US President Joe Biden again has condemned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal”, saying that a “war crimes trial” could be held as global outrage grows over atrocities committed against civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Biden said he is seeking additional sanctions against Russia in light of reports of massacres in Bucha, on the outskirts of the capital Kyiv.
Photos of corpses lining the streets of the town, which had been under Russian control, have sparked international condemnation and calls for a credible investigation.
“You may remember I got criticised for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden said. “Well, the truth of the matter, we saw it happen in Bucha … he is a war criminal.”
Biden labelled Putin a “war criminal” last month, drawing rebuke from the Kremlin and a warning that ties between Russia and the United States were on the verge of “rupture“.
Other US officials and agencies also have accused Russia of war crimes, and the US Department of State made a formal determination that abuses had been committed by some Russian forces in Ukraine.
On Monday, Biden suggested that Washington is seeking to hold a war crimes trial for alleged violations committed during the war.
“We have to gather the information,” the US president told reporters. “We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue to fight, and we have to get all the details so this could be … a war crimes trial.
“This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous and everyone’s seen it.”
It is not clear how a US-backed trial could be held. The US is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Washington has also previously denounced the court for seeking to investigate alleged war crimes in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, and Afghanistan.
The ICC prosecutor has launched an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan later said Washington is in discussion with its allies to determine the best avenue to pursue accountability measures in Ukraine.
“Obviously, the ICC is one venue where war crimes have been tried in the past, but there have been other examples in other conflicts of other mechanisms being set up. So there’s work to be done to work out the specifics of that,” Sullivan told reporters.
On Monday, the United Nations also called for an independent probe into the killings in Bucha.
“I am deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine. It is essential that an independent investigation leads to effective accountability,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement.
Russia, whose forces are retreating from the Kyiv region as they shift their focus to the east and south of the country, has denied killing civilians in Bucha, suggesting that some of the footage fuelling the outrage is manipulated.
“Experts at the Ministry of Defence have identified signs of video fakes and various fakes,” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday without elaborating. “We would demand that many international leaders do not rush to sweeping accusations and at least listen to our arguments.”
Later on Monday, US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price dismissed the Russian denial as “baseless and shameless”.
“The images we have seen and reports we have heard suggest these atrocities are not the act of a rogue soldier; they are part of a broader, troubling campaign,” Price told reporters.
He said Washington is backing a “multinational team” of investigators collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes at the request of Ukraine’s prosecutor general.
“Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable, as must those who ordered them,” Price told reporters. “They cannot and will not act with impunity. We are tracking and documenting atrocities and sharing information with institutions working to hold responsible those accountable.”
Russia launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine on February 24 after a months-long standoff that saw Moscow amass troops near the Ukrainian borders as it demanded an end to NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.
The US and its allies were quick to impose sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy as well as financial penalties on Putin and elites in his inner circle.
Asked on Monday whether he would impose more financial measures against Russia after the apparent massacre, Biden said: “I’m seeking more sanctions, yes.”