The official US announcement that Moscow’s forces violated the laws of conflict comes after Blinken, President Joe Biden and Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said it was their personal view that war crimes had occurred.
“Today I can announce that, based on the information currently available, the US government assesses that members of Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Blinken said in a statement.
“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources,” he said.
The decision to issue a formal indictment marks an important step by the US government after weeks of refusing to formally say that attacks against civilians in Ukraine were war crimes. However, it remains to be seen whether there will be any accountability for those accused of the alleged crimes, and whether Russian President Vladimir Putin himself will have to bear any responsibility.
Last week, Biden accused Putin of war crimes. “I believe he is a war criminal,” Biden said after remarks at the White House.
“As with any alleged crime, any court with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” Blinken said on Wednesday. “The US government will continue to track war crime reports and will share the information we collect with allies, partners, foundations, and international organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every available tool, including criminal prosecutions.”
Blinken’s statement cited “credible reports” of attacks and indiscriminate attacks deliberately targeting civilians, including the destruction of apartment buildings, schools and hospitals. The Foreign Ministry specifically cited the attacks on the maternity hospital and theater in Mariupol. The US State Department said the theater was marked with the Russian word for “children” with letters visible from the sky.
Beth Van Schaak, the US ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, said she could not go into detail about the incidents the US had assessed as war crimes and that the US was “considering the broad scope in which Russian forces are involved” in Ukraine.
“This will be an ongoing process throughout this conflict,” she told a State Department briefing.
“As with any alleged crime, ultimately, the court will have to establish the individual criminal responsibility directly responsible for these specific cases,” Van Schaak noted.
Asked whether Putin was responsible for the actions of members of his country’s armed forces – whom the US has accused of war crimes – Van Schaak said, “There are doctrines under international law and domestic law that can go all the way up the chain of command.”
“The US government will continue to track reports from Ukraine of war crimes, and we will share this information with our friends and allies and with international and multilateral institutions as appropriate. We also support the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office and the war crimes they have committed. The Directorate is supporting civil society documentation efforts,” she added. .
Van Schaak said it is imperative that evidence be collected and preserved for future accountability.
This story has been updated with additional reports.
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