In the nearly eight decades since the term was first used, “genocide” has conjured images of gas chambers, killing fields in Rwanda and mass graves in Srebrenica.
President Biden used the term on Tuesday, saying, “It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has described Russian atrocities as genocide, praised Biden’s comments and called on the United States to send additional heavy weapons.
Other Western leaders have been more hesitant. “Genocide has a meaning,” French President Emmanuel Macron told the France 2 television broadcaster on April 13. “The Ukrainian people and the Russian people are brethren people.”
The Kremlin called Biden’s accusation “unacceptable.”
Experts are divided over the merits of declaring Russian atrocities in Ukraine a genocide at this point.
Here’s what to know about the term and its significance.