Russia Has Committed War Crimes in Ukraine, U.S. Says

Russia's military has committed war crimes in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement released Wednesday, citing U.S. intelligence and public reports of attacks on civilians and journalists.

"Our assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources," Blinken wrote. "As with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases. 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."

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Representatives Eric Swalwell and Ted Lieu sent a letter requesting Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate Russia for war crimes related to the deaths of two Americans in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden last week called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" when asked by reporters if he believed Putin to be one, which the Russian government called "unacceptable" in response. The Russian government said Biden's statement was "unforgivable" when American bombs have also killed people across the globe.

Prior to Wednesday's statement from Blinken, American officials had pointed to examples of Russian forces attacking and bombing hospitals, residential buildings and schools as likely war crimes, but stopped short of directly calling the actions war crimes. Other foreign leaders like Polish President Andrzej Duda have said Russia is committing war crimes, citing an attack earlier this month on a hospital in Mariupol while women and children were reportedly still inside.

The United Nations has estimated at least 2,500 civilians have been killed, not including the over 2,400 that have been reported by officials in the city of Mariupol, Blinken wrote.

The Council of Europe also said last week that it was expelling Russia from its ranks, which was followed by Russian officials claiming that they planned to leave the human rights organization on their own.

Beth Van Schaack, U.S. ambassador at large for global criminal justice, said at a Wednesday press briefing that the American government is prepared to pursue all possible avenues for "full accountability" of war crimes committed in Ukraine, including criminal prosecution.

Van Schaack, who was confirmed to her new position last week, said that international doctrines exist that allow for soldiers who commit war crimes, as well as superior officers aware of the crimes, to be charged and tried.

She did stop short, however, of saying whether Putin himself could face war crime charges and said while those doctrines exist allowing commanders to be charged, she would leave it to a court with the proper jurisdiction to determine whether the Russian president could be charged.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at the news conference that the announcement was made after "extensive consultations" with foreign governments about reports of war crimes and international concerns about the "brutality" of Russian forces.

Newsweek has contacted the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministries for comment on Blinken's statement.

Follow Newsweek's live blog for updates on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

This is a developing story that will be updated as more information becomes available.

Antony Blinken Russia Ukraine War Crimes
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement Wednesday that based on available information, the U.S. believes Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine. Above, Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of President Joe Biden in the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images