LVIV – US President Joe Biden said for the first time that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine amounts to genocide, while President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would “rhythmically and calmly” continue its operation and achieve its goals. objectives.
“Yes, I called it genocide because it has become increasingly clear that Putin is just trying to eliminate the idea that you can be Ukrainian and the evidence is mounting,” Biden told reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One on Tuesday. . .
Biden has repeatedly called Putin a war criminal, but while delivering a speech at an Iowa ethanol plant on Tuesday, the US president stepped up his rhetoric to accuse Russia of genocide.
“We will let the lawyers decide internationally whether he qualifies or not, but it sure seems that way to me.”
Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilians and has said Ukraine and the West’s war crimes accusations are fabricated.
Many towns Russia withdrew from in northern Ukraine were littered with the bodies of civilians killed in what kyiv says was a campaign of murder, torture and rape.
The Interfax Ukraine news agency on Wednesday quoted the kyiv district police chief as saying that 720 bodies have been found in the region around the capital, with more than 200 people missing.
The Kremlin says it launched a “special military operation” on February 24 to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. kyiv and its Western allies reject it as a false pretext for invasion.
Moscow’s nearly seven-week raid, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has sent more than 4.6 million people fleeing abroad, killed or injured thousands and left Russia increasingly isolated. on the world stage.
Putin used his first public comments on the conflict in more than a week on Tuesday to say Russia would continue its operation “in a rhythmic and calm manner,” expressing confidence that its goals, including on security, would be achieved.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy taunted Putin in a morning speech on Wednesday: “How could a plan come about that provides for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own soldiers in just over a month of war?”
Putin said the intermittent peace talks “have again returned to a no-win situation for us.”
In making his comments, Putin often seemed to ramble or stutter. He only occasionally adopted the icy, confident demeanor that has been his trademark for more than 22 years as Russia’s leader.
Putin, who had been ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war, had largely withdrawn from the public eye since Russia’s withdrawal from northern Ukraine two weeks ago.
ALLIED PUTIN ARRESTED
Zelenskiy told Russia to release the prisoners of war if it wants to release the Kremlin’s highest-profile political ally in the country.
Ukraine said Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform – For Life party, had been recaptured. In February, authorities said he had escaped house arrest after a treason case was opened.
The politician who says Putin is his daughter’s godfather has denied any wrongdoing. A spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
“I propose to the Russian Federation: exchange this boy of yours for our boys and girls who are now in Russian captivity,” Zelenskiy said in his speech.
Alongside a photo of Medvedchuk in handcuffs, the head of Ukraine’s security service, Ivan Bakanov, said on Facebook that officers “conducted this dangerous and lightning-fast multi-level special operation” to arrest him.
The Tass news agency quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying he had seen the photo and could not say whether it was genuine.
Russia says it now seeks to capture more territory on behalf of separatists in two eastern provinces, known as Donbas, which includes the besieged port of Mariupol.
Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside Mariupol with no way to bring food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.
As Russia redoubles its efforts in the east, Lugansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai has urged residents to evacuate.
“It’s much scarier to stay and get burned in your sleep by a Russian shell,” he wrote on social media.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said he had seen reports of incidents of possible use of chemical weapons in Mariupol, but could not confirm them.
The United States and Britain have said they were trying to verify the reports. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was closely monitoring the situation.
The production, use and stockpiling of chemical weapons are prohibited by the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
The Russian Defense Ministry has not responded to a Reuters request for comment. Russian-backed separatist forces in the east denied using chemical weapons in Mariupol, the Interfax news agency reported.
The United States is expected to announce a further $750 million in military assistance, two officials told Reuters, likely to include heavy ground artillery systems for Ukraine, including howitzers, in a sign the war is expected to drag on.
(Reporting from the offices of Steve Holland, DES MOINES, Iowa, Jeff Mason, WASHINGTON, and Reuters; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Simon Cameron-Moore)