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US files war crimes charges against Russian soldiers

The Justice Department has filed war crime charges against four members of the Russian military accused of abducting and torturing an American during the invasion of Ukraine.

Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, 45, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU were each charged in connection with their unlawful detainment of a U.S. national in the context of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The defendants are alleged to have interrogated, severely beaten, and tortured the victim. They also allegedly threatened to kill the victim and conducted a mock execution. The charges are the first ever brought under a U.S. war crimes law, the department said.  The US war crimes law, passed in 1996, criminalised any "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions involving Americans as victims or perpetrators. The law applies if either the victim or the perpetrator is a national of the United States or a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

"As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “That is why the Justice Department has filed the first ever charges under the U.S. war crimes statute against four Russia- affiliated military personnel for heinous crimes against an American citizen. The Justice Department will work for as long as it takes to pursue accountability and justice for Russia’s war of aggression.”

“Thanks to the tireless and unprecedented work of federal law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Justice Department, four Russian soldiers, accused of unthinkable, unacceptable human rights violations against an American citizen, have been charged with war crimes and will be brought to justice,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “The indictments unsealed today send a clear message to Russia – our government will spare no effort and spare no resource to hold accountable those who violate the fundamental human rights of an American.”

“Since the start of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia has weaponized human rights abuses to wreak unimaginable tragedy,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “Today’s indictment – the first ever under the U.S. war crimes statute – makes clear that the FBI will work with the full cooperation of international law enforcement to bring justice to the victims of these atrocities. The human toll of the conflict in Ukraine weighs heavily on the hearts of the FBI, and we’re resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes.”

“Torturing and unlawfully confining a protected person are serious human rights abuses that must not go unpunished,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “These historic criminal charges – the first ever brought under the U.S. war crimes statute – are an important step in the Justice Department’s continuing efforts to pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.”

According to allegations in the indictment, Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of military units of the Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, and Valerii and Nazar were lower-ranking military personnel. The defendants are alleged to have been fighting on behalf of Russia in Ukraine when they allegedly committed war crimes.

In April 2022, Mkrtchyan and soldiers under his command allegedly abducted the victim, a U.S. national, from his home in the village of Mylove in the Kherson Oblast region in southern Ukraine and unlawfully confined him for at least 10 days. During the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others allegedly threw the victim face down to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and severely beat him, including with the stocks of their guns. Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others then allegedly transported the victim to an improvised military compound in Mylove.

“These charges reflect that the defendants’ alleged actions are not only grave breaches of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, but also violations of U.S. law,” said U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are proud to be at the forefront of the Justice Department’s effort to hold perpetrators of war crimes violations accountable in Ukraine and will continue to pursue them. We thank our investigative partners on this case, the War Crimes Accountability Team, the FBI Washington Field Office, and Homeland Security Investigations for their outstanding efforts to gather evidence required for these charges.”

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik led and participated in at least two interrogation sessions during which the four defendants and others tortured the victim. During one interrogation, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, and Nazar allegedly stripped off the victim’s clothes and photographed him. The defendants and others then allegedly severely beat the victim, pointed guns at the back of his head, and threatened to shoot him. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words. Shortly thereafter, Nazar and others allegedly conducted a mock execution. They allegedly forced the victim to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head, then moved the gun slightly and shot a bullet just past the victim’s head.

“These historic charges are the culmination of a complex investigation by the FBI and our partners that spans the globe,” said Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington Field Office. “The FBI will continue to work alongside our domestic and international partners to pursue justice and hold those accountable who commit such atrocities against others.”

“Acting on behalf of the Russian Armed Forces and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, these four individuals allegedly violated the human rights of an American citizen,” said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  “According to the charges, they unlawfully detained and tortured the American citizen, and even went so far as to carry out a mock execution. The unsealing of these charges for war crimes is an important step in bringing the responsible parties to justice. HSI will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who violates the human rights of our American citizens – at home or overseas.”

The defendants are charged with three war crimes – unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment – and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, but the Justice Department has brought repeated criminal cases against Russian nationals, most notably for cyber crimes and including for interference in the 2016 presidential election. In some of those cases, the defendants have been taken into custody by American officials, such as when they’ve traveled outside Russia.

Read more at the Department of Justice 

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