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Latest from War in Ukraine: Biden says Bucha killings are war crimes

A dog drinks water next to destroyed Russian armored vehicles in Bucha, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Editor’s note: This post contains language and images that some might find disturbing.

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday called for a war crimes trial against Russian President Vladimir Putin and additional sanctions following reported atrocities in Bucha, one of the towns surrounding the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv where Ukrainian officials say the bodies of civilians have been found.

“What’s happening in Bucha is outrageous and everyone sees it,” Biden said.

Biden’s comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the city called the Russian actions “genocide.” Zelenskyy also called for the West to apply tougher sanctions against Russia. Biden, however, stopped short of calling the actions genocide.

The bodies of 410 civilians have been removed from Kyiv-area towns that were recently retaken from Russian forces, said Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Iryna Venediktova. Associated Press journalists saw the bodies of at least 21 people in various spots around Bucha, northwest of the capital.

“We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight. And we have to gather all the detail so this can be an actual — have a war crimes trial,” Biden said.

A mass grave in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 3, 2022. Ukrainian troops are finding brutalized bodies and widespread destruction in the suburbs of Kyiv, sparking new calls for a war crimes investigation and sanctions against Russia. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) AP

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VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania on Monday announced that it will expel Russia’s ambassador and recall its envoy in Moscow in reaction to increasing signs that Russian forces may have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

The Baltic country also decided to close a Russian consulate in the port city of Klaipeda, where it has a large offshore LNG import terminal.

“Lithuania strongly condemned the atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in occupied Ukrainian cities, including the brutal massacres in Bucha. All war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russian armed forces in Ukraine will not be forgotten,” Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Monday.

He added that Lithuania’s ambassador to Ukraine was returning to Kyiv and that Lithuania’s European Union and NATO partners have been informed of its decision to expel the Russian ambassador. He called on them to do the same.

In neighboring Latvia, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said that Riga will narrow diplomatic relations with the Russian Federation, according to the Baltic News Service. No decision was made regarding reducing the ties.
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A Russian law enforcement agency says it has launched its own investigation into allegations that Ukrainian civilians were massacred in suburbs of Kyiv which were held by Russian troops, focusing on what it calls “false information” about Russian forces.

The Investigative Committee claims Ukrainian authorities made the allegations “with the aim of discrediting Russian troops” and that those involved should be investigated over possible breaches of a new Russian law banning what the government deems to be false information about its forces.

Russian law enforcement has launched several investigations since Russian troops entered Ukraine, typically into incidents such as the shelling of areas held by Russia-backed separatists.
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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that Russia needs to move quickly to negotiate an agreement to end the war.

Speaking on a visit Monday to the town of Bucha outside Kyiv, where hundreds of civilians were found dead after Russian troops’ retreat last week, Zelenskyy said the evidence of atrocities makes it hard to conduct talks with Russia.

“It’s very difficult to conduct negotiations when you see what they did here,” Zelenskyy said, adding that in Bucha and other places “dead people have been found in barrels, basements, strangled, tortured.” He added that the Russian leadership “needs to think faster if it has what to think with.”

Zelenskyy added that “the longer the Russian Federation drags it out, the worse it will exacerbate its own situation and this war.” Zelenskyy reaffirmed his criticism of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opposition to Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, saying that she and other Western leaders who resisted the move should come to Bucha to “see what the flirting with the Russian Federation leads to.”
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CAIRO — Five Arab foreign ministers have traveled to Moscow for talks with Russia’s top diplomat on the war in Ukraine.

The Arab League says the foreign ministers of Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan and Sudan will meet Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Ahemd Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League, will also join the meeting.

The pan-Arab organization says the ministers will then travel to Poland on Tuesday for talks with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
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GENEVA — The United States plans to seek a suspension of Russia from its seat on the U.N.’s top human rights body in the wake of rising signs that Russian forces may have committed war crimes in Ukraine, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Monday.

According to a statement from her office, Thomas-Greenfield made the call for Russia to be stripped of its seat in the Human Rights Council in the wake of reports over the weekend about violence against civilians in the town of Bucha, near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, after Russian forces pulled out.

Any decision to suspend Russia would require a decision by the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Russia and the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France and the United States — all currently have seats on the 47-member rights council, which is based in Geneva. The United States rejoined the council this year.

