Kamala Harris sends warning to Putin over ‘crimes against humanity’ in Munich speech

Vladimir Putin has been warned over “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine in a scathing speech by US Vice President Kamala Harris. Leaning on her career as a prosecutor, she said the United States had “examined the evidence” and determined Russia was guilty of “crimes against humanity”.

Harris vowed to hold guilty Russians and their superiors accountable for crimes including execution-style killings, rape, torture and forceful deportations, including against children.

She referenced bodies lying in the street in the Ukrainian town of Bucha following a massacre there and a sexual assault of a four-year-old girl by a Russian soldier which she called “barbaric and inhumane”.

“Their actions are an assault on our common values, an attack on our common humanity,” the Vice President added.

She said: “Think of image of the pregnant mother who was killed following a strike at a maternity hospital where she was preparing to give birth.

“We know the legal standards and there is no doubt. These are crimes against humanity. The United States has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity.

“And I say, to all those who have perpetrated these crimes and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes: you will be held to account.”

Harris added: “Let us all agree: on behalf of all the victims, both known and unknown: justice must be served.”

The comments are one of the most forceful declarations yet from the West which is grappling with how to punish the Russians responsible for atrocities in Ukraine.

Crimes against humanity are considered broader than war crimes, but not as specific as the international crime of genocide.

“In contrast with genocide, crimes against humanity do not need to target a specific group,” according to the United Nations.

“Instead, the victim of the attack can be any civilian population, regardless of its affiliation or identity. Another important distinction is that in the case of crimes against humanity, it is not necessary to prove that there is an overall specific intent.”

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Still, the Vice President’s comments escalate America’s judicial support for Ukraine.

Crimes against humanity are adjudicated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other international bodies, although Russians would need to be extradited to face prosecution there.

Russia and the United States are not party to the ICC, and it is hard to imagine any Russian war criminals being given over to the court willingly.

Kamala Harris also noted the “strategic interests” of the West in combating Putin’s aggression, saying no country could be safe if one nation can violate another’s with impunity in an apparent nod to China and its ambitions for Taiwan.

She also noted Chinese support for Russia which she said “troubled” the United States.

As if to punctuate her speech, Russian forces in the Black Sea today launched ballistic missile strikes on the Ukrainian city of Khmelnytskyi.

In a Telegram post, head of the region’s military administration Serhiy Hamaliy said the strikes had damaged civilian buildings and cars.

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“Two civilians have asked for medical help, a man and a woman. The man who received a shrapnel wound was inside the bus at the time. They both are in stable condition, and received necessary medical assistance,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also addressed the attack, calling Russia a “terrorist state” on Telegram.

The front lines in Ukraine have been relatively static since two large counteroffensives by Kyiv in Kharkiv and Kherson last autumn.

However, fierce fighting is ongoing at the eastern front, particularly in and around the city of Bakhmut. Russia has made capturing the city a priority and has suffered heavy casualities trying to take the town.

The West has promised Ukraine tanks, including 14 Challenger 2s from the UK. Ukraine will likely attempt to use the weapons to stymie any Russia attacks and to launch their own spring offensive.

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