Biden Tries to Stop and Document Russian Atrocities in Ukraine

When Joe Biden had a moment to say he was right about Russian President Vladimir Putin, he didn’t pass it up. As Biden’s helicopter landed in Washington on April 4, he walked across the lawn to a clutch of press cameras and, unprompted, reminded reporters he had called Putin a war criminal two weeks earlier. The images broadcasted from Ukraine following the Russian military retreat in Kyiv showed bodies in mass graves, and the dead of townsfolk being cuffed in the head. “You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden said. “Well, the truth of the matter—you saw what happened in Bucha—this warrants him, he is a war criminal.”

Now that more public evidence is catching up with Biden’s rhetoric, he’s under increasing pressure to show what he’s going to do about it. Two days later, speaking to a gathering of construction labor unions, Biden decried the “inhumanity” of Russia’s attacks on civilians that were “left for all the world to see unapologetically.” These actions are “major war crimes,” Biden said, and “responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable.”

Biden has been personally moved by the images of summary executions, hospital bombings, and civilian casualties coming out of Ukraine, and felt it was important “to put down a marker for history,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said April 5. “That’s why he has been so outspoken about this and made clear that accountability is critically important when you see the horror that we’re seeing on the ground.”

Biden Administration is making it a top priority to gather evidence regarding Russian brutality and to assist in ending the bloody conflict. The Biden Administration has launched a multipronged strategy with European allies to accomplish this.

One step is to continue to arm Ukrainians to defend themselves to try to bring an end to Russia’s invasion. “The most important response to the war crimes is to make sure Russia loses, first of all, to accelerate the liberation of captured Ukrainian territory,” says Rep. Tom Malinowski, a New Jersey Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a former senior State Department official overseeing human rights policy during the Obama Administration.

Without putting U.S. troops on the ground or American fighter jets in the air—which Biden has ruled out—the Administration is focusing on speeding up delivery of weapons to Ukrainian forces. Biden directed an increase in weapon deliveries to Ukraine. He also ordered the purchase of additional 100 million dollars in Javelin missiles with shoulder-fired that are capable of breaking through Russian armored cars and tanks. Allies are also stepping up shipments of armored vehicles, tanks, and ammunition to the Ukrainian military as Russian forces reposition their firepower to focus on cities in Ukraine’s east and southern Black Sea coastline.

Learn More The Historic Mission to provide Aid and Arms for Ukraine

Additionally, economic sanctions are being pushed by the U.S. The Biden Administration decided Wednesday to further punish Russia financially in the wake of war crimes allegations, expanding sanctions and moving to block Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank, and its largest private bank, Alfa Bank, from the U.S. financial system. The U.S. also sanctioned two adult daughters of Putin, as well as the wife and daughter of Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov. U.S. Treasury officials estimate that within one year, the sanctions will set Russia’s economy back 15 years. These sanctions are in addition to actions taken against more than 400 Russian officials and 140 Russian businessmen closely linked with the Kremlin.

While the Biden Administration hopes that its support will help Ukraine to end the conflict, it is working alongside others to document and report the brutal violence. Already, a U.S. intelligence unit has been established to analyze and document war crimes. American officials worry that Russian commanders who commanded the units that razed the Kyiv suburbs may be still in war theatre and could commit more atrocities.

American intelligence services quickly declassified details of Russia’s war plans over the past several weeks, and that same strategy could be used to release what information the U.S. knows about the Russian soldiers and Russian military units involved in killing civilians, says Malinowski. “Even this regime is not impervious to global shame,” Malinowski says. “So publicizing the crimes and where possible identifying the units involved and who the commanders of those units are might be a helpful thing that the United States might be able to do.”

A U.S. official who is familiar with the matter said that officials from the United States are currently reviewing what information can be publicly shared and what can go to investigators. The sharing of such information is a cause of tension within intelligence communities in the past due to concerns about sources being exposed. It also could lead to a precedent of U.S. cooperation for future investigations into war crimes.

Many agencies and organisations have mobilized in order to record the murders. Biden Administration funds local aid groups that collect evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine. They also plan to work with the U.N. commission of investigation established by the Office of the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner. The U.S. is also working with a designated war crimes unit in Ukraine’s federal prosecutor’s office to collect evidence for possible prosecutions.

Ukraine asked for an investigation to be opened by the International Criminal Court. The ICC officially launched an investigation on March 3rd, seven days after Russia started bombardments against Kyiv. They also sent rolling tanks along the border to try and take over the capital. A body international like the ICC can issue international arrest warrants to those who are suspected of war crimes. The U.S. has had a tense relationship with the ICC in the past over inquiries into potential war crimes in Afghanistan and Palestine, and isn’t a signatory to the court, so has no obligation to cooperate with the ICC’s investigation. In an attempt to improve working relations with the court, the Trump Administration placed sanctions on two ICC prosecutors in 2020. This was reversed by the Biden Administration last year.

Investigating Russian atrocities against Ukraine could eventually provide an in-depth record of Russia’s brutal attempts to subjugate Ukraine and expose those involved. However, it’s not known if additional sanctions against Moscow or isolating Russia can stop more of these killings.

It is possible that there will be even more horrific events. The conflict has been documented in real time by reporters and smartphone users who are willing to put their lives on the line to document it. Yet even with all of those images from the front lines, there are things the public still isn’t seeing right away, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC News on Wednesday. “It’s only when that tide recedes that you see what’s actually happened. So, I think we’re gonna learn a lot more in the days and weeks ahead,” Blinken said. “I’m afraid that what we’re going to learn is even more horrifying.”

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