Vice President Kamala Harris stated on Saturday that the United States has formally declared that Russia has committed crimes against humanity, addressing just days before the one-year anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We have observed Russian soldiers commit horrible atrocities and war crimes since the beginning of this unwarranted conflict,” Ms. Harris said at the Munich Security Conference, a worldwide security and foreign-policy gathering. “We have analyzed the material, we are familiar with the legal requirements, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity,” she added, drawing cheers from the assembled officials.
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Ms. Harris accused Russia of waging a “widespread and systematic attack against a civilian population,” citing civilian deaths in a Mariupol theater, an attack on a maternity hospital, mass deportations of Ukrainian children, and widespread evidence of rape, torture, and execution-style killings of civilians during the nearly year-long conflict. Those who committed war crimes, according to Ms. Harris, would be held accountable.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement Saturday morning declaring that Russian military and officials had committed crimes against humanity. “We reserve crimes against humanity decisions for the most egregious acts,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that the decision “underscores the unfathomable level of human misery imposed by Moscow on the Ukrainian civilian population.”
According to the White House, the US has donated approximately $30 million to assist an initiative aimed at documenting and prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine since March 2022. The White House is looking for additional funds for this initiative.
While symbolic, the decision has no legal ramifications because the United States lacks a federal statute that defines crimes against humanity broadly. Individual war crimes are punishable under US law.
President Biden has already accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of war crimes in Ukraine, urging that he be punished as a criminal when reports about atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha emerged in April. Mr. Putin, he added, “cannot survive in power.”
Despite substantial proof of such actions supplied by Ukrainian officials, Russia has refuted claims of retaliation against civilians in Ukraine.
Ms. Harris also expressed concern that China has “deepened its ties” with Russia in the last year. She went on to say that any move by Beijing to provide lethal assistance to Russia would “undermine a rules-based order.”
Ms. Harris’ speech comes as Ukrainian forces struggle to halt a Russian advance on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, and as they prepare for a larger Russian onslaught in the coming weeks as the weather warms.
European leaders at the Munich meeting have reiterated their support for Ukraine, but several have indicated that they would not supply Kiev with new weaponry equipment. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has requested more immediate military assistance, including aerial defenses and ammunition.
Ms. Harris stated that the US will continue to support Kiev for “as long as it takes.” She stated that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is “stronger now than ever before,” and that the United States is “ironclad” in its resolve to defend NATO partners.
Ms. Harris is scheduled to meet with Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister. She will later meet with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. Ms. Harris met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke at the conference on Friday, saying top Republicans are committed to supplying Ukraine with money and weaponry. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Congress has allocated $113 billion in military and economic help.
Ms. Harris spoke at the same conference last year, just five days before Russia’s military crossed the border into Ukraine.
Next week, President Biden is scheduled to visit Poland and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Mr. Biden intends to speak about the conflict in Warsaw and will meet with leaders of many other Eastern European countries.
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