POLL: Do you think Biden was right to call Putin a war criminal – and should NATO do more?

Ukraine: Joe Biden agrees Putin is a ‘war criminal’

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Joe Biden made the remark in an off-the-cuff response to a reporter’s question at the White House, with a spokesperson later saying the President was “speaking from his heart” over the “barbaric” conflict in Ukraine. But the unexpected comment immediately inflamed the already-fraught diplomatic relations between NATO and Russia, with the Kremlin calling the comments “unforgivable rhetoric”.

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said: “We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later said Mr Biden hadn’t been making an official declaration.

She noted that there was a separate legal process run by the State Department to determine war crimes – and that was ongoing separately.

The US also announced a further package of military aid to be sent to Ukraine, believed to be worth almost $800million (£612million). 

So what do you think? Was Biden right to brand Putin a war criminal? Should NATO follow and recognise Russia as a terrorist state? And should NATO go ahead and impose the no-fly zone? Vote in our poll and leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

However, in a video address to the US Congress on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on NATO allies to go further, reiterating his call for a no-fly zone over his country, saying: “I need to protect the sky”. 

A no-fly zone over Ukraine would mean that NATO forces would have to engage directly with any Russian planes spotted in those skies and shoot them down if necessary.

NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, has repeatedly denied calls for a no-fly zone, saying it risked triggering “a full-fledged war in Europe involving many more countries and causing much more human suffering”.

As an alternative to a no-fly zone, Mr Zelensky pleaded for air-defence systems and aircraft.

He has previously asked the US and the EU for Polish MiG-29 fighter jets, but this has been rejected by Mr Biden over fears this would pull NATO members into the war.

Addressing Mr Biden directly in English, Mr Zelensky said: “I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”

And speaking again on Thursday in his daily televised briefing, Mr Zelensky called on the West to impose further sanctions and to officially declare Russia a terrorist state. 

He said: “Russia’s war crimes do not stop. The Russian economy is still able to maintain their military machine. That is why new packages of sanctions against Russia are needed.”

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He added: “The world must finally officially recognise that Russia has become a terrorist state.”

However, on the other side of the conflict, President Putin gave his own televised speech on Thursday morning, laden with a disturbing uptick in aggressive anti-Western rhetoric.

He said: “Of course they will try to bet on the so-called fifth column, on traitors – on those who earn their money here, but live over there. 

“Live, not in the geographical sense, but in the sense of their thoughts, their slavish thinking.”

The term “fifth column” is used for a group that tries to undermine a nation or organisation from the inside.

He went on: “Any people, and especially the Russian people, will always be able to distinguish the true patriots from the scum and the traitors, and just to spit them out like a fly that accidentally flew into their mouths.”

Such a “self-purification” of society would strengthen Russia, he claimed.

Putin also accused the West of trying to provoke civil conflict with the goal of “the destruction of Russia”.

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