HSI Washington, D.C. investigation leads to war crimes charges for 4 individuals affiliated with the Russian military
WASHINGTON – Four Russia-affiliated military personnel have been charged with war crimes following an investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Washington D.C. field office, FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office, HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center, and FBI’s International Human Rights Unit. The charges, which are the first to be filed against Russia-affiliated personnel following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, were unsealed Dec. 6, at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C.
Russia-affiliated individuals Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan, Dmitry Budnik, Valerii LNU (last name unknown), and Nazar LNU were each charged with unlawfully detaining a U.S. national in the context of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The alleged perpetrators are accused of interrogating, severely beating and torturing the victim. They also allegedly threatened to kill the victim and conducted a mock execution.
“The inhumane treatment of an American citizen by individuals affiliated with any hostile state is absolutely unacceptable,” said Special Agent in Charge Derek W. Gordon of HSI Washington, D.C. “We take the safety and security of our citizens very seriously and will not tolerate their victimization at the hands of such criminals. HSI Washington, D.C. will not relent in our efforts to investigate and bring to justice anyone who violates the human rights of Americans abroad.”
According to 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.
“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.”
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, and Nazar 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, which the Russian and Russian-affiliated units were using in Mylove.
“Thanks to the tireless and unprecedented work of federal law enforcement agents from Homeland Security Investigations and the Justice Department, four Russian soldiers, accused of unthinkable, unacceptable human rights violations against an American citizen, have been charged with war crimes and will be brought to justice,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “The indictments unsealed today send a clear message to Russia – our government will spare no effort and spare no resource to hold accountable those who violate the fundamental human rights of an American.”
The alleged perpetrators 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.
“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 indictment – 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 are resolved to hold war criminals accountable no matter where they are or how long it takes.”
The investigation also revealed that Mkrtchyan and Budnik allegedly 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 alleged perpetrators and other soldiers then purportedly severely beat the victim on his chest and stomach, pointed guns at the back of the victim’s head, and threatened to shoot the victim. Budnik allegedly threatened the victim with death and asked for his last words. Shortly after, Nazar and others ostensibly 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 and shot a bullet past the victim’s head.
“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.”
The alleged perpetrators have been 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 penalty of life in prison.
“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 U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia. “We are proud to be at the forefront of the Justice Department’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.”
This investigation was conducted by HSI Washington, D.C. and FBI Washington, D.C. with significant assistance from HSI’s Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Center (HRVWCC) which includes the FBI’s International Human Rights Unit. These war crimes allegations were investigated in partnership with the Justice Department’s War Crimes Accountability Team, which is based in the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP) of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“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.”
Established in 2008, the HRVWCC furthers HSI’s efforts to identify, locate and prosecute human rights abusers in the United States, including those who are known or suspected to have participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, female genital mutilation and the use or recruitment of child soldiers. The HRVWCC leverages the expertise of a select group of agents, lawyers, intelligence and research specialists, historians and analysts who direct the agency’s broader enforcement efforts against these offenders.
Since 2003, HSI has arrested more than 510 individuals for human rights-related violations of the law under various criminal and/or immigration statutes. During that same period, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed 1,100 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Additionally, ICE has facilitated the departure of an additional 193 such individuals from the United States.
Currently, HRVWCC has more than 180 active investigations into suspected human rights violators and is pursuing more than 1,750 leads and removals cases involving suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries. Since 2003, the HRVWCC has issued more than 79,000 lookouts for potential perpetrators of human rights abuses, and stopped over 380 human rights violators and war crimes suspects from entering the U.S.
HRSP, the War Crimes Accountability Team and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case. HRSP historians and other staff provided substantial assistance in the investigation and prosecution.
The Justice Department’s Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, National Security Division, Office of Enforcement Operations, and Office of International Affairs also provided valuable assistance. HSI, FBI, and the Justice Department are extremely 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 violations in the United States are urged to contact Homeland Security Investigations using the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2423 (866-347-2423) or by using the HSI online tip form. These outlets are staffed around the clock, and tips may be provided anonymously.