Two Americans detained in Ukraine while fighting on the Ukrainian side of the war were mercenaries who endangered the lives of Russian servicemen and should take responsibility for their actions, the Kremlin said Monday (June 20).
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, interviewed by US TV channel NBC News, also said US basketball star Brittney Griner, detained in Russia for more than two months, was guilty of drug offenses and not hostage.
Peskov’s comments were the first official acknowledgment that the two men, identified in US reports as Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, and Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, were detained and under investigation.
“They are soldiers of fortune. They were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in shooting and shelling our military. They were putting their lives at risk,” Peskov said.
“And they should be held accountable for the crimes they have committed. These crimes must be investigated… The only thing that is clear is that they have committed crimes. They don’t do not part of the Ukrainian army. They are not subject to the Geneva Convention.”
Family members said last week that the pair went to Ukraine as volunteer fighters and disappeared.
Russian media released footage of them captured fighting for Ukraine last week.
Peskov would not reveal where the men were being held.
Two Britons and a Moroccan have already been convicted by a court under the jurisdiction of Donetsk separatists on the grounds that they were mercenaries and not subject to the Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war.
Kyiv condemned the court’s decision as having no authority and said the fighters were members of Ukraine’s armed forces and therefore subject to the protections of the Geneva Convention.
Moscow calls its actions a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and its Western allies say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
PURSUIT OF GRINER
Peskov said Griner, who came to promote basketball in Russia, was being prosecuted under laws prohibiting the importation of drugs.
“Russia is not the only country in the world that has pretty strict laws along these lines…they are being prosecuted by law. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Peskov told NBC.
He “strongly disagreed” with any suggestion that Griner, who arrived in Russia in February, was being held hostage.
“We can’t call her a hostage. Why should we call her a hostage?” he said. “She broke Russian law and now she’s being prosecuted. It’s not about being a hostage.”
Russian customs officials said vaping cartridges containing hash oil were found in Griner’s luggage.
The US State Department determined in May that Griner had been wrongfully detained and assigned diplomats to work for her release. His wife, Cherelle Griner, said she was a political pawn.