President Joe Biden of the United States of America finally called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin a war criminal on Wednesday after watching 20 days of atrocities in Ukraine and announcing an $800million military package including drones to be sent to Volodymyr Zelensky’s fighters.
Biden said ‘I think he is a war criminal’ when asked by reporters about Putin’s relentless attacks on civilians following an event on Wednesday afternoon and just hours after Zelensky urged him to be the ‘leader for peace’ and asked the US for more help in an impassioned speech to Congress.
The President’s condemnation of Putin’s actions came after he provided a detailed laundry list at the White House Wednesday of a new tranche of $800 million in deadly arms the U.S. is providing to Ukraine as it continues to fight against Russia’s brutal invasion.
The Kremlin responded later on Wednesday by condemning Biden’s ‘unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric,’ according to Russian state media.
‘We consider unacceptable and unforgivable such rhetoric of the head of state, whose bombs killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
The Kremlin’s clapback came after horrifying footage appeared to show Russian soldiers killing 10 civilians waiting in a bread line and video emerged of a Russian tank apparently shooting an elderly man in the street following numerous strikes on hospitals and residential targets.
On Wednesday Ukraine said Russians bombed a theater in Mariupol that had been used as a shelter for people hiding from Moscow’s attacks.
‘The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding,’ the Mariupol City Council said according to CNN, adding the Russians ‘purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.’
U.S. officials are also concerned Putin could soon use chemical weapons on Ukrainians, which was internationally outlawed by the Geneva Protocol. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his counterpart in Russia on Wednesday, where he warned him ‘about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine,’ according a White House statement.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Biden’s comment at her Wednesday press briefing, to which she said the president was ‘speaking from his heart’ and ‘responding to what he has seen on television.’
‘The president’s remarks speak for themselves, he was speaking from his heart and speaking from what he’d seen on television — which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country,’ Psaki said.
But she added, ‘There is a legal process that continues to — is underway, continues to be underway at the State Department.’
Moscow’s autocratic leader, meanwhile, sent a chilling warning to the West on Wednesday that its ‘attempts to have global dominance’ were coming to an end.
The president’s condemnation comes amid mounting calls to declare Putin a ‘war criminal’ over gruesome reports of Russian soldiers slaughtering civilians. Ukrainian officials previously said that more of its innocents were killed during the nearly three-week conflict than soldiers.
Biden addressed Americans hours after Zelensky’s pleaded for more assistance.
The president acknowledged Zelensky’s ‘significant speech’ that showed Ukraine’s ‘remarkable courage in the face of brutal aggression,’ before turning to the contents of the package.
Facing pressure from members of both parties to do more, Biden cast Ukraine’s struggle in broad strokes. ‘It’s about freedom. It’s about the right of people to determine their own future. It’s about making sure that Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin,’ he said of the Russian president.
‘We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,’ Biden pledged, as he faces pressure from Congress and from Zelensky to provide Ukraine with a means to defend itself.
He also spoke in unusual detail about the latest package of aid, which brings U.S. military assistance to $1 billion just this week.
It includes 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 anti-armor systems, portable ‘high accuracy’ shoulder mounted missiles, and 7,000 small arms, plus machine guns, shotguns, and grenade launchers.
He said the package would include drones, ‘which demonstrates our commitment to sending our most cutting-edge systems to Ukraine for its defense.’ He didn’t specify if he meant the latest kamikaze killer drones that the administration had been considering.
Biden said the package included ‘additional longer range anti-aircraft systems,’ which he described as coming at Zelensky’s request.
One thing Biden didn’t mention and didn’t want to talk about were MiG fighter jets Zelensky is pleading for. The administration scuttled a plan to have Poland transfer the jets to the U.S. for transfer.
When signing a document directing the transfer, Biden wouldn’t comment when asked about the jets.
A number of lawmakers, including Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Wednesday, have called on Biden to provide the planes, despite the administration’s concern it could lead to escalation.
‘This could be a long and difficult battle,’ Biden predicted, as the invasion approached the end of its third week.
He denounced ‘Putin’s immoral and unethical attacks,’ and said the world was ‘united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught.’
Biden also cited international efforts to put pressure on Russia’s ‘crumbling’ economy, while ‘isolating Putin’ on the global stage. Zelensky also urged more action on that front, urging sanctions not only on Putin but on cronies deep within his government.
