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Joe Biden began using the term “war crimes” to describe Putin’s and his military’s activities two weeks ago, and the US president repeated the claim this past weekend while visiting Ukrainian refugees and American troops in Poland. Of course, other European allies have mirrored this sentiment, particularly the United Kingdom, which has launched its own legal investigation.
The UN formally formed a war crimes investigative tribunal on Wednesday, appointing three human rights experts to launch an investigation into Russia’s military actions in Ukraine, amid accusations of “indiscriminate” bombing of civilians and other acts of aggression against non-combatants.
According to a statement, Erik Mose of Norway will lead a “independent” panel tasked with investigating human rights violations “in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation.”
In September, it is expected to provide an initial results report. Lead investigator Mose is “a former judge of the European Court of Human Rights and former president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, who also served as a judge on Norway’s Supreme Court,” according to Reuters.
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After falling to Russian forces, the southern port of Mariupol was devastated, experiencing weeks of siege with no access to electricity, water, or, in some cases, food. It’s likely to be near the top of the list of places where Russian military activity will be scrutinised.
Following a speech at the White House on March 16, President Biden first remarked, “I think he is a war criminal.” CNN reported at the time:
The shift from the administration’s previous stance came after an emotional address to Congress from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who aired a video showing Ukrainians suffering amid Russia’s onslaught. Zelensky asked American lawmakers and Biden for more help defending itself, including a no-fly zone and fighter jets.
Biden has already intensified his rhetoric, using terms like “butcher,” “murderous dictator,” and “thug” in recent days, to which Russia has responded by threatening to break all official diplomatic relations. The Kremlin also appears hesitant to retaliate, seeing the personal attack on Putin as an opportunity for unneeded tit-for-tat that could escalate to a disastrous conflict.
In the meantime, the Kremlin has argued that the West has mostly ignored crimes against pro-Russian citizens in the Donbas region since 2014. During the present military “special operation,” Russia claims that Ukrainian civilians labelled “Russia supporters” have been tortured and killed in some cases, particularly by groups like the neo-Nazi Azov battalion.