US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine, saying Moscow’s forces had conducted “widespread and systemic” attacks on the country’s civilian population.
She made the comments at the Munich Security Conference, days ahead of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion that unleashed war in Europe for the first time in decades.
“The US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity,” she told world leaders at the gathering, the first time the United States has designated Russia’s actions in Ukraine as such.
“Their actions are an assault on our common values and our common humanity,” she said. “Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population.”
Harris levelled a list of allegations at Moscow’s troops — “gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation, execution-style killings, beatings and electrocution”.
The former prosecutor added: “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… Justice must be served.”
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the US statement, saying that Russia had started a “genocidal war”.
“Everything that stems from that is crimes against humanity, war crimes and various other atrocities committed by the Russian army in the territory of Ukraine,” he said in Munich.
But he also expressed fears that there would not be enough evidence to prosecute “specific individuals”.
The International Criminal Court is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen floated last year the idea of a “specialised court” to put Russia’s top officials on trial over the war.
The three-day conference is being attended by senior figures including the presidents of France and Germany, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, and a large US delegation including Harris and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Russia, which normally sends Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the event, was not invited this year.
The second day of the conference on Saturday also heard calls for more military support for Ukraine, with Kyiv reiterating pleas for quick weapon deliveries to launch a successful counter-offensive.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged allies to “give Ukraine what they need to win and prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe”.
After weeks of hesitating, Berlin last month agreed that German-made Leopard tanks could be sent to Ukraine, but it has struggled to get commitments from allies to form a coalition to deliver the most modern types.
And Zelensky’s requests for Western backers to give combat jets to Kyiv have generally received a cool response.
Britain however has said it will start training Ukrainian pilots and consider sending jets in the long term.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak went further in comments to British media in Munich. “We will happily provide assistance to any country that is able to provide Ukraine with fighter jets right now,” he said.
“The UK stands ready to support those countries as well.”
The China question
There have been concerns that China is deepening ties with Russia despite the conflict, but Wang insisted that Beijing was playing a constructive role, and would support dialogue and potential peace talks.
He added that China would publish on the anniversary of the war a document setting out its position on the “peaceful settlement” of the conflict.
At a meeting with Wang on the sidelines of the conference, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned him that there would be consequences “if China provides material support to Russia or assistance with systemic sanctions evasion”, a State Department official said.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock gave the announcement about the document a cautious welcome: “We need everyone in the world to stand up for peace. But the question is, what this peace will be.”
Kuleba said he would not comment on the Chinese position without first seeing it, but added: “I think we should be focused on one thing — even if we’re deadly tired, we can’t allow ourselves to get tired of fighting for freedom.”
In the Netherlands, the foreign ministry announced the expulsion of more Russian diplomats, the latest twist in a series of diplomatic sanctions connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.