On Wednesday, President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden said to reporters after speaking at the White House.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s comments “speak for themselves,” adding that the president was “speaking from the heart.”
While Biden’s remarks indicate a change in the administration’s previous stance on whether Putin is a war criminal, Psaki said no official designation has been made.
“There is a legal process that continues to be underway at the State Department,” she said.
Biden previously said it was “clear” that Russia is targeting civilians during the invasion of Ukraine, but stopped short at classifying Putin’s actions as war crimes.
“We are following it very closely,” Biden said, as reported by CNN. “It’s too early to say that.”
Since the invasion began, a number of reports describe Russian forces taking ruthless actions against Ukrainian citizens. Most recently, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russian troops killed 10 people in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv as they waited in line for food.
“Today, Russian forces shot and killed 10 people standing in line for bread in Chernihiv. Such horrific attacks must stop. We are considering all available options to ensure accountability for any atrocity crimes in Ukraine,” the U.S. embassy tweeted.
Last week, the Ukrainian government said Russian forces “deliberately bombed” a children’s hospital and maternity ward in the southeast Ukrainian city of Mariupol. This week, a pregnant woman injured in the attack was pronounced dead, along with her unborn child.
On Tuesday, several Ukrainian civilians reported Russian forces had taken another hospital in Mariupol hostage. The witnesses said the Russian forces rounded up civilians near the Mariupol Regional Intensive Care Hospital, along with patients and hospital staff already inside. The witnesses also described civilians being struck by gunfire as they tried to escape the hostage situation. The witnesses further described Russian forces firing from the hospital windows at nearby Ukrainian forces in an apparent attempt to provoke a response that would risk those Ukrainian forces firing at their own civilians.
Also on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed members of the U.S. Congress for the first time since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
During the virtual call, Zelenskyy asked again for the U.S. to support a no-fly zone over Ukraine. If members of Congress would not agree to a no-fly zone, Zelenskyy said Ukraine would accept transfers of aircraft and air-defense systems as an alternative.
“If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” Zelenskyy said of his no-fly zone request, before requesting surface-to-air missile systems like the Russian-built S-300 or military aircraft to help secure Ukrainian airspace.