The US and its allies have vowed to ramp up the pressure on Russia after Ukraine accused Moscow of massacring civilians in Bucha, a charge that Russia denies.
President Biden told reporters on Monday that he is planning more sanctions on Russia and called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be put on trial for war crimes. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the International Criminal Court (ICC) could be a potential venue for a trial, although the US has a contentious relationship with the court, and is not a party to the ICC.
The Trump administration sanctioned ICC officials for their probe into US war crimes in Afghanistan. The sanctions were lifted by the Biden administration, but Biden officials have criticized the ICC for opening an investigation into Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its wars in Gaza.
Germany and France both announced on Monday that they were expelling dozens of Russian diplomats over the alleged Russian massacre. Previously, Berlin and Paris have been more hesitant than other NATO countries to take hardline action against Moscow. French President Emmanuel Macron is now calling for harsher sanctions that target Russian oil.
While the details of what happened in Bucha, a suburb near Kyv, are not confirmed, Biden accused Putin of being responsible for the killings. “I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal … you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants him — he is a war criminal,” he said.
Also on Monday, a senior Pentagon official told reporters that the US military was in no position to confirm or refute Ukrainian claims. “The Pentagon can’t independently and single-handedly confirm that, but we’re also not in any position to refute those claims,” the official said. Later in the day, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said it was “obvious” Russia was responsible but didn’t offer any details.
Russia argues that it couldn’t have been responsible for the civilian killings since its forces withdrew from Bucha on March 30, and the main Ukrainian accusations didn’t start until April 3. On March 31, Anatolii Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, posted a video announcing the “liberation” of the city. According to photos from The New York Times, Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov battalion, which is part of the Ukrainian National Guard, was patrolling Bucha on Saturday, April 2.
A video that was taken on April 2 showed dozens of dead civilians on the streets of Bucha and Ukrainian officials said a mass grave was discovered. According to satellite photos obtained by The New York Times, at least 11 of the bodies had been on the street since March 11, when Russia occupied the area. The Times obtained the photos from Maxar Technologies, a space technology company that works with the Pentagon. The Times report says the causes of death are unclear, and some bodies were beside what appear to be impact craters, suggesting they could have been killed by shelling during fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is claiming 300 people had been tortured and killed by Russian forces in Bucha. Ukrainian authorities said a total of 410 civilian bodies were found in areas near Kyiv that Russia recently withdrew from. The Ukrainians are calling for more Western intervention in response to the alleged Russian killings. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kulebasaid the West should impose the “most severe” sanctions on Moscow.
Russia wanted to discuss the massacre at the UN Security Council on Monday, but the meeting was blocked by the UK, which holds the presidency of the body for the month of April. The Security Council is expected to discuss the matter during a scheduled meeting on Tuesday.