US–Russian Relations on ‘Verge of Breaking’ After Biden’s Remarks: Moscow

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Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has told the U.S. ambassador in Moscow that U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent comments about Russian President Vladimir Putin have strained ties between the two countries to “the verge of breaking.”

Last week, Biden branded the Russian leader as a “war criminal” amid the invasion of Ukraine, drawing condemnation from the Foreign Ministry on March 21. Several other White House officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, used similar rhetoric over the past weekend.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry told ambassador John Sullivan that “such statements from the American president, unworthy of a statesman of such high rank, put Russian–American relations on the verge of breaking,” according to a translated statement.

The ministry also stated that “hostile actions taken against Russia will meet decisive and firm pushback,” according to the statement. At the same time, it told Sullivan that it requires “guarantees” that Russian embassies and consulates in the United States would “function smoothly.”

On March 21, European Union countries also accused the Russian armed forces of committing war crimes in Ukraine. But they appeared unlikely to impose new sanctions on Moscow, despite a clamor across Europe for those responsible for attacks on civilians to be held accountable.

The International Criminal Court in the Netherlands stated that it’s gathering evidence about any possible war crimes in Ukraine, but Russia—like the United States—doesn’t recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

International sanctions have cut Russia off from the world’s financial system. However, Europe, which is the country’s main energy buyer, has made an exception for Russian gas and oil.

Large international corporations have said that they won’t do business inside Russia and that they won’t make any new investments in the country, citing the conflict.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian officials rejected Russia’s calls for troops inside the besieged city of Mariupol to lay down their arms and surrender. The Russian Ministry of Defense said authorities in Mariupol could face a military tribunal if they side with Ukrainian nationalist forces, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

“There can be no talk of any surrender, laying down of arms,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told media outlet Ukrayinska Pravda.

Nearly 3.4 million people have been forced to flee Ukraine since Feb. 24, according to the United Nations. The U.N. has confirmed more than 900 civilian deaths, but said the actual toll is probably much higher. Estimates of Russian deaths vary.

U.S. State Department officials didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

By Jack Phillips

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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