Lloyd Austin accuses Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accused Russia of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians since the invasion of neighboring Ukraine began a month ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan is to control the major population centers in Ukraine but it has had little success so far and thus the Kremlin is resorting to brutality, he said.

Tactics such as the wholesale bombardment of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has resulted in nearly 10% of the population fleeing for their lives over the past week, is “really disgusting,” Mr. Austin said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“He’s taking these kinds of steps because … his campaign has stalled,” Mr. Austin said. “He’s not been able to achieve the goals that he wants to achieve as rapidly as he wants to achieve them.”

Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea, has been encircled by Russian troops for weeks. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the siege would go down in history because of the war crimes being committed by Russian troops.

Mariupol’s city council released a message on the Telegram social media platform saying the Russians dropped bombs Saturday on a local art school where about 400 residents – mostly women, children and the elderly – were taking cover from the relentless fighting outside.

“The building was destroyed and peaceful people are still under the rubble. Information on the number of victims is being clarified,” the city council members said Sunday.

“Fascist Russian troops continue the genocide of the Ukrainian people and civilians in Mariupol. Every war criminal will be held accountable for his crimes against humanity (and) against the people of Mariupol,” the council said.

Russian forces are continuing to encircle a number of cities across eastern Ukraine but they have made only limited progress in capturing those cities, British military intelligence officials said Sunday in a Twitter message.

“Instead, Russia has increased its indiscriminate shelling of urban areas resulting in widespread destruction and large numbers of civilian casualties,” according to an intelligence update released by British defense officials.

“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower to support assaults on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” the British agency wrote.

Russia claimed over the weekend that it carried out a set of strikes on Ukrainian military facilities using for the first time its Kinzhal long-range hypersonic missile.

Such weapons reportedly can strike targets more than 1,200 miles away while traveling at more than 10 times the speed of sound. But Mr. Austin said he wouldn’t consider such a weapon as a “game-changer” in the growing conflict between Russia and Ukraine because the use of the weapons raises fresh questions about Russia’s military performance.

“Why would he do this? Is he running low on precision-guided munitions? Does he have complete confidence in the ability of his troops to reestablish momentum,” Mr. Austin said Sunday.

Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said it has been necessary to push President Biden to get him to the position he holds today on Ukraine’s security.

“It was Congress that brought about sanctions, that brought about the ban on Russian oil, that brought about weapons and all of this big aid package,” Mr. Barrasso said Sunday on the ABC News program “This Week.”

“We might not have been in this situation if they had done punishing sanctions before the tanks began to roll,” he said.

On the same program, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said he agreed with the Biden administration’s position that shipping MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine could be considered an escalation of tensions with Russia.

“There are other ways for us to provide surface-to-air missiles and air defenses that will keep the Russians at bay in terms of their aerial attack,” Mr. Durbin said. “There are ways to do that that are consistent with the NATO alliance and would not jeopardize expanding this into World War II.”

Several of his Democratic colleagues have come out in support of the transfer.

Russia’s plan was to quickly seize key Ukrainian cities, such as Kyiv and Odesa, to force a change of government.

That initial campaign is now over and Ukraine has come out on top, according to a Russian offensive campaign assessment published this week by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The Russian forces are continuing to make limited advances but have been unable to seize their objectives.

A sound response would have been for the Russian commanders to suspend current operations, build up resources for a new campaign and launch when the conditions are better, according to the authors of the study.

Russia “is instead continuing to feed small collections of reinforcements into an ongoing effort to keep the current campaign alive. We assess that the effort will fail,” according to the ISW study.

The protracted siege of Mariupol is seriously weakening Russian forces, according to the study. But its ultimate fate is unlikely to free up enough Russian combat power to change the outcome of the initial campaign.

“The block-by-block fighting … is costing the Russian military time, initiative and combat-power,” according to the IWS study.

Russian troops now appear to be digging in at their positions around Kyiv and other locations in Ukraine as they attempt to consolidate control over the areas they now occupy. The authors of the study said a protracted stalemate will likely result in a continuing of Moscow’s bombing campaign against Ukraine’s cities.

“Ukraine’s defeat of the initial Russian campaign may therefore set conditions for a devastating protraction of the conflict and a dangerous new period testing the resolve of Ukraine and the West,” according to the study. “Continued and expanded Western support to Ukraine will be vital to seeing (them) through that new period.”



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