Updated Mar 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden says Putin is a "war criminal"

Biden

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Biden told reporters Wednesday that Vladimir Putin is a "war criminal," stating plainly what he had alluded to earlier in the day while condemning Russia's bombing of "apartment buildings, maternity wards, hospitals" and other civilian targets.

Why it matters: It's the first time Biden has used the term to describe the Russian president. Other senior officials had previously declined to go that far, instead expressing concern about alleged Russian atrocities and support for an international war crimes investigation.

What they're saying: Asked for clarification on Biden's comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing that the president's remarks "speak for themselves."

  • "He was speaking from his heart and speaking from what we’ve seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country," Psaki said.
  • "There is a legal process that continues to be underway at the State Department. That’s a process that they would have any updates on," she added.
  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called Biden's comments "unacceptable" and "unforgivable" rhetoric, according to Russian state media.

Flashback: Less than a month into his presidency, Biden drew backlash in Russia after calling Putin a "killer" in a TV interview.

The big picture: The International Criminal Court launched an investigation into allegations of war crimes just days into Russia's invasion, after Ukraine accused Russian forces of indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and exploiting the definition of "genocide" as a pretense to invade.

  • Ukrainian officials on Wednesday accused Russia of bombing a theater in Mariupol that was serving as a refuge for hundreds of Ukrainians.
  • Russian forces have also repeatedly been accused of shelling "humanitarian corridors" set up to evacuate civilians from cities that have come under intense bombardment.
  • The International Court of Justice ordered Russia to immediately suspend its military operations in Ukraine on Wednesday, though the top UN court has no mechanism to enforce its rulings.
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