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‘Heinous.’ Von der Leyen backs Russia war crimes probe

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday backed efforts to investigate reported Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

Following a call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, von der Leyen said that EU investigators will help Kyiv to probe reports from Ukrainian officials and NGOs that Russian forces massacred and raped civilians in towns near the Ukrainian capital, including Bucha. The reports, images and video footage have prompted calls for investigations into war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The EU will be “sending investigation teams on the ground to support the Ukrainian Prosecution Services,” von der Leyen said in a statement. It was not clear when exactly the teams will be sent to Ukraine.

“The perpetrators of these heinous crimes must not go unpunished,” she added.

Last week, Eurojust, the EU’s agency cooperating on criminal justice matters, announced it would support a joint investigation team launched by Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to enable the exchange of information and facilitate a probe into war crimes allegedly perpetrated in Ukraine. While it currently includes these three countries, the joint investigation team is open to other countries, a spokesperson for Eurojust said. He added that the team was already operational and had regular exchanges.

Leaders from around the EU have demanded scrutiny of alleged Russian war crimes in the lethal invasion of Ukraine which began on February 24.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Monday that Russia was carrying out a “genocide” in Ukraine and urged an international investigation, while Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez also said Russia should be investigated for genocide.

Also on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said there were “very clear indications of war crimes” in Ukraine, and France had “indicated our willingness to assist the Ukrainian authorities in the investigations they are currently conducting. International justice must be done.” Asked whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is among those responsible for the war crimes, Macron said he thinks “it’s pretty much established that it was the Russian army, yes … “

The International Court of Justice launched an investigation late February into the war in Ukraine, and countries around the EU have backed the probe. Russia has denied accusations of war crimes.

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