As Russia persists with its military assault on Ukraine, US President Joe Biden has hardened rhetoric, calling Russia's war in Ukraine "genocide" and accusing Vladimir Putin of attempting to "wipe out the idea of even being Ukrainian."
"Yes, I called it genocide," he told reporters in Iowa on Tuesday just before heading back to Washington on Air Force One. "It's become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being a Ukrainian."
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy applauded the statement, having previously encouraged Western leaders to use the term.
True words of a true leader @POTUS. Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil. We are grateful for US assistance provided so far and we urgently need more heavy weapons to prevent further Russian atrocities.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 12, 2022
However, the US President didn't announce new sanctions for Russia following the statement.
Strict definition of genocide
The United Nations defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."
Previously, Biden denounced Putin as a "war criminal" following the discovery of hundreds of dead civilians in Bucha, outside Kyiv, after the Russian occupation of the suburb.
Yet he didn't use the term "genocide" up until now as the term has a strict legal definition. Biden added that it would be for lawyers to decide if Russia's actions were in line with the definition of genocide, but "it sure seems that way to me," he said.
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Just a week ago, Biden called Russia's actions "war crimes", not genocide. However, during a trip to Europe in March, Biden came under fire for appearing to support a regime change in Russia, a radical move towards another nuclear-armed country. "For God's sake, this man cannot remain in power," Biden exclaimed then.
He explained his comments later, stating "I was expressing the moral outrage that I felt toward this man. I wasn't articulating a policy change."
In March, Ukraine filed a case against Russia under the Genocide Convention to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requesting the acknowledgement that it was misusing the principle of genocide to justify its invasion.
The claim regarded the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where the Kremlin was claiming, without evidence, that a 'genocide' was being perpetrated against Russian speakers residing there. The Donbas region was at the centre of the 2014/2015 war, where Russian-backed separatists fought the Ukrainian army and formed internationally-unrecognised breakaway states.
Ukrainians have often claimed that Donbas separatists are in fact funded and directly assisted by the Russian Army. Putin recognised the breakaway regions and signed cooperation agreements with the so-called People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk on 21 February, shortly before launching the invasion, using the cooperation agreement and claims of 'genocide' as a pretext for it.
The ICJ responded to the claim by delivering an interim order for Russia to immediately cease all military operations in Ukraine, also stating it "is not in possession of evidence substantiating the allegation of the Russian Federation that genocide has been committed on Ukrainian territory."