Russian officials on Friday said President Biden was lobbing “personal insults” at Russian President Vladimir Putin by describing him as a “war criminal,” with the Kremlin suggesting that it will view Biden’s comments as being driven by “forgetfulness” and “fatigue.”
“We hear and see statements that are actually personal insults to President Putin,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
“Given such irritability from Mr. Biden, his fatigue and sometimes forgetfulness…fatigue that leads to aggressive statements, we will not make harsh assessments, so as to not cause more aggression,” Peskov said.
Biden this week described Putin as a “murderous dictator,” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that he agrees that war crimes are being committed in Ukraine.
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Biden condemned Russia’s invasion on Wednesday and announced that the U.S. was sending $800 million in military aid to Ukraine. That package includes anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons, body armor, guns and drones.
“Putin is inflicting appalling, appalling devastation and horror on Ukraine, bombing apartment buildings, maternity wards, hospitals. I mean, it’s god-awful,” Biden said. “The world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing that the president’s remarks “speak for themselves” but said that a legal process is underway at the State Department.
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“He was speaking from his heart and speaking from what we’ve seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country,” Psaki said.
Peskov initially responded to Biden’s comments saying they were “unforgivable,” according to the Russian media outlet TASS.
“We consider unacceptable and unforgivable such rhetoric of the head of state, whose bombs killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” Peskov said.
Until Wednesday, Biden had resisted calling the Russian president a war criminal, even as multiple lawmakers called for Putin to be investigated for war crimes.
The Senate this week approved a resolution that will investigate Putin for war crimes, and Blinken said U.S. findings will be used to help international efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable.
Blinken wouldn’t comment on how Putin’s deadly invasion in Ukraine will affect U.S.-Russian relations down the road but said, “Our focus is on ending this war.”
“I don’t want to speculate about the future, but there’s going to have to be, one way or another, accountability for this war of aggression,” he added.
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The secretary’s comments came as Russian forces continue to bombard cities and towns across Ukraine, targeting not only military sites but also civilian shelters.
Since the onslaught of the war three weeks ago, Russian forces have hit apartment buildings, children’s and maternity hospitals, bread lines and most recently a theater in the besieged city of Mariupol that was sheltering roughly 1,000 men, women and children.
Russian forces have also been accused of using cluster munitions and vacuum bombs in the war, which violate international law when used indiscriminately against civilians.
About 700 civilians have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, but the United Nations says the actual number is likely much higher.
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The International Criminal Court said earlier this month that it is opening an investigation into potential war crimes by Putin in his invasion of Ukraine.