Russia invades Ukraine: Biden slams 'war criminal' Putin as Russian onslaught continues

Russia invades Ukraine: Biden slams 'war criminal' Putin as Russian onslaught continues
Moscow has denied dropping a powerful bomb on a theatre in the encircled Ukrainian port city of Mariupol where hundreds of civilians were sheltering on Wednesday.
9 min read
16 March, 2022

US President Joe Biden branded Vladimir Putin a "war criminal"on  Wednesday as the Russian leader's onslaught in Ukraine claimed more civilian lives, and a theatre where "hundreds" were sheltering was destroyed by bombing.

Biden's rebuke -- his sharpest yet -- came after Ukraine's leader Volodymyr Zelensky made a searing appeal for help to the US Congress and the president himself, who responded by pledging $1 billion in new weapons to fight Russia's invading army.

Officials in the port city of Mariupol were struggling to count the dead at the Drama Theatre, where thick smoke rose from the rubble of the building that had the word "children" painted in large Russian letters on the ground outside.

It was the latest in a litany of assaults on civilians across Ukraine since Putin invaded on February 24 that has included homes, hospitals, ambulances and food queues.

"I think he is a war criminal," Biden told reporters of his Russian counterpart, the first time he has used the phrase.

Biden's spokesperson added that he had spoken "from his heart" -- but the Kremlin quickly punched back, calling the comment "unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world."

So far the destruction that has marked other cities has been halted outside Kyiv.

But dull booms echoed across the capital's deserted streets Wednesday, with only an occasional vehicle passing through sandbagged checkpoints, and very few permits granted to break its latest curfew.

Kyiv has been emptied of around half of its 3.5 million people.

"It's worrying, of course. It's war after all. But we try to stay calm, we won't allow panic," said Eduard Demenchuk, a private-security employee in his 50s, was among those who have stayed.

"If need be, we will take arms and will stand to defend the city," he told AFP by telephone, after stocking up on groceries.

'Destruction of hope' 

The attack on the theatre in Mariupol is the latest atrocity in the southern city, which has been besieged for weeks, with more than 2,000 people killed so far.

Mariupol city authorities said Russia "purposefully destroyed" the theatre, though Moscow blamed Ukrainian forces for the blast.

Efforts to establish the number of casualties were hampered by nearby shelling.

President Zelensky gave no further details in his regular evening address, saying only "my heart is breaking seeing what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol."

Also on Wednesday at least 15 civilians were killed in the northern city of Chernihiv.

Ten of them died while queueing to collect bread. Another five, including three children, were killed when Russian forces shelled a residential building.

As the civilian toll climbed, the World Health Organization warned that Ukraine's health system was "teetering on the brink."

"This is about the destruction of hope ... This is the most basic of human rights and it has been directly denied," WHO official Michael Ryan said in Geneva.

The conflict has already sent more than three million Ukrainians fleeing across the border, many of them women and children.

Ukraine authorities said 103 children have been killed since the invasion began.

The New Arab is providing live updates of the latest on the ground and additional analysis on the conflict's significance. 

Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram for more updates.

12:21 AM
The New Arab Staff

US President Joe Biden branded Vladimir Putin a "war criminal"on  Wednesday as the Russian leader's onslaught in Ukraine claimed more civilian lives, and a theatre where "hundreds" were sheltering was destroyed by bombing.

5:12 PM
The New Arab Staff

5:11 PM
The New Arab Staff

4:22 PM
The New Arab Staff

Russia blocks BBC website, vows more retaliatory media sanctions

Russia's media watchdog Roskomnadzor on Wednesday blocked access to the BBC's main news website, with Moscow's foreign ministry warning of more retaliatory measures against the media.

"I think this is only the beginning of retaliatory measures to the information war unleashed by the West against Russia," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram. Roskomnadzor listed the BBC News website as blocked in Russia.

4:12 PM
The New Arab Staff

NATO looks to put 'substantially more forces' on eastern flank

NATO defense ministers on Wednesday tasked military commanders to come up with plans to bolster the alliance's eastern flank after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said. 

"On land, our new posture should include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance, at higher readiness, with more pre-positioned equipment and supplies," Stoltenberg told reporters. 

2:30 PM
The New Arab Staff

Putin says West's sanctions on Russians like 'pogroms'

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday compared the avalanche of Western sanctions on Russia imposed over the Ukraine conflict to anti-Semitic violence by fascists.

"The West dropped its mask of civility and began to act belligerently. It begs a comparison to the anti-Semitic pogroms" of Nazis, Putin said at a government meeting broadcast on national television.

