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Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: SPUTNIK/REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: SPUTNIK/REUTERS

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Monday it had summoned US ambassador John Sullivan to tell him that President Joe Biden’s calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” had pushed bilateral ties to the brink of collapse.

Biden said last week that Putin was a “war criminal” for sending tens of thousands of troops to invade Ukraine and targeting civilians.

“Such statements from the American president, unworthy of a statesman of such high rank, put Russian-American relations on the verge of rupture,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Kremlin earlier described the comments as “personal insults” against Putin.

The ministry also told Sullivan that hostile actions against Russia would receive a “decisive and firm response.”

State department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that Sullivan met with Russian officials. But he declined to say whether the US envoy told them that the US stands behind the accusation Biden levelled at Putin.

Price told a news briefing that the US believes it is important to maintain communication channels with Russia especially “during times of conflict.”

“We have sought to maintain a diplomatic presence in Moscow” and the US wants Russia to keep a similar presence in Washington, he continued.

Russia’s actions “call into question whether they, too, welcome these same open lines of communications”, Price said.

Deputy US secretary of state Wendy Sherman, in an interview on MSNBC, said Russia’s reported statement “just shows how desperate President Putin is becoming”.

Also on Monday, the US said it could not  independently confirm or refute a Russian claim over the weekend that it fired hypersonic missiles at a Ukrainian target. A defence official said it made little sense from a military perspective and could be meant to send a message.

Russia said on Saturday it had used hypersonic Kinzhal (Dagger) missiles to destroy a large weapons depot in Ukraine’s western Ivano-Frankivsk region.

"It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, to be honest with you, because it’s not exactly clear why — if it’s true — why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building," the US official told said. 

In Ukraine, the government defied a Russian demand that it surrender Mariupol, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been trapped in a city under siege and laid to waste by Russian bombardment.

Russia’s military had ordered Ukrainians in the city in the country’s southeast to surrender by 5am, saying that those who do so would be permitted to leave through safe corridors.

“There can be no question of any surrender, laying down of arms” in the city, Ukrainian deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk responded. “We have already informed the Russian side about this.”

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has stalled on most fronts. It has failed to seize a single major Ukrainian city or swiftly topple the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But Russia has pounded residential areas, causing massive destruction. Nowhere has it been worse than suffered at Mariupol, a port on the Sea of Azov, home to 400,000 people before the war. Mariupol has been under siege and constant bombardment, with no food, medicine, power or fresh water, since the invasion’s early days.


Refugees and internally displaced escape Russia shelling of several Ukrainian sites overnight.

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