The Biden administration formally concluded that Russia has committed “crimes against humanity” during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine, US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Saturday.
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” Harris, a former prosecutor, said at the Munich Security Conference.
“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes, you will be held to account.”
The official determination, which came at the end of a legal analysis led by the US State Department, carries with it no immediate consequences for the ongoing war.
But Washington hopes that it could help further isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin and galvanize legal efforts to hold members of his government accountable through international courts and sanctions.
Harris’ speech comes as senior Western leaders met in Munich to assess Europe’s worst conflict since World War Two.
She said Russia was now a “weakened” country after Biden led a coalition to punish Putin for the invasion, but Russia is only intensifying assaults in Ukraine’s east. Meanwhile, Ukraine is planning a spring counteroffensive, for which it is seeking more, heavier and longer-range weapons from its Western allies.
The nearly year-long war has killed tens of thousands, uprooted millions from their homes, pummeled the global economy and made Putin a pariah in the West.
Washington had already concluded that Russian forces were guilty of war crimes, as has a UN-mandated investigation, but the Biden administration conclusion that Russia’s actions amount to “crimes against humanity” implies a legal analysis that acts from murder to rape are widespread, systematic and intentionally directed against civilians. In international law, it is seen as a more serious offence.
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