Civilian killings in the Ukrainian city of Bucha near the capital Kyiv show an "unbearable brutality" that Europe has not seen for decades, the NATO chief said on Tuesday.
"We have all seen the horrific images of murdered civilians in Bucha and other places controlled by the Russian military until a few days ago. This is unbearable brutality that Europe has not witnessed in many decades," Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a press conference ahead of a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on the Russian war on Ukraine.
"Targeting and murdering civilians is a war crime," Stoltenberg said, adding that those responsible for "these atrocities must be brought to justice."
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin's lack of respect for the rule of law and basic human rights showed the nature of his war, which he said poses "the most serious security challenge we have faced since the Second World War."
"It has triggered a very comprehensive and strong response from the whole NATO alliance," Stoltenberg added.
While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says the killings in Bucha could be labeled genocide, Russia denies that its troops killed civilians while withdrawing from towns near Kyiv.
Russia’s war against Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24, has been met with international outrage, with the European Union, US and UK, among others, implementing tough sanctions on Moscow.
At least 1,430 civilians have been killed in Ukraine and 2,097 injured, according to UN estimates, with the true figure feared to be far higher.
More than 4.21 million Ukrainians have also fled to other countries, with over 7 million more internally displaced, according to UN agencies.
Russia prepping for 'major' offensive to take Donbas
Stoltenberg also warned about a "major" new Russian offensive expected to take place in a few weeks meant to seize the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.
Russian troops are pulling back from Kyiv to "regroup, rearm and resupply" and are planning a major offensive to take Donbas in the coming weeks, he said.
Donbas has been wracked by Russian-backed separatists since 2014, in a conflict that took some 13,000 lives. Before launching the Ukraine war on Feb. 24, Russia recognized two separatist enclaves in Donbas as “independent.”
"Moscow has not given up its ambitions in Ukraine," said Stoltenberg. "We now see a significant movement of troops away from Kyiv to regroup, rearm and resupply and to shift their focus to the east."
"In the coming weeks, we expect further Russian troops in the eastern and southern Ukraine to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land bridge to occupied Crimea."
That's why it is "extremely important" that NATO allies provide support to Kyiv so Ukrainian forces can be rearmed and resupplied, the NATO chief said, adding that this will be discussed by allies during the meetings.
He added that Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will also join the two-day meetings to update NATO on the latest developments.
Asked whether he agrees with Zelenskyy's remarks saying there will be no peace until all Russian troops leave Ukraine, Stoltenberg said NATO allies are determined to deliver further support to Ukraine but Kyiv should determine the terms of peace with Moscow itself./aa