The Kremlin has said that it categorically disagreed with US President Joe Biden's description of Russia's actions in Ukraine as 'genocide'.

Mr Biden said last night that Russia's behaviour in Ukraine amounted to genocide in his view, using that word for the first time.

Mr Biden had accused Vladimir Putin's forces of committing genocide in Ukraine, saying it has "become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being able to be a Ukrainian".

"Yes, I called it genocide because it has become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of being able to be Ukrainian and the evidence is mounting," Mr Biden told reporters as he prepared to board Air Force One yesterday.

Mr Biden has repeatedly called Mr Putin a war criminal, but delivering a speech at an ethanol plant in Iowa, the US president escalated his rhetoric to accuse Russia of genocide.

"We'll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies, but it sure seems that way to me."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters that the comments were not acceptable.

"We consider this kind of effort to distort the situation unacceptable," he said.

"This is hardly acceptable from a president of the United States, a country that has committed well-known crimes in recent times," Mr Peskov said.

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Earlier today, French President Emmanuel Macron declined to repeat Mr Biden's accusation, warning that verbal escalations would not help end the war.

But speaking to France 2 television as he ramps up his re-election campaign against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, Mr Macron said leaders should be careful with language.

"I would say that Russia unilaterally unleashed the most brutal war, that it is now established that war crimes were committed by the Russian army and that it is now necessary to find those responsible and make them face justice," Mr Macron said.

"It's madness what's happening, it's incredibly brutal," he added.

"But at the same time, I look at the facts and I want to try as much as possible to continue to be able to stop this war and to rebuild peace. I'm not sure that verbal escalations serve this cause," he said.

Mr Macron said it was best to be "careful" with the terminology on genocide in this situations, especially as "the Ukrainians and Russians are brotherly peoples".

Mr Biden's comments were welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly accused Moscow of genocide since the invasion was launched on 24 February.

Many towns Russia has retreated from in northern Ukraine were littered with the bodies of civilians killed in what Ukraine's government says was a campaign of murder, torture and rape.

Interfax Ukraine news agency quoted the Kyiv district police chief saying that 720 bodies have been found in the region around the capital, with more than 200 people missing.

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Mr Putin yesterday used his first public comments on the conflict in more than a week to say Russia would "rhythmically and calmly" continue its operation, and expressed confidence his goals, including on security, would be achieved.

Mr Zelensky mocked Mr Putin in an early morning address today: "How could a plan that provides for the death of tens of thousands of their own soldiers in a little more than a month of war come about?"

Mr Putin said that on-off peace negotiations "have again returned to a dead-end situation for us".

Making his comments, Mr Putin frequently seemed to ramble or stammer. Only occasionally did he adopt the icy, confident demeanour that has been his trademark over more than 22 years as Russia's leader.

Mr Putin, who had been ubiquitous on Russian television in the early days of the war, had largely retreated from public view since Russia's withdrawal from northern Ukraine two weeks ago.

Mr Zelensky told Russia to release prisoners of war if it wants the Kremlin's most high-profile political ally in the country freed.

Ukraine said that Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the Opposition Platform - For Life party, had been recaptured. In February, the authorities said he had escaped house arrest after a treason case was opened.

Viktor Medvedchuk denies any wrongdoing (Credit: Security Service of Ukraine)

The politician, who says Mr Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing.

"I propose to the Russian Federation: exchange this guy of yours for our guys and girls now held in Russian captivity," Mr Zelensky said in his address.

Alongside a photo of Mr Medvedchuk in handcuffs, the head of Ukraine's security service Ivan Bakanov said on Facebook that operatives "conducted this lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation" to arrest him.

A Kremlin spokesperson was cited by the Tass news agency assaying he had seen the photo and could not say whether it was genuine.

Russia says it now aims to capture more territory on behalf of separatists in two eastern provinces, known as the Donbas, which includes the besieged port of Mariupol.

Ukraine says tens of thousands of civilians have been trapped inside Mariupol with no way to bring in food or water, and accuses Russia of blocking aid convoys.

As Russia redoubles efforts in the east, Luhansk regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai urged residents to evacuate.

"It's far more scary to remain and burn in your sleep from a Russian shell," he wrote on social media.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said he had seen incident reports on possible chemical weapons use in Mariupol but could not confirm them.

The United States and Britain have said they were trying to verify the reports. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was closely monitoring the situation.

Chemical weapons production, use and stockpiling is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.

Russian-backed separatist forces in the east denied using chemical weapons in Mariupol, the Interfaxnews agency reported.

The US is expected to announce $750 million more in military assistance, two officials told Reuters, likely including heavy ground artillery systems to Ukraine, including howitzers, in a sign the war is expected to drag on.