The Justice Department is charging four Russian fighters with committing war crimes against a U.S. national.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced 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’ through an indictment returned Tuesday in the Eastern District of Virginia. The charges include conspiracy to commit war crimes, including war crimes outlawed by the international community after World War Two, unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment.
The indictment charges Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, 45, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU in connection with their alleged 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, according to the Justice Department.
‘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. Our work is far from done,’ Garland said.
‘We will not forget the atrocities in Ukraine, and we will never stop working to bring those responsible to justice,’ he continued. ‘Throughout our work. We will continue to put our trust in the rule of law. The rule of law is the best answer we have to crimes that cannot be truly answered. The rule of law is how we pursue true accountability for the individuals responsible for those crimes and how we deter future aggression. And the rule of law is how we pursue justice in a way that protects people and protects our shared humanity.’
Garland detailed the allegations in the indictment.
‘The victim was living in Mylove, a small village in southern Ukraine and was not participating in the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine,’ Garland said. ‘As such, the victim was what is known as a protected person under international law. After Russian forces invaded Mylove, the victim was abducted from his home by three of the defendants.’
During the abduction, Garland said, those defendants threw the victim to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun to his head, and beat him with their feet, their fists and the stocks of their guns. The indictment alleges that they forced him into a building that Russia-affiliated forces were using as a jail and into a closet that they were using as a jail cell where they interrogated him, tortured him and beat him again with a gun. Proseuctors say the defendants and their co-conspirators punched the U.S. national in his chest and stomach, threatened to shoot him, stripped off his clothes and took pictures. One of their conspirators allegedly threatened to sexually assault the victim, Garland said.
‘And during the interrogation, when the victim’s answers did not satisfy the defendants, we allege that Budnik, who was also a commanding officer, threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words. We alleged that Nazar and other conspirators then took the victim outside. There they forced him to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head. The victim believed he was about to be killed,’ Garland said. ‘They moved the gun just before pulling the trigger and the bullet went just past his head. After the mock execution, the victim was beaten and interrogated again. At one point, he was told through an interpreter that he was, ‘going to sleep.’ And he was told by Mkrtchyan, ‘Good night.’’
After Garland spoke, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas took to the podium to highlight the work of his department in bringing the charges to fruition.
‘In 2008, the Department of Homeland Security and its Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, created the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center – the only U.S. government entity focused entirely on investigating these global atrocities,’ Mayorkas said. ‘For 15 years, this select group of special agents, attorneys, intelligence analysts, criminal research specialists, and historians from across the federal government have worked together and with their international counterparts to hold those who engage in the perpetration of war crimes, genocide, torture, and other human rights violations accountable.’
‘Today, an investigation more than a year in the making by this Center and its federal partners bears fruit. For the first time in our nation’s history, federal agents gathered sufficient evidence to bring charges of war crimes perpetrated against an American citizen – in violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 2441. The allegations detail gruesome events,’ Mayorkas said. ‘The agents who made this case possible were tireless in their investigation, giving extraordinary attention to every detail, and making considerable sacrifices throughout.’
‘In August 2022, these HSI agents traveled with their DOJ and FBI partners to speak with an American citizen who had recently been evacuated from Ukraine, where he had been living with his wife, a Ukrainian citizen,’ Mayorkas said. ‘Throughout this past year, our HSI agents, with the assistance of HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center and alongside our FBI partners, have worked to corroborate the victim’s allegations. They traveled internationally to interview the victim’s family. They identified and interviewed individuals who were present within the general vicinity of Mylove around the time the victim was held in captivity, who confirmed the Russian forces’ occupation in the area. Based on the information they obtained, the HSI agents and their FBI partners were able to identify the four defendants whose indictments are announced today.’
Mayoraks vowed that the ‘United States will hold the Russian perpetrators of this unthinkable mistreatment, these unacceptable human rights violations, accountable.’
‘First: there is no higher responsibility of government than to safeguard its people and their basic human rights. As today’s announcement makes clear, when an American citizen’s human rights are violated, their government will spare no effort, and spare no resource, to bring the perpetrators to justice,’ Mayorkas said. ‘Second: the evidence gathered by our agents speaks to the brutality, criminality, and depravity of Russia’s invasion. The Ukrainian people have had, and must continue to have, America’s full support against Russia’s unjust, unprovoked, and unlawful war of aggression. We cannot allow such horrific crimes to be ignored; to do so would only increase the risk they will be repeated.’