Blinken calls Russian atrocities ‘war crime’, warns of chemical attacks
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said that he views Russian atrocities in Ukraine as war crimes and raised warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin is setting the stage for a potential chemical weapons attack, saying the isolated leader “may be growing more desperate.”
“Today, we have a strong sense of what Russia could do next,” Blinken said in remarks from the State Department. “We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people.”
The secretary’s remarks are part of the Biden administration’s strategy to declassify intelligence to counter Russia’s disinformation and propaganda, warn the world of potential atrocities and unite a global response.
Blinken continued, saying that the U.S. believes that Russia will bring mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries to Ukraine.
“President Putin acknowledged as much over the weekend, when he authorized the recruitment of additional forces for the Middle East and elsewhere,” Blinken said, adding that it pointed to a sense that “his war effort is not going as he hoped it would.”
The secretary said he views Russian atrocities in Ukraine as war crimes, citing specifically attacks on civilians and echoing earlier condemnation from President Biden, who called Putin a “war criminal” on Wednesday.
“After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise,” the secretary said, citing some of the most egregious attacks documented so far in Russia’s 22-day war against Ukraine.
Blinken further warned that Russian forces are “likely to systematically kidnap local officials and replace them with puppets,” referencing the reported kidnapping of the Ukrainian mayor of the city of Melitopol, who was released on Wednesday in a prisoner exchange.
The secretary said another mayor was kidnapped in a southern city of Ukraine and has yet to be let go, calling it a “terror tactic.”
“Grab local officials, depose local governments, put proxies in their place,” Blinken said, outlining the Russian tactics.
He further warned that after Russian forces devastate Ukrainian cities, “Moscow may bring in officials from Russia to serve as local government officials and surge what they described as ‘economic support’ in an attempt to make the people dependent on Moscow for survival.”
The United Nations on Thursday issued a statement that it has counted 2,032 civilian casualties, with 780 killed and 1,252 injured — but believes the actual figure to be “considerably higher.”
The U.N. says casualties have been caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, as well as missile strikes.
Blinken cited attacks on civilian sites this past week including Russian forces targeting a hospital, three schools, and a boarding school for visually impaired kids in the Luhansk region of Ukraine.
The secretary also cited a Russian bombing of a theater in the city of Mariupol where hundreds of people were sheltering from attacks. A sign reading “Children” in Russian was written on the pavement outside the building to warn off possible attacks from the air.
“Russian forces also opened fire on 10 civilians who were waiting in line for bread. These incidences join a long list of attacks on civilian, not military, locations across Ukraine, including apartment buildings, public squares and last week a maternity hospital in Mariupol,” Blinken said.
The secretary said this was part of Russia’s goal of “breaking the will of the Ukrainian people,” and said that the State Department is in the process of “documenting and evaluating potential war crimes being committed” and will share those with international efforts to investigate such crimes.
“I’m not going to get ahead of — for what the outcome will be or what the consequences will be. But I can say with conviction that there will be accountability for any war crimes that are determined to have occurred,” the secretary said.
–Updated at 3:12 p.m.