With no end in sight to the Russian barrage on Ukraine, America’s top diplomat used Wednesday to rally support for Ukrainians in the U.S. and abroad while painting dire images of the escalating ground war.
Saying “hundreds if not thousands” of Ukrainian civilians are believed to have been killed, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced yet another round of sanctions aimed at crippling Russia’s aircraft makers and other defense-industry firms. The sanctions will also be applied to Russia’s ally, Belarus.
Asked if Russia is deliberately attacking civilians, which would constitute a war crime, Blinken acknowledged the possibility.
“We’ve certainly seen in the past that one of Russia’s methods of war is to be absolutely brutal in trying to cow the citizenry of a given country,” he said at a State Department news conference. “And that includes, at the very least, indiscriminate targeting and potentially deliberate targeting as well.”
He said the U.S. is documenting the cases, and the International Criminal Court has already suggested it would investigate possible war crimes.
“The numbers of civilians killed and wounded, the humanitarian consequences, will only grow in the days ahead,” Blinken said.
In an unusual gesture of domestic diplomacy, Blinken spent his morning Wednesday at a religious center for Ukrainian immigrants, most of whom have relatives currently under siege by the Russian military.
He went to the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in the northeastern part of Washington, where both Catholic Christians and Orthodox Christians from the Ukrainian community came together to host him.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine split from the Moscow Orthodox patriarchate in 2018, and priests at the Blinken meeting said Ukrainian Catholics and Orthodox have overcome religious difference and are united in advocating for the country.
“President Putin made a horrific, terrible mistake,” Blinken told a small group of priests, Ukrainian diplomats and ordinary parishioners seated in the pews at the church. Ukraine is inspiring the world, he assured them.
“In three decades, I can’t think of a moment when the world has been so inspired.” Blinken said. “Good will triumph over evil. … We will prevail.”
Many in the group bore looks of quiet consternation, anxious about relatives back in Ukraine.
Father Robert Hitchens presided over a baptism earlier this week where the godmother had to participate remotely by video from a bomb shelter somewhere in Ukraine.
And then there was Father Andrii Chornopyskyi, a young Ukrainian Catholic priest who arrived in Washington about six months ago with his wife Ivanna and 3-year-old son to complete his theological studies. The couple’s two sets of parents are trapped in Ukraine, desperately trying to stay safe.
In his news conference, Blinken described the more than $1 billion in military aid the U.S. has sent to Ukraine in the past year.
“We will freeze and seize their yachts, the private jets, their opulent estates in world capitals,” he said, referring to Russian oligarchs and those in Putin’s inner circle.
Blinken also said he was in “near daily” contact with his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba,
On Thursday, Blinken travels to Moldova, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all nations that risk being threatened by Putin, he said. He will also go to Poland, where the bulk of several hundred thousand Ukrainian refugees have fled, and to Brussels to consult with representatives of the European Union and NATO.
“Russian officials continued to deny it right until the invasion began,” Blinken said. “Seeing that duplicity and premeditated aggression play out exactly as we predicted has generated outrage and solidarity across Europe and around the world.”