President Biden on Monday condemned the slaughter of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, amid the withdrawal of Russian forces from the region — and put the blame squarely on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden told reporters in Washington, D.C., after arriving back from Wilmington, Del., where he spent the weekend. “Well, the truth of the matter, you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants him — he is a war criminal.”
Biden said administration officials were gathering evidence on the apparent atrocities from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its sixth week, for a possible war crimes trial.
“We have to gather all the details so this can be an actual — have a war crimes trial,” the president said. “This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it.”
He added that the United States would continue to sanction Russia and provide Ukraine with “the weapons they need to continue the fight.”
But Biden said he disagreed with the assessment by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the killings of civilians amounted to genocide.
"No, I think it is a war crime," the president said.
Last month, Biden had similarly called Putin a “war criminal,” as the death toll from the Russian military’s bombardment of Ukrainian cities continued to mount. More than 4 million Ukrainian refugees have already fled the country.
Earlier in the day, Bucha’s mayor forcefully condemned all of Russia for the widespread civilian deaths there, the full extent of which became apparent only after the recent pullback of Russian forces from the Kyiv region.
Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of the city, told CNN that he had remained in Bucha amid the Russian occupation and witnessed the subsequent atrocities.
“We all were witnesses to the horrific events and the horrific crimes that the Russians committed here,” Fedoruk said, speaking through an interpreter. “And we will never forgive the Russian people — not personally, not individually, but on the whole — we will not forgive the Russian people for the atrocities that happened here.”
Russia has denied responsibility.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian officials and various media outlets shared shocking scenes emerging from Bucha, one of a number of suburbs abandoned by Russian forces as they’ve pulled back from the capital, Kyiv. Dead bodies littered the streets, some with their hands tied behind their backs, apparently shot at close range.
The images sparked a fresh wave of condemnation from European leaders, who called for investigations into the alleged war crimes.
During a briefing Monday afternoon, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the mass killings in Bucha “show further evidence of war crimes.”
“Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes,” Sullivan said, adding: “We have not seen a level of systemic depravation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide.”
While speaking to reporters at the site of a mass grave site in Bucha Monday, Zelensky reiterated his view that the slaughter of civilians by Russian forces is "genocide."
“These are war crimes and it will be recognized by the world as genocide,” Zelensky said. “You stand here today and see what happened. We know that thousands of people have been killed and tortured with extremities cut off, women raped, children killed ... it’s genocide.”