President Biden on Tuesday for the first time accused Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, of perpetrating genocide on the Ukrainian people, but emphasized that was his personal view, not a legal determination.
The remark initially came offhandedly in a speech at a bioethanol plant in Iowa, in which Mr. Biden was announcing measures to counteract rising gas prices. About halfway through the speech, he made reference to Mr. Putin and the war’s economic impact on Americans.
“Your family budget, your ability to fill up your tank, none of it should hinge on whether a dictator declares war and commits genocide half a world away,” Mr. Biden said. It was a marked escalation from statements earlier this month, when he said Russian atrocities in the suburbs near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, amounted to war crimes, but did not rise to the level of genocide.
On the tarmac later on Tuesday afternoon as he left Iowa, the president reaffirmed his characterization.
“Yes, I called it genocide. It has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be Ukrainian,” he said.
“We’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies,” he added, “but it sure seems that way to me.”
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who has repeatedly accused Russia of genocide, welcomed Mr. Biden’s comments. “True words of a true leader,” he wrote on Twitter. “Calling things by their names is essential to stand up to evil.”
Mr. Biden’s comment is not the same as a formal determination of genocide by the U.S. government, which has happened only eight times and triggers legal obligations under the Genocide Convention, which the United States ratified in 1988. States are required to prevent and punish genocide, and grant extradition when genocide charges are involved.
In international law, genocide is defined as killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”