President Joe Biden said Russia's war in Ukraine amounted to "genocide," accusing President Vladimir Putin of trying to “wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian."
“Yes, I called it genocide," he told reporters in Iowa on Tuesday shortly before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington. “It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian."
At an earlier event in Menlo, Iowa, addressing spiking energy prices resulting from the war, President Biden had implied that he thought Putin was carrying out genocide against Ukraine, but offered no details. Neither he nor his administration announced new consequences for Russia or assistance to Ukraine following the president's public assessment.
A United Nations treaty, to which the U.S. is a party, defines genocide as actions taken with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Past American leaders often have dodged formally declaring bloody campaigns such as Russia’s in Ukraine as genocide, hesitating to trigger an obligation that under international convention requires signing countries to intervene once genocide is formally identified. That obligation was seen as blocking President Bill Clinton from declaring Rwandan Hutus’ killing of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in 1994 as genocide, for example.
President Biden said it would be up to lawyers to decide if Russia's conduct met the international standard for genocide, as Ukrainian officials have claimed, but said “it sure seems that way to me.”
“More evidence is coming out literally of the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine, and we’re only going to learn more and more about the devastation and let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies,” he said.
Just last week President Biden said he did not believe Russia's actions amounted to genocide, just that they constituted “war crimes.”
During a trip to Europe last month, the president faced controversy for a nine-word statement seemingly supporting regime change in Moscow, which would have represented a dramatic shift toward direct confrontation with another nuclear-armed country. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power," President Biden said.
He clarified the comments days later, saying: “I was expressing the moral outrage that I felt toward this man. I wasn’t articulating a policy change.”
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.