Thomas-Greenfield mentioned the U.S. plan in a meeting with Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciuca, her office said.
In New York, General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak said on Monday that no request for a meeting on the issue has been received yet.
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GENEVA — The United Nations’ top human rights official is calling for “independent and effective investigations” into what happened in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement Monday that she is “horrified by the images of civilians lying dead on the streets and in improvised graves.”

She added that “reports emerging from this and other areas raise serious and disturbing questions about possible war crimes, grave breaches of international humanitarian law and serious violations of international human rights law.”

Bachelet said it’s essential that all bodies be exhumed and identified so that victims’ families can be informed and the exact causes of death determined. She said all measures should be taken to preserve evidence.

“It is vital that all efforts are made to ensure there are independent and effective investigations into what happened in Bucha to ensure truth, justice and accountability, as well as reparations and remedy for victims and their families,” Bachelet said.
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LONDON — Britain has condemned Russia’s “barbaric” killing of civilians in Ukraine, though it stopped short of calling Moscow’s actions genocide.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said bodies found in areas recently recaptured from Russia showed “despicable attacks against innocent civilians, and they are yet more evidence that Putin and his army are committing what appear to be war crimes in Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some Western leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide.

Blain said “the prime minister’s view is that Putin crossed the threshold of barbarism some time ago,” but added that only a court can make a determination of genocide.

Britain is urging Western allies to enforce tougher sanctions to “ratchet up” pressure on Russia, including cutting it off completely from the SWIFT international payments system.
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MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat has dismissed Ukraine’s accusations that Russian troops committed atrocities against its civilians as a staged provocation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at the start of his talks Monday with U.N. Under-Secretary-General Martin Griffiths that Moscow sees the Ukrainian claim of a massacre of civilians in Bucha outside Kyiv as “a provocation that posed a direct threat to global peace and security.”

Lavrov noted that Russia has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council but the U.K. that currently chairs it refused to convene it. He vowed to press the demand for holding the meeting.

Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in areas outside the Ukrainian capital after last week’s withdrawal of Russian troops, many with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture. A growing number of world leaders have voiced outrage and called for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

Lavrov charged that the mayor of Bucha made no mention of atrocities against civilians a day after Russian troops left Bucha on Wednesday, but two days later scores of bodies were photographed scattered in the streets in what the Russian minister described as a “stage-managed anti-Russian provocation.”
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TIRANA, Albania — The leaders of Albania and Kosovo have harshly condemned what they say is evidence of brutal killings of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops and urged the world to hold Russia accountable.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the bodies found after Russian soldiers left Bucha, near Kyiv, are “shocking” and strongly urged for an independent investigation “of such horrible crimes.”

“Nothing can ever excuse such cruelty. What a pain and what a shame!” he tweeted.

Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti said the bodies found in Bucha reminded him of similar atrocities committed in his country during the 1998-1999 war between ethnic Albanian independent fighters and Serbian forces.

“Mass graves, people brutally killed with body parts missing, burned houses and cities turned to rubble are all familiar scenes from genocidal regimes,” he posted Monday on Twitter.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nine years after a bloody conflict between Serbia and Albanian separatists in Kosovo, then a Serbian province, which killed more than 12,000 people and left about 1,600 still missing.

“The perpetrators of the Bucha Massacre must be brought to justice and Russia must be held accountable,” he said.
Both Albania and Kosovo have joined calls for hard-hitting sanctions on Russia to be imposed by the European Union and the United States.
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MOSCOW — The Kremlin has strongly rejected the accusations that Russian troops committed atrocities against civilians in Ukraine and pushed for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday that the Ukrainian claims that Russian troops had killed hundreds of civilians outside Kyiv can’t be trusted, adding that “we categorically reject the accusations.” Peskov’s comment in a conference call with reporters followed the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement accusing the Ukrainian authorities of stage-managing what it described as a “provocation” to smear Russia.

Ukrainian authorities have said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in areas outside the Ukrainian capital after last week’s withdrawal of Russian troops, many with bound hands, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture. International leaders have condemned the reported atrocities and called for tougher sanctions against Moscow.

Peskov said that photo and video materials from the area reflected unspecified “manipulations” and urged international leaders to carefully analyze the facts and hear the Russian arguments before rushing to blame Moscow.

Russia has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council but the U.K. which currently chairs it refused to convene it, according to Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian envoy at the international organization’s offices in Vienna.

