President Joe Biden appeared to call Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “genocide”, calling the increasingly bloody conflict a serious crime against humanity for the first time.
Biden made the comment Tuesday in Iowa while announcing new initiatives to reduce the cost of energy, which has skyrocketed after Russia’s attack on Ukraine. The president, who previously backed off from remarks about Russia, now joins others who have said Russia’s aggression amounts to genocide.
“Your family budget, your ability to fuel up — none of that should hinge on a dictator declaring war and committing genocide on the other side of the world,” Biden said at an event at Menlo, Iowa.
During his speech, Biden touted the steps his administration has taken to bring record inflation and gasoline prices under control. Federal figures released earlier on Tuesday showed the year-over-year consumer inflation rate for March jumped 8.5%. The average price of a gallon of gas is currently $4.10, up 43% from a year ago, according to AAA.
Biden said he was talking about “Putin’s price hike”, a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said he was authorizing the release of 1 million barrels a day for the next six months from the strategic petroleum reserve in a bid to bring down the price of gas.
“This is by far the largest release of our national reserves in history,” he said. “It’s a wartime bridge to boost oil supply as we work with US oil producers to increase production this year.”
Biden also said the US Environmental Protection Agency was preparing to issue an emergency waiver to allow the use of more ethanol in gas products in a bid to boost fuel supply.
Last month, the notoriously gaffe-prone Biden walked back a comment that Putin “can’t stay in power,” which seemed to call for regime change in Russia. The White House followed with a statement saying Biden’s view was that Putin “cannot be allowed to wield power over his neighbors or the region.”
Biden later told reporters that his remarks were an expression of his “moral outrage” at the invasion, adding that he viewed Putin as a “war criminal”.
The United States and other officials have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine after reports emerged that Russia deliberately targeted civilians.
By calling Putin’s actions “genocide”, Biden accuses the Russian leader of a serious crime under international law. The term was developed to describe Nazi Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jewish people during the Holocaust. It has since been used by the United Nations to describe attempts to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
Eugene Finkel, a Holocaust expert, said Newsweek earlier this month that “I am in fact firmly convinced that we are dealing with genocide”.
Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, also accused Putin of “genocide” after scores of civilian bodies were found in the town of Bucha after Russian troops withdrew.
Newsweek contacted the Russian government and the White House for comment.