Biden calls atrocities in Ukraine a ‘genocide’ for the first time

“I called it genocide because it has become clearer and clearer that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is just trying to obliterate the idea of ​​being Ukrainian. Evidence is rising,” Biden told reporters in Iowa after using the term earlier in a speech. talk. .

“It’s different than it was last week, the more evidence that comes out,” he continued. “Literally, the terrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine – and we will only learn more and more about the devastation.”

“We will let the lawyers decide, internationally, whether it is qualified or not,” he concluded, “but it certainly seems that way to me.”

It was a dramatic rhetorical escalation in the American view of what is happening on the ground in Ukraine, which Biden has previously considered to be war crimes. And it seemed to be the latest example of the president letting his emotionally driven views on the war transcend official US policy toward the conflict, even though he expressed an attitude that many Americans had appalled at the scenes of brutality in Ukraine.

It garnered almost immediate praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who began accusing Russia of committing genocide in its country last week.

“True words from a true leader @POTUS,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “Calling things by their names is crucial to standing up to evil. We are grateful for the US assistance that has been provided so far, and we have an urgent need for more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities.”

The U.S. government rarely denounces atrocities using the term genocide; previous examples include the Chinese campaign against Uighur Muslims and Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority. It has no legal consequences, but has significant weight, as Biden seeks to unite the countries behind a strategy of isolating and punishing Moscow.

As recently as Sunday, Biden’s top advisers had downplayed the importance of describing Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide. And Biden himself said last week that a genocide was not underway.

But since then, horror scenes have emerged from Ukraine, including in the city of Bucha, where images of dead civilians and mass graves caused international outcry.

In his remarks earlier Tuesday, Biden said U.S. budgets should not depend on whether a dictator “commits genocide” in another country, an apparent reference to Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of that should depend on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half the world away,” Biden said in Iowa, revealing a new rule on ethanol.

It was a different attitude than a week ago.

“No, I think it’s a war crime,” he said on April 4, when asked whether atrocities revealed in Bucha, Ukraine, would constitute a genocide.

While condemning war crimes and atrocities, he and his aides have said that actions in Ukraine do not rise to the level of “genocide”.

“We have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier this month.

Administration officials have cited the designation of the genocide in Myanmar, which was carried out only last month, as an example of a process used to generate the brand. It took the United States to gather evidence over the years before they could establish that a genocide was underway.

“We will look at a number of indicators in that direction to ultimately make a decision in Ukraine,” Sullivan said.

On Sunday, Sullivan told CNN’s Jake Tapper that it is not as important to call it “genocide” as to call it the atrocities.

“In my opinion, the brand is less important than the fact that these actions are cruel and criminal and wrong and evil and must be responded to decisively,” he said.

Biden has previously given views on the situation in Ukraine, they go beyond what his administration has officially stated. He said in mid-March that Putin was a “war criminal,” a view his press secretary later said was a “from the heart.”

The administration officially said war crimes were underway a few weeks later.

This is another moment where Biden comes to the forefront of his administration’s official position.

On a visit to Warsaw later in March, Biden said in a speech that Putin “can not remain in power.” He later said he was speaking after an emotional visit with refugees and that the United States was not pursuing a regime change regime in Russia.

This story has been updated with further developments on Tuesday.

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