Seven US Senators introduced a resolution on Friday accusing Russia of committing “a genocide against the people of Ukraine.” The allegations, which mirror a similar one introduced in the House of Representatives last month, have been refuted by Moscow, which has accused Ukraine of committing the same offenses.
The resolution was sponsored by Senators Jim Risch, a Republican from Idaho and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who chairs the Helsinki Commission, a US government agency that says it “promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation” in Europe and Eurasia.
Senators Roger Wicker (R-Missouri), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) also signed on to the resolution, as did Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), two outspoken opponents of Russia who have pushed Congress to classify Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, a step which some US allies have balked at.
According to the text, Russia committed “deliberate and regularized murders of fleeing civilians,” “indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian areas,” “systematic sexual violence,” and the forcible transfer of millions of Ukrainian civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom are children, “to the Russian Federation.”
Meanwhile, Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of using civilians as “human shields,” and Ukrainian forces have for weeks shelled the Russian-speaking city of Donetsk with American-provided weaponry. The city contains no military targets, and the Ukrainian artillery barrages have hit schools, hospitals and residential areas.
Ukraine has frequently attacked the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics since 2014 and enforced policies aimed at stamping out the Russian language. President Vladimir Putin declared in February that Russian forces were entering the country to stop the ongoing “humiliation and genocide” of the people of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The vast majority of claims that Russian troops committed “sexual violence” have since been outed as false, with Ukrainian human rights commissioner Lyudmila Denisova fired by the country’s parliament in May over the unsubstantiated accusations. Investigations into Denisova’s claims “turned out to be useless,” Ukrainskaya Pravda reported last month, revealing that none of the crimes mentioned by the disgraced ombudsman were ever even reported to police.
While the senators’ resolution argues that “the forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia and Russian-held territory” meets the criteria laid out by the United Nations in its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in reality one and a half million mostly Russian-speaking Ukrainians have fled to Russia since the outbreak of hostilities in February, as refugees headed east rather than west. Tens of thousands entered Russia prior to the start of the conflict.
Nevertheless, Risch said in a statement that “there is no question that what Russia is doing in Ukraine is a genocide. The international community is documenting the many Russian abuses that constitute war crimes across Ukraine. It’s time the United States and the world recognize it as such.”
Should the resolution be adopted, it would result in a symbolic declaration by Congress rather than an official shift in US policy. The White House has been careful to avoid the allegation, and when President Joe Biden said in April that “it sure seems” like Russia was committing “genocide” in Ukraine, his aides announced that the remark was not a policy statement.
The UN has stated that it has seen no evidence of genocide in Ukraine, and French President Emmanuel Macron has urged Western leaders to “be very careful” about using such terms.