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Biden refers to Russian invasion of Ukraine as 'genocide'

U.S. President Joe Biden referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a "genocide" on Tuesday, the first time he's publicly done so since the start of the war. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, resurfaced on Tuesday to defend his "noble" invasion of Ukraine.

Putin is 'trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian': U.S. president

Biden calls Russia's war in Ukraine 'genocide'

4 months ago
Duration 0:34
U.S. President Joe Biden said prices shouldn't depend on 'whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away.' It's the first time he's referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a genocide.

U.S. President Joe Biden referred to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a "genocide" on Tuesday, the first time he's publicly done so since the start of the war.

"Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide a half a world away," he said in Iowa, where he announced a modest step aimed at trimming gasoline prices.

Biden later stood by his characterization of Russia's actions in Ukraine.

"I called it genocide because it has become clearer and clearer that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian, and the evidence is mounting," he told reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington.

"We'll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me."

Biden's comments drew praise from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who had encouraged Western leaders to use the term to describe Russia's invasion of his country.

Under international law, genocide is an intent to destroy — in whole or in part — a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. According to the United Nations, this includes through killings, serious bodily or mental harm, and inflicting lethal conditions and measures to prevent births, among other means.

A woman pulls her bags past houses damaged during fighting in Mariupol, Ukraine, on April 8. Putin has shown defiance toward Western sanctions imposed in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Alexei Alexandrov/The Associated Press)

Genocide, considered the most serious international offence, was first used to describe the Holocaust. It was established in 1948 as a crime under international law in a United Nations convention.

Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. State Department has formally used the term seven times. These were to describe massacres in Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq and Darfur; the Islamic State's attacks on Yazidis and other minorities; China's treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslims and, this year, over the Myanmar army's persecution of the Rohingya. China denies the genocide claims.

At the State Department, such a determination normally follows a meticulous internal process. Still, the final decision is up to the secretary of state, who weighs whether the move would advance U.S. interests, officials said.

Biden has made a handful of statements about the war that U.S. officials have later had to walk back. The president stirred controversy on a recent trip to Poland when he ad-libbed a line at the end of a speech and said that Putin should not be allowed to remain in power. The White House clarified that U.S. policy was not to seek regime change.

Putin defends invasion

Putin, who had largely vanished from public view since his forces were driven from the approaches to Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, this month, resurfaced on Tuesday to defend his "noble" invasion of Ukraine and said peace talks had come to a dead end.

In a press event inside the Vostochny space base in the Russian Far East, six time zones from Moscow, Putin rattled off talking points: that Moscow had "no choice" but to intervene to protect separatists, defeat neo-Nazis and "help people."

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, and Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin listen during Putin's visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome, in the Amur region of Russia's Far East, on Tuesday. (Yevgeny Biyatov/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia's economy was standing on its feet despite Western sanctions, he added, and said signs of war crimes allegedly carried out by Russian troops were fakes staged by the West. As for talks: "We have again returned to a dead-end situation for us."

Putin was accompanied by his ally, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, to mark the anniversary of Soviet success in launching the first manned space flight.

Asked by Russian space agency workers if the operation in Ukraine would achieve its goals, Putin said, "Absolutely. I don't have any doubt at all.

"Its goals are absolutely clear and noble," he said. "We didn't have a choice. It was the right decision."

Russia, he said, would "rhythmically and calmly" continue its operation.

Peace talks

Putin, who had been ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war, has largely retreated from public view since Moscow pulled its forces out of northern Ukraine this month.

His only public appearance in the past week was at the funeral of a nationalist lawmaker, where he gave brief remarks and did not directly address the war. On Monday, he met the visiting chancellor of Austria at a country residence outside Moscow, but no images of that meeting were released.

In the strongest signal to date that the war will grind on for longer, Putin on Tuesday said Kyiv had derailed peace talks by staging what he said were fake claims of Russian war crimes and by demanding security guarantees to cover the whole of Ukraine.

"We have again returned to a dead-end situation for us," he said.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, when asked about the comments by Putin, said negotiations were very hard but they were continuing.

Podolyak also told Reuters that Russia was trying to put pressure on the talks with its public statements and that negotiations were continuing at the level of working sub-groups.

With files from The Associated Press

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