Ukrainian prosecutor says Russia uses rape as a war tactic, calls Putin a war criminal

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IRPIN, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukraine's prosecutor general accused Russia on Tuesday of using rape as a tactic of war and described Russian President Vladimir Putin as "the main war criminal of the 21st century".

Russia has previously denied targeting civilians and has rejected allegations that its forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the accusations and has dismissed previous suggestions that Putin is a war criminal.

Visiting the devastated city of Irpin near Kyiv, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said Ukraine was collecting information on allegations of rape, torture and other suspected war crimes by Russian forces.

Venediktova said the allegations included the rape of women, men, children and an old woman. Asked whether rape was a deliberate Russian strategy in the war, she told a news conference: "I am sure actually that it was strategy."

"This is, of course, to scare civil society... to do everything to (force Ukraine to) capitulate," she said.

She provided no specific details of the rape allegations, saying some of the victims remained in Ukraine and were afraid of speaking out for fear of Russian forces returning.

Venediktova said Putin bore responsibility for what happened in Ukraine as commander-in-chief of the Russian armed forces.

"Putin is the main war criminal of the 21st century," she said, recalling Russian military interventions in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Russia's Chechnya region, Syria and in Ukraine in 2014

"If we speak about (the) crime of aggression, we all know who started this war, and this person is Vladimir Putin," she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in March dismissed as unforgivable a comment by U.S. President Joe Biden in which he said Putin was a war criminal.

(Reporting by Max Hunder, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Jon Boyle)