President Joe Biden of the United States has called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” escalating diplomatic tensions between the two countries even further.
Mr. Biden made the remark in response to a question from a reporter at the White House.
It’s the first time he’s used such strong words to criticize Putin, and the White House later stated that he was “speaking from his heart.”
The Kremlin, on the other hand, called it “unforgiveable rhetoric.”
“We believe such rhetoric from the head of a state whose bombs have murdered hundreds of thousands of people around the world is inappropriate and terrible,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news outlet Tass.
On Wednesday in Washington, a reporter posed the following question to US President Joe Biden:
“After what we’ve witnessed, Mr. President, are you ready to name Putin a war criminal?”
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When pressed, the President said “no,” but then changed his mind and said, “Did you ask me whether I would tell….?” Oh, I’m very sure he’s a war criminal.”
After watching “barbaric” photographs of the carnage in Ukraine, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that the president was speaking from his heart rather than making an official statement.
She pointed out that there was a separate legal process, overseen by the State Department, for determining war crimes, which was still ongoing.
“Putin is inflicting awful damage and anguish on Ukraine – bombing apartment complexes and maternity wards… these are atrocities,” the president’s official Twitter account said.
Diplomatic bridges between the US and Russia are being burned down one by one.
Mr. Biden’s speech was unusual, but not out of character for a politician who is known for making major policy adjustments in seemingly off-the-cuff statements (see, for instance, his comments on gay marriage in 2012).
After telling a reporter that he did not believe Mr Putin was a war criminal, he later changed his mind. If there had been any internal White House debate about how to deal with the rising calls in Congress and the press to condemn Mr Putin in this way, the president resolved it in an aside, not a major address.
Of course, this will make it more difficult for Mr. Biden and his administration to deal with Russians in the future. On any topic, every concession or negotiated agreement will elicit the retort: “How can you associate with a criminal?”
Perhaps Mr. Biden’s remarks were merely admitting the new reality: that the world’s political system has irreversibly transformed, and there is no going back.