US vice president Kamala Harris has accused Russia of committing “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine.
Western leaders convened at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, where Ms Harris accused Vladimir Putin’s forces of pursuing “a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population”.
She said these involved “gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and deportation” since the war began nearly one year ago.
She added: “Russian authorities have forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of people, from Ukraine to Russia, including children. They have cruelly separated children from their families.”
“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt. These are crimes against humanity.”
Ms Harris called the atrocities committed in Bucha “barbaric and inhumane.”
Ms Harris also met British prime minister Rishi Sunak at the conference, using the event to declare that Britain was one of America’s “greatest allies”.
Mr Sunak said: “There could be no better illustration of that than our joint response to the awful conflict in Ukraine where we stood together and led, I think, the world in providing steadfast support to Ukraine so it can defend itself and push back against Russian aggression.”
In a speech in Munich, Mr Sunak also made the case for increasing support for Ukraine, saying: “Ukraine needs more artillery, armoured vehicles and air defences, so now is the time to double down on our military support.”
He added: “When Putin started this war, he gambled that our resolve would falter. Even now he is betting we will lose our nerve. But we proved him wrong then, and we will prove him wrong now.”
Currently the British government is debating whether to provide Ukraine with military aircraft. So far, the prime minster has only been willing to say he has not ruled it out. However, defence scretary Ben Wallace seemed more sceptical -saying that the move could be years away, if it happened at all.
Any deal giving British plans to Ukraine would be complicated with other countries having to sign off on the move.
Some experts have also suggested British planes would not be the most suitable option for Ukraine. Instead, they suggest that Polish aircraft could be quicker to deploy in combat since they are more similar to Ukranian jets, so would not require as much training for Ukranian pilots to use.
German chancellor Olaf Scholz and France’s president Emmanuel Macron also used speeches to emphasise the need for strong continued support for Ukraine to enable the country to defeat Russian aggression. However, Mr Macron also suggested that ultimately the war would end in negotiation – even if now was not the time to talk peace talks with Mr Putin.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky urged the countries supporting Ukraine to act faster.
Addressing the conference via video link Mr Zelensky said: “We need to hurry up, we need speed – speed of our agreements, speed of our delivery… speed of decisions to limit Russian potential.”
The comments took place against the backdrop of Russia’s renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine. However, attempts at a breakthrough seem to have ground to a halt.
Speaking to the Financial Times Mr Wallace said that Russian “meat grinder” tactics meant that their frontlines were “advancing, if at all, in metres not kilometres”.
“There is no evidence to date of a great, big Russian offensive. What we have seen is an advance on all fronts, but at the expense of thousands of lives . . . We should actually question the assertion that they can go on.”
Ms Harris also said that Russia had been “weakened” by the war in her speech at the security conference.
However, worries are reportedly growing that China might increase its support for Russia up to and including lethal military aid. US officials have shared intelligence with allies and partners at the conference suggesting China is adopting a more agressive atittude, according to reporting by CNN.
US secretary of state Anthony Blinken warned China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, that China would face consequences if it provided any material support for Russia’s invasion. The “candid” one hour conversation took place on the sidelines of the security conference.
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