Western officials also believed China was ready to loan Russia “significant amounts of money”, in a move that would transform the relationship between the two autocratic states.
“The Chinese are very focused on the global economic aspects of the conflict,” officials said, in a briefing attended by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Officials said while the Chinese were “embarrassed by Russia’s actions in the UN and the disinformation it is putting out, there were “no signs” that Beijing was moving away from Moscow. But the atrocities in Bucha could influence any change.
“If the Chinese come to be associated with war crimes, then they’re going to want to review that quite carefully,” Western officials said.
Visiting Bucha on Tuesday morning (AEST), Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky labelled what he had witnessed on the streets as “genocide”. His government is warning it could be “just the tip of the iceberg” and besieged Mariupol would likely be “much worse”.
“These are war crimes and will be recognised by the world as genocide,” Zelensky said while wearing a bullet-proof vest alongside military personnel.
“We know of thousands of people killed and tortured, with severed limbs, raped women and murdered children,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to talk when you see what they’ve done here,” he added, vowing to make sure those responsible are held to account.
Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member council, which cannot make legally binding decisions. But its decisions send important political messages and it can authorise investigations.
Last month it opened an investigation into allegations of rights violations, including possible war crimes, in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. Thirty-two members voted in favour of the resolution, brought by Ukraine. Russia and Eritrea voted against while 13, including China, abstained.
A two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member assembly in New York can suspend a state for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.
In Poland ahead of G7 and NATO talks in Brussels later this week, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russia “must be suspended” from the UN body given “strong evidence of war crimes, including reports of mass graves and heinous butchery”.
Truss said she would be working with allies to go further banning Russian ships from western ports, cracking down on Russian banks and going after new industries “filling Putin’s war chest, like gold”.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for Russian oil and coal imports to be targeted in a new wave of sanctions against Moscow.
He told French radio there were “very clear clues pointing to war crimes”, adding: “What happened in Bucha demands a new round of sanctions and very clear measures.”
Germany reacted to the latest allegations of war crimes by expelling a “significant number” of Russian diplomats, with its Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock saying it was a response to the “unbelievable brutality” the Kremlin had unleashed in Ukraine.
The West expects Russia has repositioned about two-thirds of its forces from around Kyiv, with many consolidating in Belarus where they are expected to be refit, resupplied and redeployed elsewhere in Ukraine.
Ukrainian authorities said the Russian army had placed mines in children’s play areas, and booby-trapped front doors of apartments and alleyways.
An evacuation convoy escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross is still blocked in the eastern town of Manhush, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
Earlier an ICRC spokesperson said one of its teams had been stopped during an attempt to reach Mariupol and was being held.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday (AEST) that Russia probably plans to “deploy tens of thousands of soldiers” to eastern Ukraine as it shifts its focus.
Sullivan said the Biden administration would announce fresh military assistance for Ukraine in the coming days and stressed that further sanctions against Russian energy are also on the table in talks with European allies.
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