U.S. Believes 'Russia's Forces Have Committed War Crimes in Ukraine'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is "committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions"

Zelenskyy and Putin, with Antony Blinken
From L to R: Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Antony Blinken, Vladimir Putin.

The United States has officially accused the Russian military of war crimes amid the country's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

In a Wednesday press statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in part, "Since launching his unprovoked and unjust war of choice, Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Ukraine," before going on to detail some specifics of the devastation.

"Today, I can announce that, based on information currently available, the U.S. government assesses that members of Russia's forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine," he added.

Blinken, 59, said that the U.S. government's "assessment is based on a careful review of available information from public and intelligence sources" and noted in addition that, "as with any alleged crime, a court of law with jurisdiction over the crime is ultimately responsible for determining criminal guilt in specific cases."

"The U.S. government will continue to track reports of war crimes and will share information we gather with allies, partners, and international institutions and organizations, as appropriate," he added. "We are committed to pursuing accountability using every tool available, including criminal prosecutions."

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Blinken's statement comes just over a week after U.S. President Joe Biden accused Putin, 69, of committing war crimes.

"I think he is a war criminal," Biden, 79, said on March 16 during a brief exchange with a reporter at the White House, marking the first time his administration has so explicitly defined the actions of Russian forces in their attacks on Ukraine.

"The president's remarks speak for themselves," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said after Biden spoke at an event about preventing violence against women.

The president, said Psaki, 43, was "speaking from the heart" and "responding to what he has seen on television."

"We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts, by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians," she said.

The Kremlin called Biden's accusation against Putin "unforgivable."

Russia has repeatedly denied targeting civilian sites in Ukraine, despite the reports of bombings at hospitals, residences and other non-military areas.

RELATED VIDEO: As Russia's Invasion of Ukraine Continues, Citizens Around the World Still Manage to Uplift Each Other

Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after their forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades.

Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. Millions of Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

"You don't know where to go, where to run, who you have to call. This is just panic," Liliya Marynchak, a 45-year-old teacher in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, told PEOPLE of the moment her city was bombed — one of numerous accounts of bombardment by the Russians.

The invasion, ordered by Putin, has drawn condemnation around the world and increasingly severe economic sanctions against Russia.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Joshua Roberts/Getty; Mikhail Svetlov/Getty

With NATO forces massing in the region around Ukraine, various countries have also pledged aid or military support to the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for peace talks — so far unsuccessful — while urging his country to fight back.

Putin insists Ukraine has historic ties to Russia and he is acting in the best security interests of his country. Zelenskyy, 44, vowed not to bend.

"Nobody is going to break us, we're strong, we're Ukrainians," he told the European Union in a speech in the early days of the fighting, adding, "Life will win over death. And light will win over darkness."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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