BUCHA, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — Russia faced a new round of international condemnation Monday as evidence emerged of what appeared to be deliberate killings of civilians in Ukraine. Some Western leaders called for more sanctions in response to the alleged atrocities, as Moscow continued its offensive in the east of the country.
The German defense minister suggested that the EU talk about a ban on Russian gas imports, although senior officials said an immediate boycott was not possible. The discrepancy suggested that Western leaders might have trouble tightening already-strong sanctions on Russia any time soon.
Ukrainian authorities say they have found the bodies of 410 civilians in towns around the capital, kyiv, that were taken over by Russian forces.
In Bucha, northwest of the capital, Associated Press journalists saw 21 bodies. A group of nine, all in civilian clothes, were spread out around a place that Russian troops used as a base, residents said. They appeared to have been executed at close range. At least two of them had their hands tied behind their backs, one of them was shot in the head, and another had his legs tied.
Images of battered bodies dumped in the streets or in makeshift graves sparked outrage that could mark a turning point after nearly six weeks of war.
But so far, sanctions have failed to stop energy, and rising energy prices, coupled with tight controls on the Russian foreign exchange market, have lessened their impact, as the ruble has rebounded strongly after an initial slump. .
Western and Ukrainian leaders have accused Russia of war crimes before, and the International Criminal Court prosecutor’s office has opened an inquiry to investigate the conflict. But the latest reports increased the level of conviction. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some Western leaders went so far as to accuse Russia of genocide.
“We strongly reject the accusations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday, saying the Ukrainian reports were unreliable.
The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that the images and videos of the bodies “have been staged by the kyiv regime for the Western media.” The Ministry added that “not a single civilian” in Bucha suffered any violence.
For his part, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, asked in a video shown at the Grammy Awards gala in Las Vegas that musicians and other artists “fill the silence with their music.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said “there is clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha.
“What just happened in Bucha requires a new round of sanctions and very clear measures,” Macron told France-Inter broadcaster. “In particular on coal and oil, we have to act.”
European Council President Charles Michel tweeted earlier that the EU is assisting Ukrainians and rights groups to gather evidence that can be used in international courts and “more EU sanctions and support are on the way.”
The president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, also called for those responsible for the murders in Bucha to be held accountable and said that they must “deal with these alleged cases of crimes against humanity, war crimes or, why not say it, also genocide. ”.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki described Russia as a “totalitarian fascist” country and said that “the bloody massacres perpetrated by Russian soldiers deserve to be called by their name: this is genocide.”
Proving the crime of genocide is difficult because the prosecution would have to show that the killers or those responsible had a “specific intent” to destroy, in whole or in part, a group of people.
Meanwhile, the United States and its allies have tried to retaliate against Russia for the war with sweeping sanctions. But they may be reluctant to impose measures that will do more damage to a global economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. As a major exporter of oil and gas, Russia is in a position to benefit from any rise in already high energy prices.
Europe is in a particularly difficult position because it imports 40% of its gas and 25% of its oil from Russia. Governments have tried to find ways to reduce that dependency. Estimates on the impact of a gas boycott in European countries, but all show considerable economic losses.
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is also economy minister and head of energy, said Europe can go “significantly further” on sanctions against Russia. But he said Germany is right to take a long-term strategy to ditch Russian energy imports.
Germany has been criticized for opposing an immediate veto on Russian energy deliveries. The country has said it hopes to stop importing Russian coal this summer and oil by the end of the year, but gas will take longer.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht had earlier told public broadcaster ARD that the reports of atrocities were serious enough that European authorities “have to talk about stopping gas supplies from Russia.”
The invasion launched on February 24 by Russian President Vladimir Putin has left thousands dead and forced more than 4 million Ukrainians to flee their country. Putin has said the attack is intended to remove a security threat after Ukraine’s government tried to join the NATO military alliance that includes the United States and several European countries.
Ukraine insists it never posed a threat but has offered to declare itself neutral.
The head of the Ukrainian delegation to the negotiations with Russia said Moscow negotiators had informally accepted a draft proposal at their talks in Istanbul, but no written evidence was offered.
Although Western officials initially said they believed Putin’s goal was to take kyiv and perhaps install a Kremlin-friendly government, Russian forces encountered stiff resistance in their advance on the capital and have withdrawn from some areas on the outskirts. from Kyiv. Now Moscow says it is focusing its offensive on Donbas, in the east of the country, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops for years.
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