President Biden on Tuesday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of committing genocide in Ukraine, an escalation of his administration’s rhetoric on Russia.   

Biden made the remark when discussing recent efforts to address higher gas prices caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“I’m doing everything within my power by executive orders to bring down the price and address the Putin price hike,” he told an audience in Menlo, Iowa.

“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away,” Biden said.

The Biden administration has accused Putin of committing war crimes in Ukraine but has stopped short of deeming civilian killings “genocide,” a term that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has used.

Biden later affirmed his belief that Putin’s actions constitute genocide during an exchange with reporters, but said his lawyers would make the ultimate determination. 

“It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian,” Biden said. “The evidence is mounting.” 

“And we’re gonna only learn more and more about the devastation and we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies but it sure seems that way to me,” he continued.

Zelensky commended Biden for the comments, describing them as “true words of a true leader.” 

“Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil,” the Ukrainian president tweeted. “We are grateful for US assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities.” 

Biden’s comments come days after Russian missiles struck a train station in Ukraine, killing more than 50 people, and a week after horrific images of civilian bodies in the streets emerged from the town of Bucha near Kyiv.  

Asked last Monday if the killings in Bucha constituted genocide, Biden replied: “No, I think it is a war crime.”  

That same day, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration had not yet judged that genocide was taking place in Ukraine and suggested there would be a process to make that determination. 

“Based on what we have seen so far, we have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life of the Ukrainian people to rise to the level of genocide,” Sullivan told reporters at the time. “But, again, that’s something we will continue to monitor.” 

Biden’s comments during the speech in Iowa on Tuesday represent a major shift in his administration’s labeling of the atrocities in Ukraine.  

They are likely to further ratchet up tensions with Russia, which are already running high amid Moscow’s six-week military attack. 

It didn’t appear Tuesday that the administration has made a formal determination of genocide.

Biden previously got out front of his administration in calling Russian strikes that killed civilians “war crimes” last month. The administration subsequently accused Russia of deliberately targeting civilians in Ukraine, including a maternity hospital in Mariupol, and committing war crimes.  

—Updated at 6:40 p.m.

Tags Biden Inflation Joe Biden Joe Biden Russia Ukraine Vladimir Putin Vladimir Putin Volodymyr Zelensky

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