By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said images of dead Ukrainian civilians found in the town of Bucha after Russian troops left were a “punch in the gut” and those responsible for any war crimes must be held accountable.
Blinken’s comments in a CNN interview on Sunday came a day after Ukrainian forces moved into the town near Kyiv and found what officials and witnesses said were the bodies of nearly 300 civilians killed by Russian troops.
“We can’t help but see these images as a punch in the gut,” Blinken said, before noting that President Joe Biden’s administration has said it believes Russian forces have committed war crimes and that it is helping collect evidence.
“There needs to be accountability,” he said. “But I think the most important thing is we can’t become numb to this. We can’t normalize this. This is the reality of what’s going on every single day as long as Russia’s brutality against Ukraine continues.”
Blinken side-stepped a question of whether the United States believes Russian troops have committed genocide.
“We will look hard and document everything we see, put it together to make sure that the relevant institutions and organizations are looking at this, including the State Department,” he said.
Those institutions include Ukrainian legal authorities and the International Criminal Court, which is investigating alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.
Blinken said it was “too early to say” whether Russian troops that have withdrawn from around Kyiv are “regrouping and restocking and replenishing and then coming back” or redeploying toward the east and south, as Russian officials have suggested.
He declined to confirm reports that the United States is facilitating the transfers of Soviet-era tanks to Ukrainian forces from Eastern European allies. But he said members of the NATO alliance continue to provide arms “across the board.”
“There are or will soon be in Ukraine more than 10 anti-tank systems for every Russian tank,” he said.
Blinken will attend an April 5-7 NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels at which alliance support for Ukraine will be discussed, said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
The allies also will consider “joint efforts to hold President (Vladimir) Putin accountable and promote a swift end to his senseless and destructive war of choice against Ukraine,” Price said.
Blinken will attend a G7 foreign ministers meeting for additional discussions, he said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)