United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia

12/06/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/06/2023 10:45

Four Russia-Affiliated Military Personnel Charged with War Crimes in Connection with Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Press Release

Four Russia-Affiliated Military Personnel Charged with War Crimes in Connection with Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. - War crimes charges against four Russia-affiliated military personnel were unsealed today. The charges include unlawful confinement, inhuman treatment, and torture of a U.S. national in Ukraine following Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, 45, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU were each charged in connection with their 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 beat, and tortured the victim. They also allegedly threatened to kill the victim and conducted a mock execution.

"These charges reflect that the defendants' alleged actions are not only grave breaches of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, but also violations of U.S. law," said Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "We are proud to be at the forefront of the Department of Justice's effort to hold perpetrators of war crimes violations accountable in Ukraine and will continue to pursue them. We thank our investigative partners on this case, the War Crimes Accountability Team, the FBI Washington Field Office and Homeland Security Investigations, for their outstanding efforts to gather evidence required for these charges."

"As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. "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 Justice Department will work for as long as it takes to pursue accountability and justice for Russia's war of aggression."

"Torturing and unlawfully confining a protected person are serious human rights abuses that must not go unpunished," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "These historic criminal charges - the first ever brought under the U.S. war crimes statute - are an important step in the Justice Department's continuing efforts to pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine."

According to allegations in the indictment, Mkrtchyan and Budnik were commanding officers of military units of the Russian Armed Forces and/or the so-called Donetsk People's Republic. Valerii and Nazar were lower-ranking military personnel. The defendants are alleged to have been fighting on behalf of Russia in Ukraine when they allegedly committed war crimes. In April 2022, Mkrtchyan and soldiers under his command allegedly abducted the victim, a U.S. national, from his home in the village of Mylove in the Kherson Oblast region in southern Ukraine and unlawfully confined him for at least 10 days. During the abduction, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others allegedly threw the victim face down to the ground while he was naked, tied his hands behind his back, pointed a gun at his head, and severely beat him, including with the stocks of their guns. Mkrtchyan, Valerii, Nazar, and others then allegedly transported the victim to an improvised military compound in Mylove.

"Since the start of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Russia has weaponized human rights abuses to wreak unimaginable tragedy," said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "Today's indictments - the first ever under the U.S. war crimes statute - makes clear that the FBI will work with the full cooperation of international law enforcement to bring justice to the victims of these atrocities. The human toll of the conflict in Ukraine weighs heavily on the hearts of the FBI and we're resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes."

"These historic charges are the culmination of a complex investigation by the FBI and our partners that spans the globe," said Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI Washington Field Office. "The FBI will continue to work alongside our domestic and international partners to pursue justice and hold those accountable who commit such atrocities against others."

The indictment also alleges that Mkrtchyan and Budnik led and participated in at least two interrogation sessions during which the four defendants and others tortured the victim. During one interrogation, Mkrtchyan, Valerii, and Nazar allegedly stripped off the victim's clothes and photographed him. The defendants and others then allegedly severely beat the victim, pointed guns at the back of his head, and threatened to shoot him. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words. Shortly thereafter, Nazar and others allegedly conducted a mock execution. They allegedly forced the victim to the ground, put a gun to the back of his head, then moved the gun slightly and shot a bullet just past the victim's head.

"Acting on behalf of the Russian Armed Forces and the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, these four individuals allegedly violated the human rights of an American citizen and his family," said Executive Associate Director Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). "According to the charges, they unlawfully detained and tortured the American citizen, and even went so far as to carry out a mock execution. The unsealing of these charges for war crimes is an important step in bringing the responsible parties to justice. HSI will continue to aggressively pursue anyone who violates the human rights of our American citizens - at home or overseas."

The defendants are charged with three war crimes - unlawful confinement, torture, and inhuman treatment - and one count of conspiracy to commit war crimes. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Nicole M. Argentieri, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department's Criminal Division; Steven M. D'Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office; and Derek W. Gordon, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander E. Blanchard, Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) Trial Attorney and Lead Prosecutor for the War Crimes Accountability Team Christian Levesque, and HRSP Trial Attorney Patrick Jasperse are prosecuting the case. Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas W. Traxler provided significant assistance to this case. HRSP historians and other staff provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution.

The FBI Washington Field Office and HSI Washington, D.C. Field Office, with assistance from the FBI's International Human Rights Unit and HSI's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, investigated the war crimes allegations in partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and the Justice Department's War Crimes Accountability Team, which is based in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division.

The Justice Department's Criminal Division's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property and Appellate Sections, National Security Division, Office of Enforcement Operations, and Office of International Affairs also provided valuable assistance. The Justice Department is grateful for the substantial assistance the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine has provided in furthering the investigation.

Members of the public who have information about human rights violators in the United States or the location of the defendants named in this indictment are urged to the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or through the FBI online tip form or HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or through the ICE online tip form. All are staffed around the clock, and tips may be provided anonymously.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 3:23-cr-161.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated December 6, 2023