For the first time in history, the United States Department of Justice charged four Russian soldiers with war crimes committed in Ukraine. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland presented the case at a press conference on December 6, 2023.
"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," Attorney General underscored.
The U.S. war crimes statute has been giving the American justice system jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed against American citizens abroad for nearly 30 years.
"This history should make clear that 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," said Merrick Garland.
In the end, the Attorney General reminded the audience of the Justice Department’s earlier efforts to identify, denaturalize, and deport Nazi war criminals in the United States. More than 130 cases were brought against perpetrators of Nazi crimes who had not been identified for decades before they were brought to justice.
"Historic charges have been brought against Russian soldiers: the United States has applied the principle of exterritorial jurisdiction with respect to war criminals for the first time," Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, commented, adding that it was made possible by the cooperation between the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and the U.S. Attorney General, as well as their teams.
Charges against the Russian war criminals
On December 5, 2023, attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia charged four Russian military service members with war crimes against an American citizen living in Ukraine. According to Garland, the charges include unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment.
The investigators discovered that, in April of 2022, two officers of the Russian army, Suren Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, as well as two lower-ranking soldiers, Valerii and Nazar, committed war crimes against an American citizen who had been living in in Mylove, a small village in Southern Ukraine [presumably the Kherson region], since 2021, and was not participating in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
After Russian forces invaded Mylove, the American was abducted from his home by Russian soldiers. They threw the victim to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and beat him with their feet, their fists, and the stocks of their guns. They forced him into a building that the invaders were using as a jail, and into a closet that they were using as a jail cell.
During the interrogation, the victim was tortured. They beat him with a gun, punched him in his chest and stomach, and threatened to shoot him. They stripped off his clothes and took pictures. One of the conspirators threatened to sexually assault him.
Budnik, who was also a commanding officer, threatened the American with death while interrogating him.
Nazar and other co-conspirators then took the victim outside. There, they forced him to the ground and put a gun to the back of his head. The victim believed he was about to be killed.
The Russians moved the gun just before pulling the trigger, and the bullet went past his head. After the mock execution, the victim was beaten and interrogated again with repeated death threats.
The victim was tortured repeatedly over the course of ten days. He was threatened with sexual assault and execution, forced to perform manual labor, and beaten in the head, chest, and stomach.