The U.S. Department of Justice announced war crime charges on Dec. 6 against four “Russia-affiliated military personnel” who are alleged to have detained and tortured an American citizen in Ukraine.
Federal prosecutors filed charges on Dec. 5 against Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU.
A federal criminal complaint identified the four defendants in either the Russian military or the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR); a breakaway eastern Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia amid its ongoing invasion of the country.
Prosecutors described Mkrtchyan and Budnik as “commanding officers” in suspected Russian or DPR military units and described Valerii LNU and Nazar LNU as lower-ranking military personnel.
These four defendants are alleged to have abducted a U.S. citizen from his home in eastern Ukraine on or about April 2, 2022. Charging documents do not identify the victim by name, but say he was living in the village of Mylove, in Ukraine’s eastern Kherson region.
After abducting the U.S. citizen, the four defendants are alleged to have beaten and interrogated him. One of the defendants is also accused of threatening to sexually assault the U.S. citizen and making other sexual advances. The defendants are also accused of staging a mock execution, forcing the victim to the ground and placing a gun to the back of his head before shifting the gun and firing past his head.
The captured U.S. citizen was also made to perform manual labor for Russian and DPR militia forces, such as digging trenches. This lasted until April 12, 2022.
Charging documents insisted the U.S. victim in this case was not engaged in armed conflict with Russian forces and thus should have been excluded from being targeted by Russian forces or their affiliates.
The case was investigated by the DOJ’s War Crimes Accountability Team and is being prosecuted in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The four defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit war crimes, unlawful confinement of a protected person, torture, and inhumane treatment. Each defendant faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
The charges are largely symbolic for now, as all four defendants remain at large. But U.S. officials described the case as a history-making moment in their ongoing investigation into Russian war crimes, and they foreshadowed that more charges could be coming.
The case marks the first time the DOJ has brought charges under the War Crimes Act of 1996. The act allows for prosecutions when a U.S. national is either a victim or a perpetrator of a “grave breach” of any of the Geneva Conventions in which the United States is a participating nation.
In a press statement on Dec. 6, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ “will work for as long as it takes to pursue accountability and justice for Russia’s war of aggression,” referring to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“Though today marks the first time the War Crimes Act of 1996 has been charged in U.S. history, this is certainly not the first time the FBI has investigated war crimes and held perpetrators accountable,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a Dec. 6 press conference.
“Cases like this one are among the most complex the FBI works, but bringing them is essential to deterring crimes like these and showing would-be perpetrators that no one is above the law and that war crimes will not go unpunished.”
NTD News reached out to the Russian Embassy in Washington for comment about these war crimes charges but did not receive a response by press time.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the “alleged war crimes of deportation of children from Ukrainian occupied territories into the Russian Federation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.