‘That’s our goal. Make Putin pay the price, weaken his position, while strengthening the hand of the Ukrainians on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Together with our allies and partners, we’re going to stay the course. and we’re going to to push for to push for and end this tragic and unnecessary war,’ Biden said, while flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Biden calling Putin a war criminal is not the first such denunciation by a world leader. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said earlier this month that Putin’s targeting of civilians ‘already fully qualifies as a war crime.’
Russia has so far denied deliberately targeting innocents, though reports from Ukraine paint a far more sinister picture.
New footage published by Ukrainian outlet Public appears to show Moscow’s soldiers gunning down 10 civilians assembled in a bread line outside Chernihiv in northern Ukraine.
‘This is not the first such incoming shell [in the city] nor is it the first shelling of civilians by the enemy. The Russians are shelling and destroying mostly civilian infrastructure in the city of Chernihiv and other cities in the region,’ a local official named Vyacheslav Chaus said.
And drone video from last week shows Russian troops shooting and killing a Ukrainian civilian who held up his hands in surrender on a highway outside of Kyiv. A woman and child were pulled out of the car but it’s not clear what their fates were.
The soldiers can be seen callously dragging the motorist’s lifeless body to the side of the road and leaving it there.
Russian troops also bombarded the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia hours after roughly 20,000 civilians arrived there via humanitarian corridor.
They had come from Mariupol, where officials say thousands of civilians have perished as Russians surrounded the city and cut it off from power and supply lines.
Zelensky said last week that a young girl died of dehydration there, alone in the ruins of her home, after Moscow’s shelling killed her mother. The report has not been verified by western media outlets.
The eastern Ukrainian city has also seen one of its maternity hospitals attacked. At least one pregnant woman and her baby died after the health facility was bombarded by Russian missiles.
Moscow had claimed the Mariupol hospital was being used by the Ukrainian military and that no civilians were present during the assault — adding that images of wounded and bloody mothers were staged using crisis actors.
Russia has been accused of attacking humanitarian corridors where refugees are escaping several times, breaking agreed-upon ceasefires to slay civilians in cold blood.
The U.S. Senate unanimously voted to condemn Putin as a war criminal late on Tuesday, a rare show of unity in an otherwise highly divided Congress.
The resolution, introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), demands that the International Criminal Court in The Hague investigate the Russian military for war crimes, backing Ukraine’s earlier request for the body to do so.
Canada also announced earlier this month that it would lend support to Kyiv by also referring Putin and his troops to the ICC.
On March 3 the ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan announced his intention to probe reports of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
Biden spoke at the White House shortly after Zelensky addressed American lawmakers in the first virtual address.
‘I need to protect our skies. I need your help, which means the same you feel when you hear I have a dream,’ he said.
‘We need you right now,’ Zelensky said, adding: ‘I call on you to do more.’
Right as Kyiv’s leader delivered his gut-wrenching address, Putin shared his own speech that was notably darker and more threatening.
In addition to the West, the autocrat also took aim at Russian oligarchs who have been increasingly opposed to the war.
He disparaged Moscow’s elite who are frustrated at the West’s targeted sanctions as ‘traitors’ as they find more and more of their assets in the U.S. and Europe seized by foreign authorities over their close ties to Putin.
‘I do not judge those with villas in Miami or the French Riviera, or who can’t get by without oysters or foie gras or so-called “gender freedoms.” The problem is they mentally exist there, and not here, with our people, with Russia,’ he said. ‘The West will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors… to divide our society.. to provoke civil confrontation… to strive to achieve its aim. And there is one aim – the destruction of Russia.’
Putin claimed the West’s sanctions were being levied only to prevent a ‘strong and sovereign Russia.’
He added that Moscow was ‘fighting for our sovereignty and the future of our children,’ even as Ukrainian officials condemn him for slaughtering their own.
On Tuesday Biden signed a $13.6 billion package into law that provides military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
His speech followed reports the administration was considering providing U.S.-made kamikaze ‘Switchblade’ killer drones to Ukraine.
The small, lightweight and comparatively cheap ‘kamikaze’ weapons, which are effectively remote-controlled bombs, come in two versions which have been designed to take out tanks or artillery positions.
They are believed to be the same missiles that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani under Donald Trump’s administration in 2020.
U.S. military officials have noted the Ukrainians have been highly effective at using weapons to take out Russian tanks, trucks, and other armored vehicles.