Days after President Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, the Kremlin issued a stern and harsh threat to their enemies and the United States, further heightening tensions amid the Ukrainian war.

Former Russian President and now Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev delivered said threat, claiming that the US was being “Russophobic” towards their country and was actively trying to tear their country apart through economic sanctions and coalition building. He also accused other Western nations of doing the same.

Medvedev stated that the actions of the United States were “disgusting” and that all attempts made to destroy their country would “not work.”

“It will not work – Russia has the might to put all of our brash enemies in their place,” Medvedev stated.

In response to Biden claiming that Putin was a war criminal, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov called the words “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric” and insisted that their invasion was going to plan.

Peskov said that Biden’s remarks were “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric on the part of the head of a state whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

Two days ago a reporter asked Biden if he would be ready to call Putin a war criminal, and he simply said “No.” After walking around, he turned back to the reporter to clarify his statement and claimed, “Oh, I think he is a war criminal.” These comments come after he learned of the Mariupol Drama Theater bombing which was being used as a civilian shelter, which appears to have been deliberately bombed by Russians.

In an attempt to rationalize the bombing, Peskov claimed that the Russian forces did not target the Drama Theater and that it was rigged with mines and subsequently blown up by Ukraine’s far-right Azov Battalion. The battalion was believed to have killed the fourth Russian general Maj. Gen. Oleg Mityaev, a 46-year-old commander of Russia’s 150th Motorized Rifle Division.

In defense of Biden, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told the media that the President was just speaking from his heart and that there was a formal process for determining who is a war criminal and who is not.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview with CBS News, was asked about Biden’s statement and said that he personally agreed to the President’s views on Putin.

“Personally, I agree. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all of the past destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise,” he said.

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A day after the incident, President Biden called Putin a “murderous dictator, a pure thug who’s waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine,” while speaking at the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on St. Patrick’s Day on March 17.

While Biden did call Putin a war criminal, Psaki also explained that there was a formal method of determining who was a war criminal. This comes after the US Senate on March 15 had unanimously passed a resolution condemning Putin as a war criminal. The resolution was said to be introduced by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. It was heavily supported by both Republicans and Democrats in a rare showing of unity in what is a deeply divided chamber.

“All of us in this chamber joined together, with Democrats and Republicans, to say that Vladimir Putin cannot escape accountability for the atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) previously announced that it had initiated investigations on the alleged war crimes Russia may or may have committed during the three-week-old war, which has seen heavy targeting of evacuees and civilians. It was said that 39 nations endorsed the investigation.

Technically, specific crimes and grave breaches of international law such as those agreed upon during the Geneva Conventions are required to be proven before a person can be called a war criminal. Such rules, treaties, and laws govern how wars should be fought and establish red lines that are not to be crossed, specifically regarding civilians and wounded troops who can no longer fight.

Such grave breaches include killing and destruction of property which are not deemed necessary, targeting civilians, torture, taking hostages, killing a surrendered combatant, using civilians as shields, and using certain chemical and biological weapons, to name a few.

The ICC can investigate such cases (like it is currently doing) and prosecute crimes against humanity. The United Nations can also function as an investigatory body and possibly function as a tribunal to prosecute alleged war criminals. Some countries also have their own methods and laws governing war criminals and may start investigating them independently.

The only problem with trying to prosecute war criminals in international tribunals is that countries can choose to ignore the legitimacy of such bodies and refuse to participate in said trials if they’re not captured. For example, both Russia and the US do not recognize the authority of the International Criminal Court, and it would be unlikely that both countries (hypothetically) would voluntarily send their officials to be prosecuted on foreign land. In the U.S. the issue is related to sovereignty and whether international bodies can claim legal jurisdiction over U.S. citizens inside the U.S. who do not consent to be governed by international courts or tribunals.

However, it is known that war criminals have been prosecuted before on the world stage. Such occasions include the Nuremberg trials, which prosecuted Nazis for the Holocaust, and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, which prosecuted Japan for their atrocities during World War II.

Some high-profile heads of state who were successfully tried were Former Liberian President Charles G. Taylor. He was convicted of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity in 2012. Another is former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić, who was subsequently found guilty of genocide in 2016.

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