Biden’s comments represented a major moment as top officials had mostly avoided saying war crimes were being committed in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term might be used. But shortly after the president uttered the words “I think he’s a war criminal” to reporters at an unrelated event, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the comment came “from the heart”. Other officials have used similar language.
“When you speak from the heart, as a human being and you see what we have all seen, these burning images on television, a Russian strike against a maternity hospital in Mariupol, strikes against residential buildings, against schools , versus civilian quarters, it’s hard not to draw that conclusion,” State Department spokesman Ned Price later told CNN.
And after Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he “personally” agrees with Biden’s label on Putin, Psaki told reporters the top US diplomat was speaking “from the heart as well.”
Why all the analysis? Although terms such as “war crimes” and “war criminal” are often used colloquially, they have a legal definition that could be used in potential prosecutions. This includes the Geneva Conventions, which define the intentional targeting of civilians as a war crime.
Will Biden’s remarks complicate the Ukraine-Russia negotiations? The Kremlin called Biden’s remarks that Putin was a war criminal “absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable.”
When asked if it would be difficult to sit down with Putin, Zelensky said on Sunday that he was ready – and he was ready.
“I’m ready to negotiate with him. I’ve been ready for two years. And I think without negotiations we can’t end this war,” he said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”
“I think we have to use any format, any chance, in order to have a possibility to negotiate, a possibility to talk to Putin. But if these attempts fail, it would mean that it is a third war world.”
Ukrainian and Russian negotiators have met four times since the start of the Russian invasion.
The State Department’s perspective. On Friday, US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman also expressed her personal view of war crimes being committed in Russia, saying they “all feel it personally”, but noted that he must be “a body of evidence” before a court decision can be made. be done.
“Now I think we all feel that personally,” Sherman said, “but in terms of international law you have to have evidence, you have to have a body of evidence that in fact there was intentionality.” She added that the United States is “helping to gather this evidence, present it to the parties of international justice and then have a legal threshold that is reached.”
How long do war crimes investigations take? Investigations at the International Criminal Court last many years and only a few convictions have been won.
In other words, it could be a while before Biden’s “war criminal” remarks carry legal weight — if ever.
However, the ICC does not conduct trials in absentia, so he would either have to be handed over by Russia or arrested outside of Russia. It seems unlikely.