President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine welcomed the renewed pledges to hold Russia accountable by international leaders meeting this weekend in Munich, where Western officials doubled down on their resolve to support Kyiv days before the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
But Russia responded sharply to comments by Vice President Kamala Harris, who used a speech on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference to declare that Moscow had committed “crimes against humanity” in the war in Ukraine and pledged to hold accountable “all those who have perpetrated these crimes,” as well as their superiors.
In a statement later Saturday, Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, dismissed the comments “as an attempt, unprecedented in terms of its cynicism, to demonize Russia.”
The show of Western support for Ukraine, and Russia’s continued defiance, comes at a symbolic and possibly pivotal moment as Russia tries to step up a new offensive in eastern Ukraine and with the war reaching the one-year mark on Friday.
On Tuesday, President Biden is scheduled to observe the anniversary with a visit to Warsaw, while President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is expected to deliver a speech on the same day.
In an address late Saturday, Mr. Zelensky said that he was “grateful” for the “important statements” of support from Western officials.
“We received strong signals from our partners, and concrete agreements regarding the inevitability of holding Russia accountable for aggression, for terror against Ukraine and its people,” he said.
Experts warn that any legal process to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity would be long and tedious, with arrests or convictions far from assured. And while Mr. Zelensky’s allies have supplied Ukraine with ever more powerful weapons, it is not clear that his latest pleas — including for fighter jets and long-range missiles — will be met by Western leaders wary of provoking Russia into further aggression.
Still, the United States and its European partners were eager to show unity, largely repeating at the Munich conference — an annual gathering that draws leaders from dozens of nations — that they would back Ukraine for as long as it takes.
Russia’s most influential partner, China, delivered a typically calibrated message at the conference. Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s senior member for foreign affairs, said that “nuclear wars must not be fought,” a potential signal to Moscow that China will not tolerate the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, as Russian officials have at times threatened.
At the same time, Mr. Wang sought to deflect blame for the war away from Russia, arguing that “some forces might not want to see peace talks” and “might have strategic goals larger than Ukraine itself.” That language echoed Kremlin claims, rejected by the West, that Moscow was willing to engage in good-faith peace talks and that NATO aimed to subjugate Russia.