“Our assessment is based on careful consideration of available information from public and intelligence sources. As with any alleged crime, a court of competent jurisdiction is ultimately responsible for determining criminal culpability in specific cases,” said Blinken in a statement.
“The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share the information we collect with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations as appropriate. We are committed to pursuing accountability using all available tools, including criminal prosecutions,” Blinken added.
The formal evaluation takes place one week after President Biden said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was a war criminalwhich Blinken echoed based on reports on the ground of attacks on civilians.
In Wednesday’s announcement, Blinken pointed to “numerous credible reports of indiscriminate attacks and attacks deliberately targeting civilians, as well as other atrocities.”
“Russian forces destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping malls and ambulances, killing or injuring thousands of innocent civilians,” Blinken said. “Many of the sites that Russian forces hit were clearly identifiable as being used by civilians.”
Reports in recent days have detailed strikes against a maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol, as well as a theater where civilians had taken refuge. Officials determined that more than 2,400 civilians were killed in Mariupol alone on Tuesday, Blinken said, and the United Nations has confirmed more than 2,500 civilian casualties outside Mariupol.
Prosecuting “war crimes” usually involves a vigorous legal process, often years in length, and international investigators are already beginning to examine Russia’s conduct during its invasion of Ukraine.
The US assessment is likely to further increase pressure to isolate Moscow from the international community and could further galvanize support for Ukraine.
Officials have warned attacks on Ukraine could escalate, with Biden, Blinken, national security adviser JakeSullivan and others referring to the possibility of Russia deploying chemical weapons.
It’s unclear whether the Biden administration may take specific action in response to the war crimes determination, but officials previously said their documentary evidence of the atrocities would be shared with international investigators and courts with jurisdiction to prosecute cases. such cases.
Beth Van Schaack, a goodwill ambassador for global criminal justice and war crimes documenter, said the administration intends to publicize specific cases it has determined to be war crimes, but does not couldn’t come up with a schedule.
“We need to do a full assessment of the information we have and make sure it doesn’t compromise any means or method of collection, but I think it’s extremely important to keep the world informed about what’s happening on the land in Ukraine. ”
Schaack added that she did not foresee any action the administration might take in terms of sanctions related to a determination of war crimes, and did not rule out that Putin, as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces, could be held responsible for war crimes in a competent court.
“There are doctrines in international law and domestic law that can be traced back up the chain of command.”
Schaack said the United States would share war crimes information “with our friends and allies and with international and multilateral lateral institutions as appropriate,” and cited possible jurisdictions such as courts in the United States. , courts in Ukraine and regional courts.
The ambassador did not rule out sharing evidence with the International Criminal Court, but said “there were no specific requests.”
The United States is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that governs where the ICC holds authority, and the Trump administration has imposed sanctions on court officials in opposition to their investigations into crimes of alleged US war in Afghanistan.
Schaack did not address U.S. sanctions against the tribunal, but said that because the United States is not a member of the tribunal, there are no “affirmative cooperation duties.”
Although Russia and Ukraine are also not parties to the Rome Statute, the ICC has jurisdiction over possible crimes committed on Ukrainian territory since kyiv accepted the jurisdiction of the courts in two declarations, in 2014 and 2015 and in response to the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine and annexation of the Crimean peninsula.