Joe Biden raised the tone against Vladimir Putin on Wednesday as a result of the invasion of Ukraine and described him as a “war criminal”, an expression that he had avoided using until now in his speeches and that provoked the immediate reaction of the Kremlin. The president of the United States made this comment at the end of an act not related to the crisis, in response to a journalist who asked him about it. Shortly after, the White House clarified that Biden had spoken “from his heart” and added that a legal process from the State Department will determine if, in fact, they accuse the Russian leader of war crimes. Moscow called the democrat’s words “unforgivable.”
The harshness of the attack against Ukraine had thundered that day in Washington. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, delivered an emotional speech by videoconference before the United States Congress in the morning, invoking the memory of the Pearl Harbor attack and the 9/11 attacks to ask for more help in the face of the Russian attack. The American leader later announced the delivery of an additional item of 800 million dollars in military equipment – including drones – and denounced that Putin was causing “appalling devastation” in Ukraine with bombings on residential buildings and hospitals.
It was later, at an act on the law against sexist violence in the White House, when a reporter asked him why he did not call him a “war criminal”, if he did not think he was. Biden, perhaps mishearing the question, automatically answers “no,” but quickly backs away from him and adds, “Oh, I think he’s a war criminal.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded at a later news conference that Biden “was speaking from his heart” regarding the “barbaric actions of a brutal dictator during his invasion of a foreign country.” Psaki explained that, therefore, Biden’s words do not constitute a formal accusation by the United States Government, since the State Department is conducting the investigation to determine it. Vice President Kamala Harris also stressed last week during her trip to Poland that she believed Putin should be investigated for it.
However, Washington has so far avoided formally pointing it out, as was demonstrated on March 4, following the attack on the Ukrainian nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, the largest in Europe. The US Embassy in kyiv described the aggression as a “war crime” in a Twitter message, but the Administration not only avoided that expression but also asked the rest of the diplomatic missions not to echo it.
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