WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday said he is seeking additional sanctions on Russia and again called President Vladimir Putin a war criminal following reports of a mass killing of civilians by Russian forces in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.
“You may remember I was criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden said in brief remarks to reporters. “Well, the truth of the matter, you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants him — he is a war criminal.”
“This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it,” he added.
But Biden stopped short of calling the killings genocide, something Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of on Sunday. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said the killings have not yet reached the U.S. standard for 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,” Sullivan said. “But again, that’s something we will continue to monitor. There is not a mechanical formula for this.”
Sullivan said the additional sanctions would come this week and be aimed at targeting elements of the Russian economy fueling the war.
“We don’t expect that that shift in behavior will be caused by sanctions overnight or in a week,” Sullivan said. “It will take time to grind down the elements of Russian power within the Russian economy, to hit their industrial base hard, to hit the sources of revenue that have propped up this war and propped up the kleptocracy in Russia. That’s going to take some time to play out.”
The U.S. also plans to send additional military equipment to Ukrainian forces with its most recent package, including laser-guided rocket systems, unmanned aerial systems and armored high-mobility vehicles, he said.
Biden said the United States will keep gathering information to support war crime charges against Putin. He said the U.S. is also working on additional sanctions and will keep supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Biden’s comment came in response to reports over the weekend of atrocities Ukrainians say Russians committed in the town of Bucha, near Kyiv, where grisly images purportedly show slain civilians throughout the city, including some who appear to have been shot at close range with their hands behind their backs.
Ukrainian officials said there were more than 400 people killed before Russian troops pulled out of the city. The Associated Press reported scenes of bodies scattered around a site that residents said Russian troops used as a base, with victims in civilian clothing who appeared to have been killed at close range, at least two with their hands tied behind their backs.
The European Commission, the European Union’s executive body, said it is considering additional sanctions on Russia in response to the killings and an investigation by the International Criminal Court. French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday there were “clear indications” that Russia was responsible for killing civilians in Bucha, adding that this amounted to “strong evidence of war crimes.”
Zelenskyy has called on the international community to take stronger action following the reports from Bucha, saying fresh sanctions would not be enough.
Russia’s defense ministry has denied the claims, calling them a “provocation,” dismissing photographs and video showing damaged city streets strewn with bodies.
Sullivan said the U.S. is anticipating that Russian forces will shift their focus toward Eastern Ukraine after “retreating” from the capitol, Kyiv, in recent days. But he said the U.S. expects Russia to carry out more missile strikes across the rest of the country to “cause military and economic damage and frankly to cause terror.”
“The next stage of this conflict may very well be protracted,” Sullivan said. “We should be under no illusions that Russia will adjust its tactics, which have included and will likely continue to include wanton and brazen attacks on civilian targets.”