When President Joe Biden informed the world from Warsaw on March 26 that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” the White House shortly sought to downplay the U.S. chief’s remarks, noting that Biden’s remarks weren’t a name for “regime change” in Moscow.
But Biden then informed reporters he was “not walking back anything,” and that his phrases had been an expression of his “moral outrage” on the atrocities he believed a person he is branded a “war criminal” has been answerable for all through the continued struggle in Ukraine.
The president doubled down on these accusations on Monday, after photos emerged purporting to point out massacres dedicated by withdrawing Russian troops within the Ukrainian cities of Bucha and Trostyanets. Russia has denied committing atrocities.
“You may remember I got criticized for calling Putin a war criminal,” Biden informed reporters on the White House garden. “You saw what happened in Bucha…he is a war criminal.”
“But we have to gather the information,” added, “we have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight, and we have to get all the detail so this can be an actual…wartime trial.”
Asked if Putin himself ought to need to reply for such allegations, Biden stated “he should be held accountable.”
And whereas the Biden administration insists there has not been any elementary shift in Washington’s coverage, a concerted effort to collect proof of alleged Russian wrongdoing within the battle and maintain officers, together with Putin himself, accountable, marks the primary time in additional than three a long time of Russia’s post-Soviet historical past and greater than 20 years of Putin’s personal rule that the U.S. was brazenly in search of to impose towards the Kremlin prices that might convey into query the legitimacy of its management.
The implications of such a historic shift are unsure, although rife with dangers that will problem relations between two nations that collectively maintain round 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.
Putin has additionally lengthy portrayed undesirable U.S. insurance policies towards his nation as an effort to erode his energy and Russia’s personal place on the world stage.
Rajan Menon, who serves as director of the grand technique program on the Defense Priorities suppose tank, senior analysis fellow on the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University and professor emeritus on the City College of New York, informed Newsweek that the “outrage” expressed by the Biden administration over latest experiences of mass killings of civilians in Bucha and Trostyanets in addition to the “human catastrophe” surrounding Russia’s siege of Mariupol “are understandable—indeed appropriate.”
“Moreover, the anger will grow because more horrific incidents will likely come to light,” he added. “That said, there are two consequences to keep in mind as the president of the United States calls for regime change in Russia — even without using that term —and Putin’s trial as a war criminal.”
Menon stated the primary such consequence is that “Biden will be hard-pressed to reject calls for additional military steps, such as a no-fly zone, because those calling for them will ask why he’s holding back when he himself has recognized and condemned the atrocities, and said that Putin should no longer be in power and should indeed be tried for war crimes.”
“Yet deeper U.S. military involvement is not without risks,” Menon stated. “[It’s] important to consider when the other side happens to be the world’s other nuclear superpower.”
Menon stated the second order of fallout is the “tension between stark denunciations of Russia and the United States’ ability to facilitate a diplomatic settlement of the war — on terms acceptable to Ukraine, of course — whenever that time comes.”
“U.S. involvement may prove important, but Moscow may balk,” Menon added. “Can you imagine a Biden-Putin phone call, let alone a face-to-face meeting?”
Officials in Moscow have depicted the precipitous downturn in relations between the 2 because the fault of Washington.
Following Biden’s speech in Poland, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova informed reporters final Tuesday that Putin’s administration was nonetheless curious about conducting diplomacy with the U.S. and that “even during the most controversial times we reaffirmed our desire to build equitable relations with Washington.”
“If their choice is what we are seeing and which obviously leads to the destruction of bilateral relations, then they will bear responsibility for this,” Zakharova stated.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov informed Reuters shortly after Biden’s remarks that Putin’s destiny was “not for Biden to decide” as “the president of Russia is elected by Russians.”
China, the highest rival of the U.S. and main strategic companion of Russia, additionally took word of Biden’s feedback.
In a March 28 tweet, the Chinese ambassador to Malta, Yu Dunhai, stated it was “reasonable to think” that Biden’s name for Putin to depart energy was “not just a slip of the tongue.” Rather, the envoy stated “it reveals the true intentions of the US on Ukraine war, namely killing 3 birds with 1 stone: -a regime change -a much weakened Russia -a more dependent Europe.”
The U.S. has a protracted historical past of making an attempt to unseat unfavorable world leaders by pressure, and, even when this fails, Washington has tapped right into a broad arsenal of financial and diplomatic measures to keep up strain towards foes.
Putin grew to become certainly one of solely eight heads of state to be blacklisted by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in February, days after he launched the struggle towards Ukraine following failed negotiations with the U.S. and NATO over their army presence in Eastern Europe and Kyiv’s bid to hitch the alliance.
Of this quick listing, solely 4 others — President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un of North Korea, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela — had been really first hit with sanctions whereas main their respective nations.
U.S. ties with nuclear-armed North Korea have additionally been advanced, particularly so after then-President Donald Trump took the unprecedented step of assembly Kim as a part of an abortive denuclearization-for-peace course of. But the Biden administration has repeatedly made clear it didn’t view Lukashenko, Assad or Maduro as legit leaders and has actively backed those that wished to overthrow them.
All 4 of the sanctioned leaders are nonetheless in energy.
Moscow’s personal huge nuclear weapon stockpile, its inside stability and its standing as a everlasting member of the United Nations Security Council severely restrict U.S. choices to problem Putin’s rule, even when the State Department has amped up criticism of Putin’s imprisonment of opposition chief Alexey Navalny.
Russia’s energy and affect, even within the face of the U.S. and European Union-led coalition of sanctions towards the nation, additionally make it unlikely that Putin or his prime officers would really face felony accountability in boards such because the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
“Leaving aside the question of whether those responsible for the Russian atrocities in Ukraine should be held accountable — and in the abstract, they should be — the probability of Putin or anyone from his inner circle being tried by the ICC, from whose founding treaty Russia withdrew in 2016, or any other international tribunal, is remote at best,” Menon stated.
The White House didn’t instantly reply to Newsweek’s request for remark.
But Biden’s nationwide safety adviser, Jake Sullivan, informed reporters Monday that the U.S. was consulting with companions and allies on a mechanism to pursue Putin, noting that the ICC was “one venue where war crimes have been tried in the past, but there have been other examples in other conflicts of other mechanisms being set up.”
“So, there is work to be done to work out the specifics of that,” he added. “And between now and then, every day, what we are focused on is continuing to apply pressure to the Russian economy and provide weapons to the Ukrainian people to be able to defend themselves.”
The White House has additionally deflected such measures towards residents of the U.S. and allied nations, with the Trump administration going as far as to impose sanctions towards ICC officers in response to an try to probe potential struggle crimes dedicated by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Biden administration lifted these sanctions final yr, however voiced stark opposition to any effort for the ICC to analyze Israel for potential violations of worldwide legislation dedicated towards Palestinians of their long-running battle.
And, in contrast to the shifting tides of the U.S. political system, Putin is ready to remain in energy for a while, with a change in legislation permitting him to run for an additional sequence of back-to-back four-year phrases in 2024, the identical yr Biden faces a doubtlessly arduous presidential contest of his personal, one Russia state-run media shops have publicly expressed hope would return Trump to energy.
Even within the face of the tightening sanctions his struggle in Ukraine has introduced his nation, latest polling from the impartial, Moscow-based Levada Center has reported a considerable uptick in home help for Putin, bringing his favorability to 83%.
No matter how deep the rift between Washington and Moscow will get, the 2 sides seem fated to cope with each other for the foreseeable future.
“Will the calls for such trials make U.S. relations with Russia even worse?” Menon requested rhetorically. “Yes,” he stated.
“Will they nevertheless continue?” he added. “Yes.”