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Lawmakers urge intel officials to declassify Russian war crimes info

The concern has risen as Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has hit fierce resistance, with signs of a possible stalemate. Observers worry that, to make progress, Putin will allow more indiscriminate bombings and other tactics that endanger civilians and violate traditional rules of war.

The bipartisan letter, dated Monday and shared with POLITICO, praises U.S. intelligence agencies’ unusual efforts so far to assist Ukraine and befuddle Moscow by publicizing many of the Kremlin’s plans in advance. It requests that the intelligence community, or IC, continue to “lean forward” in its information-sharing with Ukraine, including in ways that can help create escape corridors for civilians caught in the fighting.

In addition, “the IC should work diligently to declassify information related to Russia’s planned or actual war crimes or other atrocities,” the lawmakers write. “Doing so might deter Russia from continuing down this path or further demonstrate to the world Russia’s callous disregard for the lives of civilians, and the indiscriminate assault that has killed thousands of Ukrainians, and displaced millions more.”

Last week, President Joe Biden called Putin a “war criminal.” U.S. officials have also reacted sharply to Russian claims that Ukraine may have chemical and biological weapons at its disposal, saying the allegation is bogus and could be a set-up for Moscow to deploy its own such weapons.

The House Intelligence panel members — led by Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and ranking Republican Mike Turner of Ohio — acknowledge the challenges of bringing a dictator like Putin to justice. Still, they urge intelligence officials to leverage the tools at their disposal to make cases against Putin and his deputies in forums such as the International Criminal Court.

“Though the possibility of accountability appears distant today, we have a responsibility to bear witness,” the lawmakers state in the letter.

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