The United States has charged four Russia-affiliated soldiers with war crimes for their actions toward an American during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the Justice Department accusing them of beating and torturing him and staging a mock execution.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said these were the first charges brought under a 1996 federal law that allows the United States to prosecute people who commit war crimes against Americans abroad.
“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Garland told a news conference.
Russia has denied involvement in war crimes and has denied deliberately attacking civilians.
According to the indictment unsealed in Virginia federal court, the U.S. citizen – who was not identified by name – was kidnapped from his home in the village of Mylove in southern Ukraine in April 2022 and held captive for 10 days.
During that time, the American was beaten with fists, feet and the butt of a gun, and was subjected to interrogations, a mock execution in which he was held down as a gun was fired next to his head, further threats of death, threats of sexual violence and manual labor, according to the indictment.
“Again and again, he believed he was going to die,” Garland said.
Garland described the charges as an “important step toward accountability for the Russian regime’s illegal war in Ukraine.”
The defendants were charged with four crimes: one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes and three counts of war crimes -unlawful confinement of a protected person, torture and inhuman treatment.
The indictment identified the defendants as commanding officers Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, as well as two lower-level soldiers identified only by their the first names Valerii and Nazar.
Prosecutors said the defendants were either members of the Russian armed forces or military units of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a region in eastern Ukraine that Russia claims to control. The defendants are not in U.S. custody and are unlikely to appear in the United States to face the charges.
The case was investigated by a war crimes team created by the Justice Department last year to look into reports of atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine.
The Justice Department is also investigating the Palestinian militant group Hamas for the murders of 30 Americans and kidnappings of others during its Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, Garland told reporters.