Washington — Federal prosecutors in the U.S. charged four Russian soldiers with war crimes for allegedly abducting and torturing an American citizen inshortly after Russia's invasion, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The soldiers — two commanding officers and two lower-ranking soldiers — were charged with three war crimes for their alleged mistreatment of an American living in Ukraine. The commanding officers are identified as Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, while the two other soldiers are known only by their first names, Valerii and Nazar.
Each of the defendants is charged with unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment, as well as one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes, the Justice Department said. The charges, brought under a 1996 federal law that criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions, were handed down in an indictment on Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in an announcement at the Justice Department. None of the men are in U.S. custody.
"These charges, against four Russia-affiliated military personnel, are the Justice Department's first criminal charges under the U.S. war crimes statute. They are also an important step toward accountability for the Russian regime's illegal war in Ukraine," Garland said. "Our work is far from done."
The alleged war crimes
Prosecutors alleged Mkrtchyan and his soldiers abducted the unnamed victim from the village of Mylove in the Kherson Oblast region in southern Ukraine in April 2022. They beat him and illegally held him in custody for 10 days, according to the Justice Department.
Officials said some of the men either led or participated in interrogation sessions and tortured the victim, at times stripping him of his clothes and photographing him and beating him.
The co-conspirators "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 beat him with their feet, their fists, and the stocks of their guns," prosecutors said in the nine-page indictment.
In one particularly brutal session, Garland said Budnik "threatened the victim with death and asked him for his last words." Nazar and others then took the victim outside.
"There, they forced him to the ground and put a gun to the back of his head. The victim believed he was about to be killed. They moved the gun just before pulling the trigger and the bullet went just past his head," Garland said. "After the mock execution, the victim was beaten and interrogated again."
Charging documents said the unnamed victim had been living in Ukraine since 2021 and had not fought or participated in the war.
The charges against the four Russian soldiers come after multiple visits by Garland and other Justice Department officials to the war-torn nation. The Justice Department is assisting in the investigation of alleged war crimes committed by Russia, including by creating a War Crimes Accountability team to investigate potential war crimes in Ukraine that fall under U.S. jurisdiction. U.S. investigators are also assisting the Ukrainians in gathering and documenting evidence of Russian atrocities.
Garland commended Ukraine's law enforcement for their work in the investigation that resulted in the latest charges, and said he expected the U.S. to bring more charges in the future.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray, whose investigators took part in the year-long investigation, also spoke Wednesday. Federal investigators traveled to Europe in August of 2022 to speak with the victim, who had been evacuated after his ordeal, Mayorkas revealed.
"The evidence gathered by our agents speaks to the brutality, criminality, and depravity" of Russia, he said.
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