Washington on Thursday warned Moscow about what some observers describe as war crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine. U.S. officials say Russia is “turning to a strategy of laying waste to population centers” in Ukraine, as high-level talks between the warring parties made no progress.
“We’ve seen very credible reports of deliberate attacks on civilians, which would under the Geneva Conventions constitute a war crime,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, though he did not specifically accuse Russia of committing such crimes.
Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s plan to quickly capture Ukraine, it is clear now, has failed,” Price said of the two-week-old invasion. “So, he is now turning to a strategy of laying waste to population centers to try to break the will of the people of Ukraine, something he will not be able to do.”
Russia has denied targeting civilians in its invasion of Ukraine.
Vice President Kamala Harris said in Poland that she supported a United Nations inquiry into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that would look at “all alleged rights violations and abuses, and related crimes.”
Harris spoke before meeting in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda in a show of U.S. support for NATO’s allies in Eastern Europe.
“Absolutely, there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” she said.
Duda added, “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine, Russians are committing war crimes.”
On Wednesday, Amnesty International said an investigation it conducted into the March 3 Russian airstrike that reportedly killed 47 civilians in the city of Chernihiv concluded that the events there “may constitute a war crime.”
The global human rights group said interviews and video analysis indicated unguided aerial bombs known as “dumb bombs” were used to mostly target civilians standing in line for food.
Harris’ comments came one day after a Russian airstrike on a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol killed at least three people, including a child, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hospital attack genocide and again called on NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, declaring, “You have power, but you seem to be losing humanity.”
Russia responded to allegations it bombed the hospital by calling it “fake news.” It said the building was a former maternity hospital that had long been taken over by troops.
“Russia has definitely been violating international law since the beginning of the aggression,” Ivana Stradner, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who researches international law, said via Skype. “We are seeing the killings of civilians. They’re using weapons that are contrary to international law. So certainly, there is numerous evidence that we can use to argue that Russia has been committing war crimes.”
She agreed with calls for an inquiry, but added, “I have to be very realistic about these things. I’m not very hopeful that we can hold Russia and Vladimir Putin accountable.”
The two bodies that prosecute war crimes, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, are limited in what they can do, she explained.
War crimes cases are often referred to the international court by the U.N. Security Council, but Russia’s position as a permanent member of that council means it can easily veto such a referral.
Furthermore, Russia, Ukraine and the United States are not signatories to the statute that established the International Criminal Court, though Ukraine has accepted its jurisdiction. And finally, she said, these international courts don’t have their own police forces. They count on states to cooperate, which they do not always do.
War marches on
Ukrainian officials also said no progress was made Thursday during high-level talks in Turkey.
Speaking at a news conference at the conclusion of the talks, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he and his Russian counterpart made no progress toward negotiating a 24-hour cease-fire, adding it appeared Russia would continue its offensive until Ukraine surrendered, something he said Kyiv would not do.
“I want to repeat that Ukraine has not surrendered, does not surrender, and will not surrender,” Kuleba said.
Speaking separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia’s military operation was going according to plan and accused the West of “behaving dangerously” over Ukraine.
Lavrov said Russia was ready to resume talks and added Putin would not refuse a meeting with Zelenskyy to discuss “specific” issues. He blamed Western powers for the war, maintaining Russia was forced to invade Ukraine because the West had rejected “our proposal on security guarantees.”
U.S. President Joe Biden applauded Turkey’s “efforts to support a diplomatic resolution to the conflict” after a telephone call Thursday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a White House statement.
The Turkish initiative is among several diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the escalating conflict. Both Israel and France are hoping to find a solution through direct talks with Putin.
VOA’s Jamie Dettmer, Anita Powell and Cindy Saine contributed to this report.