Peskov said that Russia will keep pushing for the meeting, noting that Russia wants the issue to be discussed at the highest level.
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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says Russian troops’ alleged atrocities against civilians in Ukraine should be judged in an international court and may amount to genocide.
Sánchez said Monday: “I hope that everything possible can be done so that those behind these war crimes don’t go unpunished, and that they can appear before the courts, in this case the

International Criminal Court, to answer these alleged cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes and, why not say it, of genocide, too.”

He was speaking at an economic forum in Madrid after Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been found in areas outside the capital Kyiv after last week’s withdrawal of Russian troops. Many had their hands bound, close-range gunshot wounds and signs of torture.

Sánchez said he felt indignation at “the horror of these deaths that we have seen in recent days.”

Also in Spain on Monday U.S. federal agents and Spain’s Civil Guard searched a yacht owned by a Russian oligarch that was docked on a Spanish island.

The law enforcement officers boarded the yacht at the Marina Real in the port of Palma de Mallorca, the capital of Spain’s Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Associated Press reporters at the scene saw police going in and out of the boat on Monday morning.

A Civil Guard source told The Associated Press that the yacht named Tango is a 78-meter (254-feet) vessel that carries Cook Islands flag and that Superyachtfan.com, a specialized website that tracks the world’s largest and most exclusive recreational boats, values it at $120 million. The source was not authorized to be named in media reports and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The yacht is among the assets linked to Viktor Vekselberg, a billionaire and close ally with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who heads the Moscow-based Renova Group, a conglomerate encompassing metals, mining, tech and other assets, according to U.S. Treasury Department documents. All of Vekselberg’s assets in the U.S. are frozen and U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with him and his entities.
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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s prime minister has described Russia as a “totalitarian fascist” state that has carried out atrocities against civilians in Ukraine.

Mateusz Morawiecki called Monday for an international commission to be formed to investigate the evidence emerging that Russian soldiers carried out executions of Ukrainian civilians.

“Russia is already a totalitarian-fascist state today,” Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference in Warsaw.

“The bloody massacres perpetrated by Russian soldiers deserve to be called by name: This is genocide and this crime must be tried as the crime of genocide,” Morawiecki said.
He called on other Western powers to impose even heavier sanctions on Russia in order to weaken its war machine, saying that Germany in particular should do more to support sanctions.
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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the photos of bodies scattered in a city on the outskirts of Kyiv “recall the mass killings by Soviet and Nazi regimes.”

“This is not a battlefield, it’s a crime scene. Mass killings of Ukrainian civilians by #Russia are clear war crime,” Kallas said on Twitter and called for “a 5th round of strong EU sanctions as soon as possible.”

The Baltic country’s Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said the pictures from Bucha are “appalling,” the Baltic News Service reported.
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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “with utmost strength” the reported torture and killings of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops in an interview Monday on France-Inter radio.

“There is clear evidence of war crimes. It was the Russian army that was in Bucha,” Macron said. “We have told Ukrainian authorities that we were at their disposal to help with the investigation they’re carrying out. International justice must prevail. Those who committed these crimes will have to answer for them.”

Macron joined leaders from around the world who are calling for stronger sanctions in response to the reports.

“What just happened in Bucha calls for a new round of sanctions and very clear measures. We will coordinate with our European partners, especially Germany and we will take further individual measures,” Macron said. “In particular on coal and petrol, we need to act.”
“It is our collective dignity and it is our values that we need to defend,” he added.
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LONDON — Britain’s Defense Ministry says Russia is continuing to build up both its soldiers and mercenaries in eastern Ukraine.

“Russian forces are continuing to consolidate and reorganize as they refocus their offensive into the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine,” the ministry said in an intelligence update posted on social media Monday.

It says Russian troops are being moved into the area, along with mercenaries from the Wagner private military group.

Overnight, the U.K. said Russia was still trying to take the southern port city of Mariupol, which has seen weeks of intense fighting. It said “the city continues to be subject to intense, indiscriminate strikes, but Ukrainian Forces maintain a staunch resistance, retaining control in central areas.”

The update added that “Mariupol is almost certainly a key objective of the Russian invasion as it will secure a land corridor from Russia to the occupied territory of Crimea,” which it annexed in 2014.
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This was corrected to show that the Serbian president’s first name is spelled Aleksandar.

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