The US Embassy in Ukraine accused Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday of committing a war crime by ordering an attack on Europe’s largest nuclear power plant — going a step further than the Biden administration, which has steered clear of making such an accusation since Moscow’s invasion began last week.
“It is a war crime to attack a nuclear power plant,” the Embassy said in a statement posted on Twitter. “Putin’s shelling of Europe’s largest nuclear plant takes his reign of terror one step further. #TheHague #Zaporizhzhia #StandwithUkraine.”
Hours earlier, Russian forces had shelled the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, leading to a fire at a training center in the complex. Reports of the blaze amid an ongoing firefight between the invaders and Ukrainian forces led Kyiv Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to warn on Twitter: “If it [the plant] blows up, it will be 10 times larger than Chornobyl!”
Russian forces later took control of the facility and the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said no radiation spikes had been reported as a result of the fighting.
Three Ukrainian troops were killed and two others were wounded in the attack, according to the Associated Press.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly slammed the Kremlin, calling on Europe once again to join Ukraine in stopping Russian troops.
“No state except Russia has ever opened fire at nuclear power units,” he said. “For the first time in human history, a terrorist state has resorted to nuclear terror. Only immediate European action can stop Russian troops.”
In addition to insisting that American troops will not be sent to aid Ukraine, the Biden administration has stopped short of accusing Russian forces of committing war crimes, despite multiple reports of civilian areas being targeted for destruction.
On Wednesday, in response to a reporter who asked: “Do you believe Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine?”, Biden answered: “We are following it very closely. It’s early to say that.”
On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki backed the president’s caution.
“President Zelensky has said Russia’s actions clearly constitute a war crime. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said that Russia’s targeting of civilians fully qualifies as a war crime. The President wouldn’t go that far when he was asked yesterday. Why has he been reluctant to label Russia’s actions a war crime?” a reporter asked during a press briefing.
“Well, there is a process and we have stood up a process internally — an internal team — to assess and look at and evaluate evidence of what we’re seeing happen on the ground,” Psaki answered.
“That is a standard part of our process in the US government. I would note that we work very closely with our international partners, and we will provide any information that we surface through that process.”
Psaki did acknowledge that the administration has received reports detailing “a range of barbaric tactics” by Russia, including targeting civilians.
“That’s all factors that we look at,” she said. “And again, that interag— that process that has been stood up would provide any information to the ICC [International Criminal Court] or any other international body taking a look at this.”
While the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into reported Russian war crimes, neither the US nor Russia are members of the body.
The White House did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.