Blinken says Putin is committing war crimes in Ukraine

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is committing war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians in Ukraine.

“After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise,” Blinken said during a press conference at the State Department.

He cited a number of recent examples of reported attacks by the Russian military on Ukrainian civilians, including the bombing of a theater in Mariupol, where hundreds of civilians had been taking shelter.

“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a news conference on Thursday. (Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters)

Blinken’s comments come one day after President Biden told reporters during an event at the White House that he thinks Putin is a war criminal. Biden’s remarks prompted a reaction from Moscow, with a Kremlin spokesperson reportedly calling the president’s statement “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric on the part of the head of a state whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” according to the Russian state news agency Tass.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday that the State Department is already engaged in a legal process with the United Nations to determine whether the Russian president should be charged with war crimes.

An ambulance stands ready
An ambulance stands by a residential building in Chernihiv, Ukraine, after a Russian attack. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The ongoing fighting has made it difficult to accurately determine the total number of civilians killed since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago. According to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, there have been at least 1,834 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the war began, with 691 killed and 1,143 injured.

The U.N. has warned, however, that the actual figures are likely much higher.

A man covers a dead body
A man tends to the dead in Chernihiv. (State Emergency Service of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

At least two Americans have been among the civilians killed so far in Russia’s war with Ukraine, including journalist Brent Renaud, who died last weekend in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin while working for Time magazine. On Thursday, the State Department confirmed that a second American citizen had been killed following reports of a “heavy artillery attack” from Russian forces.

Blinken acknowledged the Americans killed in Ukraine during Thursday’s press conference, as well as journalists from the U.S. and elsewhere who have been injured while covering the conflict.