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The U.S. insists that Russia should be held accountable for war crimes


Today, the U.N. Security Council meets to discuss mounting evidence of possible war crimes committed against civilians by Russian troops in Ukraine. Some of the latest suspected proof's seen in the city of Bucha, about 90 minutes outside the capital, Kyiv. Photos of bodies on the streets there have now been widely viewed. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is scheduled to address U.N. Security Council members.

Here to talk about the options available to the council in the U.S. and also the larger global community, we're joined now by White House principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer. Welcome to the show.

JON FINER: Thanks for having me.

MARTÍNEZ: President Biden yesterday called for Russia's President Vladimir Putin to stand trial for war crimes. But since neither the U.S., Ukraine or Russia are members of the International Criminal Court, how does he expect to bring Putin to justice?

FINER: So that's an issue that the United States is going to be consulting on and discussing very closely with our partners and allies, including fellow members of the Security Council. As you say, the ICC may be a challenging option - the International Criminal Court - because of the jurisdictional and membership issues you mentioned. Russia is a member of the Security Council, which means it has a veto over Security Council actions, making steps there challenging. But there are a number of other legal and international mechanisms that have been made available in situations like this in the past. And the United States and our partners and allies are going to really work through this and find out and determine what mechanisms are going to be available because accountability is going to be critically important, given the atrocities and the horrific crimes that we are seeing unfold in Ukraine right now.

MARTÍNEZ: So that isn't the only option. There are other avenues the U.S. can go to.

FINER: Absolutely. There have been a number of different tribunals and mechanisms established in similar conflicts in the past and some models that the United States and our partners and allies will look to to see what is doable here. But I don't want to get ahead of those consultations and that process.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the war is evolving. Should the U.S. now support Ukraine with heavier weaponry - artillery, tanks, something that a NATO ally might provide?

FINER: So the United States, and particularly our Defense Department, believe we are providing the Ukrainians with exactly the forms of security assistance and weapons they need to be most effective on the battlefield. We believe that the most effective weapons and, you know, the results as this conflict has unfolded have really borne this out - have been the anti-tank weapons that have been provided by the U.S. and our allies, the anti-aircraft weapons that the United States has provided. And as this conflict has gone on, the United States and our allies have provided increasingly effective and sophisticated systems, including drones, including a range of other systems that we think are going to continue to allow the Ukrainians to have the success they need on the battlefield to hold the Russians off. And the results that you're seeing with the Russians now pulling back from Kyiv and then redoubling their efforts in the south and the east reflect a greater degree of effectiveness than I think many people expected from the Ukrainian army.

MARTÍNEZ: But at this point...

FINER: But there's still a long way to go.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, but at this point, why not MIG aircraft? I know that the administration called it escalatory to do that, but considering what we've seen, especially this week from Bucha, I mean, why not at this point?

FINER: So just to reiterate, 'cause I think there's some misunderstanding about this, the United States does not have MIG aircraft and the United States has not said no and could not say no to other countries transferring MIG aircraft to Ukraine. Other countries have not yet made the decision to do that. The United States certainly wouldn't stand in the way of it. Excuse me. But what our military believes at this point is that the weapons and the systems that are going to be most effective for the Ukrainians, the ones that I just described, are going into Ukraine en masse. And you are seeing the results of those transfers of weapons on the battlefield in real time in the effectiveness of the Ukrainian armed forces.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering that Russia is one of the permanent members of the Security Council, what would the Biden administration like to see come out of today's meeting?

FINER: Well, I think you're going to see Russia very much put on the defensive. You're going to see President Zelenskyy address the council. And I think he will do so, as he always does, in an extremely vivid and compelling way, having just visited some of the areas of Ukraine most affected by Russian atrocities and war crimes. You're going to see a presentation from the U.S. permanent representative to the Security Council, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, who herself is just back from the region, having spent the last few days talking to and interviewing and discussing the situation with Ukrainian refugees who have fled the country. And I think you're going to see Russia and very few other countries trying to paint this situation in a totally different and unrealistic light and very much put on the defensive by members of the council who have seen enough.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering that President Zelenskyy has used the word genocide here - I know the White House is being very careful not to use that - what would you have to see to agree that genocide is happening in Ukraine?

FINER: So genocide is a determination that is generally made - excuse me - over time, you know, upon review of a significant body of evidence. And I think that evidence, at this point in - at least in our assessment, has not yet been collected and analyzed to the degree that would allow us to make that sort of claim. That said, we are very comfortable and very appalled by what we are seeing in terms of atrocities, in terms of war crimes. And we expect there will be much more to come.

MARTÍNEZ: White House principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, thank you very much.

FINER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.