US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2023 (AFP/Thomas KIENZLE)
US Vice President Kamala Harris has accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” for the first time since it began invading Ukraine almost a year ago, and warned those responsible “must be held accountable”.
In her speech at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Ms. Harris, a former prosecutor, performed a chilling tally of abuses attributed to Moscow, citing systematic bombings of civilians and critical infrastructure, torture and rape attributed to Russian soldiers , as well as the deportations of Ukrainians to Russia, including thousands of children separated from their families.
“We’ve looked at the evidence, we know the legal standards and there’s no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” she said.
Since the invasion began, the United States has documented or listed more than 30,600 war crimes cases committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, the US State Department said.
US Vice President Kamala Harris (R) and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2023 in Munich ( AFP / Thomas KIENZLE )
During a press conference on the sidelines of the conference, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba praised the American position and again accused Moscow of a “genocidal war” in Ukraine.
However, he said he feared it would not be possible to collect enough evidence to prosecute “specific individuals” who committed “atrocities”.
Kiev has called for the creation of a special tribunal to try Russia’s top officials, but its precise form raises complex legal questions.
– Risks that “Putin wins” –
G7 chiefs of diplomacy, gathered on the sidelines of the Munich conference, reiterated their “unwavering solidarity with Ukraine for as long as necessary” in a parallel statement almost a year after the start of the Russian invasion. February 24, 2022.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had previously warned of Ukraine’s defeat while Russia was in the process of mobilizing “hundreds of thousands of soldiers”.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the Munich Security Conference on February 18, 2023 (AFP / Odd ANDERSEN)
“The biggest risk of all is that Putin wins. If Putin wins in Ukraine, the message for him and other authoritarian leaders will be that they can use force to get what they want,” he warned.
French President Emmanuel Macron has certainly reiterated that he wants “the defeat” of Moscow, but has warned those who want to “above all smash Russia” which will “never” be “France’s position”.
“I am convinced that in the end it will not end militarily,” he said in an interview with a group of journalists in Munich. “All options except Vladimir Putin within the current system” seem “worse” to him than the Russian president, he added.
The Munich meeting also allowed for an interview between the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, during which the foreign minister warned of the “impact and consequences” for China if it was found to be providing “material support” to Russia in his war in Ukraine, according to the State Department.
Earlier, Kamala Harris said her country was “troubled by the fact that Beijing has deepened its ties with Moscow since the beginning of the war.”
“Any attempt by China to provide lethal support to Russia would only reward aggression, continue the killing and further undermine a rules-based order,” the vice president warned.
– “A political issue”
The Europeans are also hoping to persuade Beijing to use its influence over the Kremlin’s master to end the war.
China must “play a responsible role” in the current situation, said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Wang Yi presented his country as an advocate of “peace” and repeated in Munich that it was up to Moscow and Kiev to “sit around the table and find a “political” solution to the conflict”.
There are no signs of easing in the conflict, in which Russian forces have seized nearly a fifth of Ukraine’s territory and claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides.
On Saturday, the Russian army claimed a rare capture of a location in the Kharkiv region of north-eastern Ukraine, where its troops have been on the offensive for several weeks in parallel with their offensives around Bakhmout and Vougledar.
The general mood on the Allied and Ukrainian sides is that the war is likely to be prolonged, as Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz had already assessed on Friday on the first day of the conference, which is due to end on Sunday.
That’s why it’s important to “double our efforts” in supporting Kiev military by speeding up the production of standard weapons like ammunition that Kiev “urgently needs,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
According to diplomatic sources in Brussels, EU members are currently exploring ways to make joint purchases of ammunition for Ukraine.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on February 18, 2023 at the Munich Security Conference (POOL/Sven Hoppe)
The allies are supporting the Ukrainians with financial, humanitarian and military aid, including heavy Western tanks, albeit slow to land, and drastic economic sanctions against Russia.