Russia’s Massacre in Mariupol – WSJ

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People walk near a block of flats which was destroyed during Ukraine-Russia conflict in the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, March 17.



Photo:

ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

As Ukrainians search the rubble for the dead in a theater that had sheltered children in the besieged city of Mariupol, U.S. officials have begun to call

Vladimir Putin

a “war criminal.” If they mean it, the label carries serious implications for when or even whether the U.S. can lift sanctions on Russia.

President Biden called Mr. Putin a war criminal on Wednesday, and Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

elaborated Thursday. “Personally, I agree [with the President]. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime,” Mr. Blinken said at the State Department. “After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise.”

Exhibit A would be the attack a week ago on a maternity hospital in Mariupol that Russia confirmed was targeted. Exhibit B would be the theater where hundreds of civilians had taken shelter. “The word children had been written in Russian in giant white letters on the pavement outside the building so that you could know from the air that there were children inside,” Mr. Blinken said.

The Russian justification is that these buildings are sheltering Ukrainian soldiers. But the real Russian purpose is to terrorize Ukrainians to build pressure on President

Volodymyr Zelensky

to agree to Mr. Putin’s settlement terms. It’s unlikely to succeed as a tactic, but it will make it harder for the U.S. and Europe to lift sanctions as part of a settlement.

If Mr. Putin is a war criminal, how can the world make concessions that allow him to rejoin world councils as if nothing happened?

Jen Psaki,

the White House press secretary, said Thursday the State Department is undertaking a separate legal inquiry into the war crimes issue. But with his relentless and deliberate bombing of civilians, Mr. Putin has crossed a line the world cannot forget.

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Appeared in the March 18, 2022, print edition as ‘The Massacre in Mariupol.’

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