The four people charged — Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, 45, Dmitry Budnik, and two others whose full names are not yet known — allegedly interrogated, tortured and threatened to kill the victim, even holding a mock execution. All four men remain at large, and the chances of them being captured or turned over to U.S. authorities are low.
“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in announcing the charges. “That is why 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.”
The indictment says that Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of military units of the Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. The two others, known only by their first names, Valerii and Nazar, were lower-ranking military personnel. They were allegedly fighting on behalf of Russia when they tortured the American.
The prosecution announced Wednesday grows out of an evidence-sharing agreement struck last year between the U.S. Justice Department and its Ukrainian counterparts.
Since forming the War Crimes Accountability Team, the Justice Department has been gathering evidence for cases that could be brought in U.S. courts — particularly any crimes committed against Americans.
Garland has pledged to be “relentless” in helping Ukraine hunt down war criminals associated with the Russian invasion.
The conflict, now almost two years old, has become a flashpoint on Capitol Hill, with Republicans demanding politically fraught changes to asylum and other immigration policies in exchange for Ukraine funding.
A counteroffensive by Ukraine that began last summer, with strong backing from the United States, has failed to deliver its expected punch. Ukraine’s struggles have prompted friction and second-guessing between Washington and Kyiv and called in question Ukraine’s ability to retake decisive amounts of territory occupied by Russia.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.