US President Joe Biden called President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" on Wednesday as Russia intensifies its attack on Ukraine.
"I think he is a war criminal," Biden said.
Some more context: Biden’s designation reflects a shift from the administration’s previous stance. Officials, including Biden, had previously stopped short of saying war crimes were being committed in Ukraine, citing ongoing investigations into whether that term could be used.
But officials have been clear they believe atrocities are underway and that the intentional targeting of civilians would constitute war crimes.
"The President's remarks speak for themselves," press secretary Jen Psaki said afterward. She said Biden was "speaking from the heart."
She said the ongoing investigation at the State Department into war crimes was still underway.
"There is a legal process that continues to — is underway, continues to be underway at the State Department. That's a process that they would have any updates on."
When pressed on this by a reporter later in the briefing, Psaki said, "He was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television. We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians — impacting hospitals, women who are pregnant, journalists, others and I think he was answering a direct question."
Biden initially said “no” when asked whether Putin was a war criminal, but returned to a group of reporters immediately to clarify what had been asked. When asked again whether Putin was a war criminal, he answered in the affirmative.