U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday announced that four Russia-affiliated military personnel have been charged with committing war crimes against an American citizen living in Ukraine.
“The charges include conspiracy to commit war crimes, including war crimes outlined by the international community after World War II, unlawful confinement, torture, and dehuman treatment,” Garland said during a news conference. “Like all defendants in the U.S. criminal justice system, the defendants in this case are entitled to due process of law, and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Standing alongside DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and FBI Director Christopher Wray, Garland stated that the Department of Justice was alleging that in April 2022, two commanding officers of Russia-affiliated forces—Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik—as well as two lower-ranking officers named Valerii and Nazar, committed war crimes against an American citizen who had been living in a Russia in 2021, though in 2022 the American was living in a small village in southern Ukraine—but was not participating in the Ukraine-Russia war.
As such, the American was considered a “protected person” under international law, Garland pointed out, when he was abducted by the alleged war criminals.
During the abduction, Garland said the suspects “threw the victim to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, beat him with their feet, their fists, and the stocks of their guns.”
Then, according to Garland, the suspects forced the American into a building the Russians were using as a jail and into a closet they were using as a jail cell, then tortured him as they interrogated him, and “one of the conspirators threatened to sexually assault him.”
Garland said they also committed a mock execution by shooting a gun very close to the American’s head.
“Again and again, he believed he was going to die,” said the Attorney General of the American.
“These charges against four Russia-affiliated personnel are the Justice Department’s first criminal charges under the U.S. War Crimes statute,” Garland noted. “They are also an important step toward accountability for the Russian regime’s illegal war in Ukraine. Our work is far from done.”
He added, “In the midst of war, Ukrainian prosecutors and investigators have risked their lives to pursue justice for the Ukrainian people. We are honored to stand alongside them.”
While it remains in question whether these four suspects will ever be arrested or face justice, Garland also issued this warning: “The Justice Department and the American people have a long memory. We will not forget the atrocities in Ukraine, and we will never stop working to bring those responsible to justice.”