By Yannick Izabayo
The U.N. Security Council is expected to focus a meeting Tuesday on the killings of civilians in Ukraine, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said Russian leader Vladimir Putin should face a war crimes trial.
Tuesday’s session includes briefings from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, as well as an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Britain holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, and its U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters the issue of civilian killings during the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “front and center.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said late Monday he discussed the issue with Guterres, including the situation in Bucha, a suburb of Ukraine’s capital where alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops have been discovered in recent days.
“Stressed that Ukraine will use all available U.N. mechanisms to collect evidence and hold Russian war criminals to account,” Kuleba tweeted.
Moscow has denied accusations of killing civilians in Bucha, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterizing the scenes as a “stage-managed anti-Russian provocation.” Russia’s U.N. ambassador said he would provide “factual evidence” at Tuesday’s Security Council meeting.
A spokesman for satellite company Maxar Technologies said in a statement Monday that images collected over Bucha in mid-March verify and corroborate “recent social media videos and photos that reveal bodies lying in the streets and left out in the open for weeks.”
Britain’s defense ministry said Tuesday that Ukrainian forces have retaken areas in the northern part of the country after “forcing Russian forces to retreat from the areas around Chernihiv and north of Kyiv.” The ministry added that those Russian forces “are likely to require significant re-equipping and refurbishment” before being available for fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s General Staff said the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions are now a focus for Russia as it regroups with the goal of establishing “full control” of those areas.
The scenes of devastation left behind in Bucha and other suburbs have galvanized condemnation of Moscow.
Italy and Denmark announced Tuesday they are expelling Russian diplomats, following similar moves by Lithuania, France and Germany.
“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden told reporters Monday. “Well, the truth of the matter, you saw what happened in Bucha. This warrants — he is a war criminal. But we have to gather the information.”
“This guy is brutal and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous, and everyone’s seen it,” Biden said, referring to Putin as the U.S. leader returned to Washington after a weekend in his home state of Delaware. “Yes, I’m going to continue to add sanctions.”
The U.S. State Department said that Washington, at the request of Ukraine, would support a multinational team of prosecutors who will collect evidence of alleged atrocities.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted Monday that the European Union will send investigators to Ukraine to help her “document war crimes.”
Von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell plan to travel to Kyiv this week to meet with Zelenskyy ahead of an event to raise money and other aid for Ukrainian refugees and those displaced within the country.
Zelenskyy visited Bucha on Monday, telling his people on national television it is now harder to negotiate an end to the war with Russia as the atrocities committed by Moscow’s troops become more apparent.
With evidence of civilians tied together and shot at close range, a mass grave and bodies strewn on the streets of Bucha, Zelenskyy declared, “These are war crimes and will be recognized by the world as genocide.”
Zelensky said later in a video address to the Romanian parliament he fears there are more places where even worse atrocities have taken place.
“We have every reason to believe that there are many more people killed,” he said. “Much more than we know now.”
U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said images from Bucha “suggest these atrocities are not the act of a rogue soldier. They are part of a broader, troubling campaign. Those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable.”
Reuters reported Monday the United States Treasury blocked Russia from using reserves it holds at American banks to make more than $600 million in sovereign debt payments, raising the prospect of a Russian debt default.
“Russia must choose between draining remaining valuable dollar reserves or new revenue coming in, or default,” a Treasury spokesperson told Reuters.
Western leaders are raising the possibility of further economic sanctions on Russia, including restrictions on energy imports. Europe, however, relies heavily on the purchase of several types of Russian energy, leaving the Western allies at odds as to the extent and timing of any cutback.
Europe gets 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia, with European governments trying to find ways to reduce that reliance without curbing economic growth. Over the weekend, Lithuania announced it cut itself off entirely from gas imports from Russia.
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is also the country’s economy minister, said Europe can go “significantly further” in imposing sanctions against Russia. He said Germany, which has faced opposition for taking a longer-term approach to abandoning Russian energy imports, hopes to end Russian coal imports this summer and oil imports by the end of the year.
“We are working every day on creating the conditions for and steps toward an embargo,” Habeck said. “We are on the right track.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki assailed the French and German leaders by name for not doing more against Russia, while calling for actions “that will finally break Putin’s war machine.”
“President [Emmanuel] Macron, how many times have you negotiated with Putin? What have you achieved? … Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot?” Morawiecki asked.
“Chancellor Scholz, Olaf, it is not the voices of German businesses that should be heard aloud in Berlin today. It is the voice of these innocent women and children.”
Morawiecki said, “The bloody massacres perpetrated by Russian soldiers deserve to be called by name: This is genocide.”
source: some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.