The U.S. has filed war crime charges against four Russian soldiers accused of torturing an American during the Ukraine war. This is the first U.S. prosecution related to the ongoing war, as well as the first ever charges brought under the 30-year-old U.S. war crimes statute.
The four Russians, including two senior officers, were charged with the torture, mistreatment, and unlawful confinement of an American citizen who was not fighting in the war, and therefore considered a “protected person.”
The soldiers are accused of abducting the unidentified man from his home in a Ukrainian village last year, and repeatedly beating, torturing, and threatening to sexually assault and kill him at gunpoint during his 10-day detainment.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday that the charges were an “an important step toward accountability for the Russian regime’s illegal war in Ukraine,” adding “Our work is far from done.”
The charges are “largely symbolic” as it is not clear if the four defendants will ever be brought to a U.S. courtroom, The Associated Press reports. But Garland indicated that more charges could be brought under the statute that Congress passed in the 1990s, saying, “This is our first, and you should expect more.” While the U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty, the Justice Department has previously brought cases against Russian nationals accused of cyber crimes and interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Some of the defendants in previous cases have been taken into U.S. custody when they have traveled outside of Russia.
The prosecution comes as President Joe Biden pressed Congress to approve a multibillion-dollar aid package to Ukraine or risk giving Russia’s Vladimir Putin “the greatest gift.” Republicans have conditioned their support for more Kyiv aid in return for border reforms, and Biden said Wednesday that he was “willing to make significant compromises” on the border issue. It remains to be seen if this will mollify either party, given that a classified briefing on Ukraine aid turned into a “partisan screaming match,” on Tuesday, the New York Times reported.