Vice president’s address in Munich comes days before the one-year anniversary of Russian invasion of Ukraine
By guest author Annie Linskey from the Wall Street Journal. William Mauldin contributed to this article.
Updated Feb. 18, 2023
Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday said that the U.S. has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity, speaking days before the first anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“From the starting days of this unprovoked war, we have witnessed Russian forces engage in horrendous atrocities and war crimes,” said Ms. Harris, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, a global security and foreign-policy forum. “We have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: These are crimes against humanity,” she said to applause from the gathered officials.
Ms. Harris accused the Russians of “widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population,” citing civilian deaths in a Mariupol theater, an attack on a maternity hospital, mass deportations of Ukrainian children and widespread evidence of rape, torture and execution-style killings of civilians in the near yearlong war. Ms. Harris said people who committed war crimes would be held to account.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement Saturday morning saying that he has determined that Russian forces and officials have committed crimes against humanity. “We reserve crimes against humanity determinations for the most egregious crimes,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that the finding “underlines [the] staggering extent of the human suffering inflicted by Moscow on the Ukrainian civilian population.”
The U.S. has provided about USD 30 million to fund an effort aimed at documenting and prosecuting war crimes in Ukraine since March 2022, according to the White House. The White House is seeking additional funding for this effort.
While symbolically significant, the determination doesn’t trigger specific consequences since the U.S. lacks a federal statute on the broad designation of crimes against humanity. The U.S. code does have laws against individual war crimes.
President Biden has previously accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes in Ukraine, demanding that he be tried as a criminal after revelations surfaced in April about the atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in Bucha. He also said that Mr. Putin “cannot remain in power.”
Moscow has denied accusations of reprisals against civilians in Ukraine, despite widespread evidence of such actions presented by Ukrainian authorities.
Ms. Harris also said that the U.S. is troubled that China has “deepened its relationship” with Russia over the past year. She added that any step by Beijing to provide lethal support to Moscow will “undermine a rules-based order.”
The address from Ms. Harris comes as Ukrainian forces are straining to hold back a Russian advance on the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and as they are preparing for an expected wider Russian offensive in coming weeks as the weather warms.
European leaders at the Munich conference have continued to pledge support for Ukraine, but some are signaling that they don’t intend to supply Kyiv with new weapons systems. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought more urgent military aid such as aerial defenses and ammunition.
Ms. Harris said the U.S. will continue to back Kyiv for “as long as it takes.” She said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is “stronger now than ever before” and said the U.S. commitment to defend NATO allies is “ironclad.”
Ms. Harris is expected to meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Later she plans to meet with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson along with Finish Prime Minister Sanna Marin. On Friday, Ms. Harris met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) spoke at the conference and said top Republicans are committed to providing money and weapons to Ukraine. Congress has authorized USD 113 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine since Russia invaded the country on Feb. 24, 2022.
Ms. Harris addressed the same conference last year, speaking just five days before Russia’s forces crossed into Ukraine.
President Biden is expected to travel to Poland next week and meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda. Mr. Biden plans to give an address in Warsaw about the war and will meet with leaders of several other Eastern European countries.