Moscow said it was “unacceptable” for US President Joe Biden to use the word “genocide” to describe Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and accused Washington of hypocrisy for its own crimes.
“We categorically disagree and consider any attempt to distort the situation in this way unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.
“It’s hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times,” Peskov said.
Biden on Tuesday accused Russian forces of committing “genocide” in Ukraine, the first time his administration has used the term to refer to Moscow‘s invasion of Ukraine.
“Yes, I called it genocide because it became increasingly clear that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is just trying to erase the idea of being able to be Ukrainian and the evidence is mounting,” Biden said.
Biden said it will ultimately be up to the courts to determine whether Russia’s actions against its pro-Western neighbor constitute genocide.
Putin also on Tuesday called “false” accusations that his army had committed war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, where mass graves were discovered after the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Moscow has accused Ukraine of masterminding the alleged atrocities uncovered at Bucha.
The crime of genocide has a strict legal definition and has rarely been proven in court since it was entrenched in international law after the Holocaust was perpetrated against the Jewish people and other groups by Nazi Germany. during WWII. The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention defines the term as crimes committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Genocide is more difficult to prove than other violations of international humanitarian law, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, because it requires proof of specific intent.
Three cases have reached this threshold: the massacre by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge in the 1970s of minority Cham and Vietnamese, who were among the estimated 1.7 million who died under the regime; the 1994 mass massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda that claimed 800,000 lives; and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia.
The acts constituting the crime of genocide, in addition to killing members of a specific group, include causing serious bodily or mental harm, creating conditions conducive to their destruction, preventing births or forcibly transferring their children to other groups.
Zelensky praises Biden
Biden’s “genocide” remark drew praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who encouraged Western leaders to use the term to describe Russia’s invasion of his country. Zelenskyy has already done this several times.
“True words from a true leader @POTUS [president of the United States]“Tweeted the Ukrainian president on Tuesday.
“Calling things by their proper name is essential to standing up to evil. We are grateful for the American assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities,” Zelenskyy said.
Biden had previously called Putin a “war criminal”, a comment that Moscow angrily dismissed and said had brought relations with the United States to the brink of collapse.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said last week that the scale of the atrocities in Ukraine “seems not far from genocide”.
French President Emmanuel Macron was more circumspect on the subject of the genocide on Wednesday.
“I’m careful with terms today,” Macron said.
“The genocide has a meaning… It is madness what is happening today. This is incredible brutality and a throwback to war in Europe. But at the same time, I look at the facts, and I want to continue to do everything to be able to stop the war and restore peace. I’m not sure the escalation of words serves our cause,” he said.
Macron, however, said it was established that the Russian military had committed war crimes in Ukraine.
The International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, opened an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian prosecutors, who had already been investigating alleged Russian crimes since the annexation of Crimea by Russian-backed forces in 2014, said they had identified thousands of potential war crimes since the invasion of Moscow began on February 24, and they compiled a list of hundreds of suspects.
Moscow’s incursion into Ukraine, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, saw more than 4.6 million people flee the country, left thousands dead and injured and left Russia increasingly isolated on the world stage.