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U.S. government formally accuses Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine

A damaged military vehicle is seen as civilians are evacuated along humanitarian corridors from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol under the control of Russian military and pro-Russian separatists, on March 21, 2022.
Stringer | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally announced Wednesday that the United States government believes that Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine.

In a statement, Blinken repeatedly raised the brutality in the city of Mariupol, Ukraine and he compared it to similar Russian campaigns against Grozny in the Second Chechen War and Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.

People gather near a block of flats, which was destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 17, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

“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,” said Blinken.

“Many of the sites Russia’s forces have hit have been clearly identifiable as in-use by civilians,” Blinken said in a statement, citing bombings of the Mariupol maternity hospital and a theater there that was clearly marked with the word for children in Russian “in huge letters visible from the sky.”

This image made available by Azov Battalion, shows the drama theater, damaged after shelling, in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday March 17, 2022. Rescuers are searching for survivors in the ruins of a theater ripped apart by Russian airstrikes.
Azov Battalion | AP

“Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources,” said Blinken, who issued the statement while President Joe Biden was in the air en route to Brussels for NATO and G-7 summits.

Blinken noted that the question of Russia’s guilt or innocence would ultimately be left in the hands of a court of law. And while he did not mention it by name, the traditional court of jurisdiction in cases of alleged war crimes is the International Criminal Court, or ICC.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, however. Created in 2002 to prosecute international war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, at the time of its founding the U.S. was embroiled in a war in Afghanistan and gearing up for an invasion or Iraq.

The decision to release this assessment now was hardly accidental. The White House has spent weeks preparing a long list of so-called deliverables for Biden to bring with him to the Brussels summits — concrete U.S. actions, positions and commitments to showcase America’s steadfast loyalty to NATO and to the mission to aid Ukraine.

Russia launched its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 under the false pretense that Russian forces would “de-Nazify” Ukraine, an absurd claim for the Kremlin to make given that the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a Jewish descendant of Holocaust survivors.

This is a developing story, please check back for updates.

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