Blinken calls Putin a war criminal and says U.S. won’t hesitate to ‘impose costs’ on China if it helps Moscow: Warns desperate Russian leader is setting stage for false flag chemical weapons attack and will bring in mercenaries

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday backed President Joe Biden‘s assessment that Vladimir Putin‘s armed forces were committing war crimes in Ukraine.

He confirmed that another American citizen had been killed in the country and warned China not to come to Russia’s aid. 

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. defense officials said more Russian air strikes were now hitting civilian infrastructure and targets. 

Blinken said the destruction appeared to be part of an attempt to break the will of the Ukrainian people. 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said he agreed with President Joe Biden’s assessment that war crimes are being committed by Russia in Ukraine

‘Yesterday, President Biden said that in his opinion, war crimes have been committed in Ukraine,’ he said. 

‘Personally, I agree. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime.

‘After all the destruction of the past three weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise.’

U.S. officials had avoided the ‘war crimes’ designation until Wednesday. They said a complex legal process was under way to ascertain whether civilians were being targeted deliberately.

That changed when Biden was asked for his opinion by reporters at the White House.

‘I think he is a war criminal,’ he said.

Evacuees fleeing Ukraine-Russia conflict walk out of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine March 17, 2022

This week U.S. diplomacy has focused on China in an effort to steer it away from responding to Russian calls for assistance, including military gear.

Blinken said Washington would not hesitate to impose consequences.

‘We believe China in particular has a responsibility to use its influence with President Putin and to defend the international rules and principles that it professes to support,’ he said.

‘Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression, while seeking to portray itself as a neutral arbiter.’

More diplomacy will come on Friday. 

‘President Biden will be speaking to President Xi tomorrow, and will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression,’ he said.

‘And we will not hesitate to impose costs.’

But the secretary of state did not explain what those costs might be and Washington has yet to provide evidence of China’s apparent willingness to help Moscow. 

Blinken warned that a yet more deadly phase in the conflict could lie ahead.   

‘We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon, and then falsely blaming Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people,’ he said.

‘Manufacturing events and creating false narratives of genocide to justify greater use of military force is a tactic that Russia has used before, including in Georgia. 

‘We believe Russia will bring its mercenaries from private military groups and foreign countries to Ukraine.’

Moscow has said it is recruiting 16,000 fighters from Syria to join the war.

But U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe only a ‘trickle’ of people is making the journey.

Earlier Biden again condemned Russian brutality in Ukraine, during a virtual meeting with the Irish Taoiseach Micheál Martin.

‘We’re meeting at a moment where the demands of unity in the world are really accelerating,’ he said. 

‘We have to be united and we certainly are.

‘But Putin’s brutality and what he’s doing, and his troops are doing, in Ukraine is just inhumane.’ 

U.S. officials have repeatedly condemned Russia’s tactics of bombarding Ukrainian cities.

A senior U.S. defense official said he could not given an estimate of the proportion of strikes that had hit civilian targets.

But the official said: ‘We have seen an increase of strikes on civilian infrastructure and civilian targets.’

Particular attention has focused on a theater sheltering families that was hit in the besieged city of Mariupol on Wednesday.

Hundreds of people had been living in the grand, columned building in the city centre after their homes were destroyed in the three weeks of fighting in the strategic port city since Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded. 

Rescue efforts continued amid the rubble on Thursday and rescuers said no-one had been found dead so far. 

Ukraine’s ombudswoman Ludmyla Denisova offered hope, saying that the shelter had withstood the impact of the airstrike.

‘The building withstood the impact of a high-powered air bomb and protected the lives of people hiding in the bomb shelter,’ she said on the messaging service Telegram.

‘Work is under way to unlock the basement’ and surviving adults and children are coming out, she wrote. She said there is no information on casualties so far.

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