The Kremlin’s chief spokesman told NBC News on Monday that two American fighters missing in Ukraine, Alex Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, were “fortune soldiers” and had been taken into custody. The spokesman also claimed that the two men were not protected by the Geneva Conventions as prisoners of war.
In the Kremlin’s first comments about the two men, the spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said they had been involved in shelling and shelling of Russian troops and that they “should be held accountable for the crimes they committed.” “. He said they were being held while their case was being investigated.
The US State Department has issued a statement calling on Moscow and the authorities in Russian-occupied Ukraine to comply with international law. “We call on the Russian government – as well as its proxies – to honor their international obligations when treating any person, including those captured during fighting in Ukraine,” the ministry’s news agency said in a statement. of Foreign Affairs.
The men’s families reported them missing last week and on Saturday the Foreign Ministry described them as “allegedly captured by Russian forces in Ukraine”. Both are US military veterans who volunteered to fight in Ukraine.
The two fought with a small group of foreign soldiers and went missing when their platoon came under heavy fire in a village near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, about 40 miles from the Russian border.
According to the Geneva Conventions, prisoners of war must be treated humanely and protected from prosecution for participating in hostilities. The only exception is prosecution of war crimes.
But Mr Peskov said the men were not part of the Ukrainian army and thus were not entitled to the Geneva Convention protection granted to fighters. mr. Drueke is a former US Army staff sergeant who toured twice in Iraq, while Mr. Huynh is a former Marine.
The case of the two men has highlighted the dangers faced by thousands of foreign volunteers who have gone to fight in Ukraine. Earlier this month, a court in Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine sentenced three foreign fighters to death. The men from Britain and Morocco were accused of being mercenaries who planned to commit terrorist acts. Legal experts said the trial and draconian sentences were calculated as a warning to foreign volunteers not to take up arms against Russia.
The State Department said Saturday it had viewed photos and videos online that appeared to show the two Americans, though it declined to comment on the authenticity of the images or on the men’s condition.
US officials were in contact with the men’s families, Ukrainian authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
On Friday, short videos purporting to show the two men were posted to YouTube, each saying in Russian, “I am against war.” It is not clear when the videos were recorded and by whom.
Then the Russian state broadcaster RT said it had interviewed the men. The broadcaster reported that the two men had surrendered to Russian forces and were in a detention center controlled by Russian-allied forces.