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Justice Department Brings First Ever War Crimes Charges Against Four Russian Soldiers

Matt Gluck
Wednesday, December 6, 2023, 11:40 AM

The Justice Department unsealed an indictment of four members of the Russian military and/or affiliated forces for the abduction and torture of a U.S. national. 

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On Dec. 6, the Justice Department unsealed an indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia against four members of the Russian military or its affiliate Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) forces—two commanding officers and two lower-ranking service-members—for alleged war crimes committed against a U.S. national. 

These charges are the first to be brought under the War Crimes Act of 1996. 

The government alleges the four defendants—Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii, and Nazar (last names unknown for these two defendants)—and unnamed co-conspirators abducted a U.S. citizen from his home in Mylove, Ukraine, forced the alleged victim to the ground, and beat him repeatedly before taking him to a Russian and/or DPR compound. According to the indictment, the defendants and co-conspirators brought the victim to a closet that served as a jail cell, where they continued to beat the victim. The government alleges Russian and/or DPR soldiers “committed acts specifically intended to inflict severe and and serious physical and mental pain and suffering upon [the victim]” while they interrogated him. One of the defendants, with co-conspirators, threatened to kill the victim during the interrogation, and another defendant conducted a mock execution of the victim with co-conspirators, according to the indictment. Prosecutors further allege the Russian and Russian-affiliated soldiers continued to detain the victim for approximately 10 days—during which the defendant conducted forced manual labor for the Russian and/or DPR militaries. 

The Justice Department charged the defendants with four counts under the War Crimes Act for alleged violations of art. 147 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. The indictment’s first count charges conspiracy to commit war crimes, the purpose of which, it says, “was to detain, confine, intimidate, punish, weaken, interrogate, threaten, physically abuse, and obtain information from persons, including [the victim], and to prevent resistance from the local civilian population.” The second, third, and fourth counts charge the defendants with the war crimes of unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment, respectively.

You can read the indictment here or below, and the Justice Department’s accompanying press release here

Matt Gluck is a research fellow at Lawfare. He holds a BA in government from Dartmouth College.

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