President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” Wednesday, a rhetorical leap that came as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine.
It was the harshest condemnation of Putin’s actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as “war crimes,” citing ongoing international and US investigations.
But on Wednesday, speaking with reporters at an unrelated event, Biden affixed the designation on the Russian leader.
“I think he is a war criminal,” the President said after remarks at the White House.
The shift from the administration’s previous stance came after an emotional address to Congress from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who aired a video showing Ukrainians suffering amid Russia’s onslaught. Zelensky asked American lawmakers and Biden for more help defending itself, including a no-fly zone and fighter jets.