US criticizes Moscow for “forced deportation” of Ukrainians to Russia

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Wednesday accused Russia of forcibly deporting up to 1.6 million Ukrainians to Russia, accusing Moscow of a deliberate criminal operation to depopulate parts of Ukraine.

In a statement a day before a conference on Ukrainian accountability in The Hague on alleged war crimes in Ukraine, Blinken said that Moscow was conducting a “filtration” operation to resettle Ukrainians from the occupied east and south to areas deep in Russia.

“The illegal transfer and deportation of protected persons is a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians and a war crime,” Blinken said.

He said estimates from sources including the Russian government itself show that between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens have been taken from their homes to Russia, including to isolated areas in the Russian Far East.

That number includes about 260,000 children, Blinken said, some of whom are deliberately separated from their parents in order to be given up for adoption in Russia.

He said the filtration program appeared to have been pre-planned and was in line with similar operations Russia has conducted in other wars, including in Chechnya.

“President Putin’s ‘filtering’ operations consist of separating families, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports in a clear attempt to change the demographic composition of parts of Ukraine,” he said.

Blinken said it was “obligatory” to hold the Russians accountable.

“That is why we support the efforts of Ukrainian and international authorities to collect, document and preserve evidence of atrocities,” he said.

On Thursday, a one-day conference on Ukraine’s accountability is being hosted by Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan and EU Commissioner Didier Reynders.