Biden calls for 'war crimes trial' over Bucha killings in Ukraine

A mass grave on pictured on April 3, near an Orthodox church in Bucha, Ukraine. PHOTO: NYTIMES

KYIV (BLOOMBERG) - US President Joe Biden said Russian leader Vladimir Putin could face a war crimes trial and vowed Washington would impose additional sanctions against Russia, as he condemned alleged atrocities committed against civilians in Ukraine. 

 “He is a war criminal,” Mr Biden said of Mr Putin while speaking to reporters upon returning to Washington from a long weekend in Delaware. 

“This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it.” 

The US President added that “we have to gather all the details” in order to “actually have a war crimes trial”, in his first public remarks since pictures emerged of dead civilians in mass graves and in the streets of towns, including the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, liberated by Ukrainian forces. 

 “Yes, I’m going to continue to add sanctions,” Mr Biden said, without specifying what the penalties would be. 

The world reacted with horror and outrage at the large numbers of civilian casualties in towns surrounding Kyiv that were among the first targets of the invading Russian forces. 

Mr Biden’s comments suggest the fresh revelations of atrocities could spark a new phase in the international response as the war nears the six-week mark, should authorities push ahead with a war crimes trial for Mr Putin. 

Russia denied responsibility, with the country’s Defence Ministry calling the pictures of the dead in towns newly liberated by Ukrainian forces “provocation” by Kyiv. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said Russia “categorically denies” allegations its forces killed civilians in Bucha. 

Mr Biden did not confirm reports that his administration is transferring Soviet-era tanks from Eastern European allies to Ukrainian forces in the Donbass area. 

He pledged, however, that the US would “continue to provide Ukraine with weapons they need to continue the fight”. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday renewed charges that Russia is committing genocide, saying on CBS’s Face the Nation that his citizens are “being destroyed and exterminated.”

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Mr Biden declined on Monday to agree with the characterisation of the situation as “genocide”.

Mr Biden has repeatedly labelled Mr Putin a war criminal, starting on March 16 after news emerged that a theatre sheltering hundreds of civilians in the Ukrainian city Mariupol had been levelled.

At the end of a March 26 speech in Warsaw, Mr Biden - in an unscripted aside - said Mr Putin “cannot remain in power”.

The White House later said Mr Biden wasn’t calling for regime change.

European Union officials said they’re preparing additional sanctions to penalise Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for “very clear measures” and said the penalties would be discussed over the next few days.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the scenes discovered in Bucha “a punch in the gut” and called for “accountability” for those responsible for any war crimes. 

Mr Blinken is scheduled to travel to Brussels this week to meet with European allies.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon, in his annual letter to shareholders on Monday, said the US should ratchet up penalties on Russia “in whatever way national security experts recommend to maximise the right outcomes”, even as he predicted the war and resulting sanctions “will slow the global economy”. 

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Mr Dmytro Kuleba, on Sunday urged the International Criminal Court to visit liberated cities and villages near Kyiv to collect evidence of Russian war crimes after bodies of civilians who’d had their hands tied behind their backs were found in Bucha. 

The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into whether Russian forces have committed war crimes, which include willful killing, torture, rape, forced prostitution, corporal punishment, hostage taking, unlawful deportation, using starvation as a weapon and shooting combatants who’ve surrendered, among many other acts. 

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