Only days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a bipartisan group of senators is again trying to get it declared a genocide.
The group is led by Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
“One year into Putin’s brutal and unjustified war against Ukraine, it is beyond clear that Russia has been committing genocide,” Risch said in a statement.
Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, told HuffPost passing the resolution would send “a clear signal to the entire democratic world that these crimes will not go unpunished.”
“In the territories liberated from Russian occupation, we see thousands of graves, thousands of stories of people who saw how civilians were shot because they were Ukrainians,” he said. “How people were shot and tortured for having a yellow-blue bracelet on their arms. Look what they did in Mariupol.”
“And now they are hiding their crimes, demolishing houses where hundreds of corpses of Ukrainians remained,” Goncharenko continued. “Is this not genocide?”
While Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, the current phase of the war began Feb. 24, 2022, with Russia invading from Ukraine’s east, north and south.
While Russia took big swaths of territory early, including the southern provincial capital of Kherson, most of those gains have been rolled back by Ukraine. Now Russia holds territory in the east, which had already been seized by Russian-backed separatists, and along Ukraine’s southern coast.
But with victories by Ukrainian armed forces have come grisly discoveries of apparent atrocities committed by Russian forces. In Bucha, a suburb north of Kyiv, Human Rights Watch said it found “extensive evidence of summary executions, other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, all of which would constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity.”
In addition, Human Rights Watch has said Russia has bombed Ukraine indiscriminately, including hitting civilian targets like hospitals, schools, apartment buildings and energy infrastructure; attacked fleeing civilians and forcibly removed Ukrainians to Russia. Its forces have been implicated in rapes, gang rapes and forced nudity crimes against women.
Russia has denied allegations of war crimes or atrocities or labeled them as propaganda.
“I saw the atrocities firsthand last June during my visit to Ukraine, and each day there seems to be new reports on the inhumane actions committed by Russian soldiers against the innocent Ukrainian people. It is time the U.S. government call it what it is and work with our allies to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for this brutality,” Risch said.
“It is time the U.S. government call it what it is and work with our allies to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for this brutality.”
The resolution says the invasion meets the five-part standard set out in a global treaty outlawing genocide signed in 1948, three years after the end of World War II. Those conditions include killing or causing serious physical or mental harm to members of a group; inflicting “conditions of life” meant to bring about a group’s destruction; imposing measures aimed at preventing births among a group and forcibly transferring children of a group to another group.
The resolution also calls for supporting international tribunals and investigations into Russia’s war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and using the 2016 “Global Magnitsky” law to impose economic sanctions on those responsible or complicit in the crimes.
“The Ukrainian people have shown their determination and ability to fend off the ongoing attacks, but innocent lives will continue to be lost until Mr. Putin feels consequences for his illegal and unprovoked attacks,” Cardin said.
In addition to Cardin, other Democratic co-sponsors include Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Patty Murray (Wash.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.).
Republican co-sponsors include Sens. Thom Tillis (N.C.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Rick Scott (Fla.), Shelley Moore Capito (W. Va.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Todd Young (Ind.).
While the Senate resolution last year, also sponsored by Risch, made it out of committee, a House version, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) did not even make it that far. Several lawmakers interviewed by HuffPost last year said Russia’s invasion may have led to atrocities or war crimes but did not rise to the level of genocide.
In December, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy made a speech to Congress, asking members to keep helping Ukraine defend itself. In meetings with lawmakers, he expressed support for a resolution recognizing the invasion as a genocide, according to The Washington Post.
With the Republican takeover of the House, prospects for a genocide resolution passing both chambers appear slim. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said Ukraine will not get a “blank check” of support, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been vocal in his support.
On Friday, McConnell reiterated that support in a speech at a security conference in Munich, Germany.
“Republican leaders are committed to a strong trans-Atlantic alliance,” he said. “We are committed to helping Ukraine. Not because of vague moral arguments or abstractions like the so-called ‘rules-based international order.’”
“But rather, because America’s own core national interests are at stake,” he continued. “Because our security is interlinked and our economies are intertwined.”