2:29 PM
The New Arab Staff

Russian forces have opened fire on civilians waiting for bread

2:28 PM

ICC prosecutor in Ukraine has video call with Zelensky

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan has visited Ukraine where he held a video call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the court announced on Wednesday.

The pair met virtually, the Hague-based court tweeted. "We agreed all efforts are needed to ensure international human humanitarian law is respected and to protect the civilian population," Khan said.

2:27 PM
The New Arab Staff

Putin says Russia's Ukraine operation is a 'success'

President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that his military campaign in Ukraine was a success and that he would not allow the country to become a "springboard" used to threaten Russia.

"The operation is developing successfully and in strict accordance with plans," Putin said at a televised government meeting, adding Russia had no choice but to send in troops. "We will not allow Ukraine to serve as a springboard for aggressive actions against Russia." 

12:16 PM
The New Arab Staff

Biden set to deliver $800 mn in new security aid to Ukraine: US official

US President Joe Biden will announce $800 million in new security assistance to Ukraine Wednesday, a White House official said, with the announcement set to come soon after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the US Congress.

The announcement, expected to come at 11.45 am (1545 GMT), brings "the total (aid) announced in the last week alone to $1 billion," the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity late Tuesday, said. 

Zelensky is set to renew his appeals for more aid in his virtual address to Congress early Wednesday, as some US lawmakers press the White House to take a tougher line over Russia's invasion.

Biden had already authorised $200 million in additional military equipment to Ukraine on Saturday. That came on top of $350 million authorised by Washington, also for military equipment, on 26 February -- at the time, the largest such package in US history.

12:12 PM
The New Arab Staff

11:56 AM
The New Arab Staff

Another Ukraine mayor has reportedly been abducted

11:55 AM
The New Arab Staff

10:59 AM
The New Arab Staff

Ukraine rejects Austria, Sweden neutrality model

Ukraine on Wednesday rejected proposals pushed by Russia for it to adopt a neutral status comparable to Austria or Sweden, saying talks with Moscow to end fighting should focus on "security guarantees".

"Ukraine is now in a direct state of war with Russia. Consequently, the model can only be 'Ukrainian' and only on legally verified security guarantees," its top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak said in comments published by President Volodymyr Zelensky's office. 

10:02 AM
The New Arab Staff

9:23 AM
The New Arab Staff

Train station and refugee hub targeted near Mariupol

Russian forces on Wednesday targeted the southern Ukraine city of Zaporizhzhia, where thousands of refugees are taking shelter after escaping the besieged port city of Mariupol, regional officials said.

"Civilian objects have been bombed for the first time in Zaporizhzhia," the regional governor Alexander Starukh wrote on the Telegram social media platform.

"The rockets landed in the area of the Zaporozhye-2 railway station," he added, specifying that there were no casualties.

The city of Zaporizhzhia is the first safe port of call for those fleeing Mariupol.

Many then head to the country's west, to Poland or other bordering countries. 

Mariupol is facing a humanitarian catastrophe according to aid agencies, since heavy bombardment has left some 400,000 inhabitants with no running water or heating, and food running short.

This is a developing story. Follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram for more updates.

9:09 AM
The New Arab Staff

There has been talk that Ukraine's International Legion, made up of foreign volunteers, are used as "cannon fodder" in the war with Ukraine.

While we have not seen mass obituaries online of foreign fighters, there do appear to be some questions about their role in the conflict. 

Thousands of foreign volunteers are said to have signed up to the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine in the weeks following the Russian invasion.

Some are seasoned ex-servicemen while others have no military background.

While it is difficult to judge the foreign legion's position, there have been questions about conditions in the unit.

This video, allegedly from a foreign legion soldier, shows possible serious faults in their deployment.

It contains strong language and we cannot independently verify the claims.


9:01 AM
The New Arab Staff

The Ukrainian president will speak to US Congress on Wednesday, a move to bolster Western help in his war effort.

President Volodymyr Zelensky will address lawmakers by videolink and is expected to call on the US to enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine to prevent Russian bombing, according to The Guardian.

Zelensky has already addressed the EU parliament and UK House of Commons in a bid to reach out to Western allies.

Pundits have been impressed with his speeches so far, making frontpage news in the UK and Europe.

8:55 AM
The New Arab Staff

Another apartment block in the capital Kyiv was targeted in Russian strikes on Wednesday, according to the BBC.

The 12-storey block in the Shevchenko neighbourhood was gutted after shelling as a curfew is enforced in the city.

It follows other such Russian attacks on residential areas in recent days.

Most Ukrainians in Kyiv have been sheltering in metro stations and cellars to escape the ferocious Russian bombing.