The US has stepped up its war of words with Russia, accusing the Kremlin of a war crime for directing its troops to attack Ukraine’s nuclear reactor.
The statement, published on the US Embassy in Ukraine’s Twitter account, accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of mounting a “reign of terror’ in its stalled bid to seize control of Ukraine.
The statement went further than any previous US characterisation of Russia’s actions since the invasion began on February 24.
“It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” US Embassy Kyiv said in its post.
“Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further,”
Russian forces seized the nuclear power plant in heavy fighting in southeastern Ukraine, triggering global alarm, but a blaze in a training building was extinguished and officials said the facility was now safe.
Russia’s defence ministry blamed a fire at the plant on a “monstrous attack” by Ukrainian saboteurs and said its forces were in control.
Ukrainian sources counter-charged that technicians at the Zaporizhzhia plant are being forced to work at the point of a gun.
Rights groups have alleged violations of international war crimes law in Ukraine, including the targeting of civilians, as well as indiscriminate attacks on schools and hospitals.
On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden stopped short of calling Russia’s actions war crimes, saying, “It’s too early to say that.”
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Friday said he would leave that determination to the International Criminal Court.
“This just underscores how reckless the Russian invasion has been and how indiscriminate their targeting seems to be. It just raises the level of potential catastrophe to a level that nobody wants to see,” Kirby said in an interview with CNN.
Britain has publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government of war crimes.
The ICC, the world’s top war crimes prosecutor, on the request of 39 member states, is currently investigating reports of cluster bombs and artillery strikes on Ukrainian cities.
Karim Khan, a British lawyer named as the chief prosecutor of the ICC last year, said the crisis in Ukraine is a chance to demonstrate that those committing war crimes would be held to account.
Intentionally targeting civilians and civilian objects is a war crime, a US State Department spokesperson said, adding that it is backing the investigation, particularly Khan’s efforts to preserve evidence of possible atrocity crimes.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has strongly denied claims that Russian forces have struck civilian infrastructure targets or residential complexes.
– with AAP