US Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday accused Russia of committing "crimes against humanity" in Ukraine, saying Moscow's forces had conducted "widespread and systemic" attacks on the country's civilian population.

She made the comments at the Munich Security Conference, days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion which unleashed war in Europe for the first time in decades.

"The US has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity," she told world leaders at the gathering -- the first time that the United States has formally designated Russia's actions in Ukraine as such.

"Their actions are an assault on our common values and our common humanity. Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population," Harris added.


Harris levelled a list of allegations at Moscow's troops -- "gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation, execution-style killings, beatings and electrocution".

"I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes and to their superiors who are complicit in these crimes: you will be held to account... Justice must be served," said Harris, a former prosecutor.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed the move, saying that Russia had started a "genocidal war".

"Everything that stems from that is crimes against humanity, war crimes and various other atrocities committed by the Russian army in the territory of Ukraine," he told a press conference in Munich.

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But he also expressed fears that there would not be enough evidence to prosecute "specific individuals".

The International Criminal Court is investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen last year also floated the idea of a "specialised court" to put Russia's top officials on trial over the war.

- Putin victory is 'risk' -

The three-day conference is being attended by senior figures including the presidents of France and Germany, China's top diplomat Wang Yi, and a large US delegation including Harris and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.


Russia, which used to traditionally send Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the event, was not invited this year.

The second day of the conference on Saturday also heard calls for more military support.

Allies, led by the United States, have sent billions of dollars of armaments to Kyiv, from artillery to air defence systems, but Ukraine says it needs more to launch a successful counter-offensive.

"We must give Ukraine what they need to win and prevail as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

"The biggest risk of all is if (President Vladimir) Putin wins. If Putin wins in Ukraine, the message to him and other authoritarian leaders will be that they can use force to get what they want."

- The China question -

Kuleba said Ukraine's focus was now on getting supplies quickly: "Weapons pledged to Ukraine so far have to be delivered as soon as possible."

While allies have provided much weaponry, they have been hesitant in sending everything Ukraine is requesting -- for fear of escalating the conflict, and of the impact on their own military stocks.


After weeks of foot-dragging, Berlin last month agreed German-made heavy battle tanks, widely used across Europe, could be sent to Ukraine.

But they have since struggled to get commitments from allies to join them in sending the crucial armaments.

Zelensky's pleas for Western backers to give combat jets to Kyiv has received a cool response, with allies downplaying the prospect of that happening any time soon.

There have been concerns China is deepening ties with Russia despite the conflict -- but top diplomat Wang insisted that Beijing was playing a constructive role, and would support dialogue and potential peace talks.

Wang added that China will publish on the anniversary of the war a position on the "peaceful settlement" of the conflict.

Asked whether Wang's remarks appeared sincere, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told the gathering: "China has to play a responsible role when it comes to situations like this, and that's what I'll urge and ask them to do."

He also said a conference would take place in London in June on Ukraine's recovery.

Outside the venue hosting the Munich gathering, several hundred protesters rallied to show their support for Ukraine, while a separate group staged another demonstration against the conflict.

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