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US officially accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Released)
March 23, 2022

The U.S. government officially accused Russia of carrying out war crimes in Ukraine for the first time on Wednesday.

“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday.

“Since launching his unprovoked and unjust war of choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine,” Blinken said. “We’ve seen numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities. 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 noted he and President Joe Biden had both said last week that Russian government forces had committed war crimes. Biden specifically referred to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, as a “war criminal.”

Blinken said the U.S. would share evidence of Russian war crimes with international institutions and even pursue criminal prosecutions.

“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources. As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” he added. “The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”

During his Wednesday remarks, Blinken noted Russian attacks had hit a maternity ward in Mariupol. A pregnant woman injured in the maternity ward attack later died, along with her unborn child. Blinken said another Russian attack hit a theater in Mariupol “clearly marked with the word ‘дети’ — Russian for ‘children’ — in huge letters visible from the sky.”

“Putin’s forces used these same tactics in Grozny, Chechnya, and Aleppo, Syria, where they intensified their bombardment of cities to break the will of the people,” Bliken said. “Their attempt to do so in Ukraine has again shocked the world and, as President Zelenskyy has soberly attested, ‘bathed the people of Ukraine in blood and tears.’”

Blinken said each passing day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine brings new innocent civilian deaths with it.

“As of March 22, officials in besieged Mariupol said that more than 2,400 civilians had been killed in that city alone,” Blinken said. “Not including the Mariupol devastation, the United Nations has officially confirmed more than 2,500 civilian casualties, including dead and wounded, and emphasizes the actual toll is likely higher.”

Multiple videos taken throughout the conflict have reportedly shown Russian troops firing on civilian vehicles. One video taken in the Ukrainian town of Makariv appeared to show a Russian armored fighting vehicle firing on a civilian car. In another video, another Ukrainian motorist could be seen speeding through an intersection as a Russian Grad multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) fired a barrage that landed on the roadway around the civilian driver.

This week, the international press organization Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers or RSF) said Russian forces had captured a Ukrainian man who worked as a correspondent and guide for a Radio France news crew. The Ukrainian journalist was reportedly tortured for several days before he was eventually released.