“Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia’s forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The formal declaration is based on a U.S. “assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources,” he said.
Blinken did not provide specific evidence for the claim. Russia has not issued a public response, but previously, Moscow has denied claims that its forces committed war crimes.
“As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases,” Blinken also said Wednesday. “The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions.”
Russian officials are likely to bristle at the latest accusation. Earlier this week, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned that a claim made by President Joe Biden that criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin is straining U.S.–Russia relations to the verge of collapse.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry told Ambassador John Sullivan that “such statements from the American president, unworthy of a statesman of such high rank, put Russian–American relations on the verge of breaking,” according to a translated statement posted online.
With the State Department’s latest designation that Russia has allegedly committed war crimes, the consequences are not yet clear.
The United States and Europe have already levied heavy sanctions against Russia’s economy, and the Biden administration is considering more when the president meets with NATO’s leadership in Brussels this week, officials have said. International corporations have said they will no longer do business in Russia due to the conflict.
The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands said it’s gathering evidence about any potential war crimes in Ukraine, but Russia—like the United States—doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction. The U.N. Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect separates war crimes from genocide and crimes against humanity.
“The law is clear on this, it is a crime to intentionally target civilians, it is a crime to intentionally target civilian objects,” Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, told CNN earlier this month. But Khan noted that an investigation must be carried out.
Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, Russia’s invasion force has stalled in some areas and Ukrainian resistance has thwarted its hopes for a swift victory, but Russian artillery and airstrikes maintained their bombardments on several cities, while civilians who have been unable or unwilling to flee sheltered underground.
Putin also announced that Russia would switch certain gas sales to roubles, sending European futures soaring on concerns the switch would exacerbate the region’s energy crunch and jam up deals that run to hundreds of millions of dollars every day.
“Russia will continue, of course, to supply natural gas in accordance with volumes and prices … fixed in previously concluded contracts,” Putin said Wednesday.
Reuters contributed to this report.