyalty to NATO and to the mission to aid Ukraine.

Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 under the false pretense that Russian forces would "de-Nazify" Ukraine. The Kremlin's claim was particularly cynical given that Ukraine is led by a beloved president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is himself a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors.