Russia’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has stated that the Geneva Conventions will not be applied to the two Americans captured by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine, leading many to believe that Russia will treat the two Americans as hired mercenaries instead of volunteers for the Ukrainian International Legion.
Last week, SOFREP reported that three American volunteers were thought to be missing or captured by Russia in Ukraine. Three former US servicemen, namely Alexander Drueke (39, Tuscaloosa, Alabama), Andy Huynh (27, Tennessee Valley, Alabama), and Grady Kurpasi (49, Wilmington, North Carolina), were fighting against Russians in Ukraine till they were reported to be missing.
However, both Drueke and Huyne are now known as captives by pro-Russian forces in Donbas after their squad in the International Foreign Legion encountered Russian troops some 30 miles northeast of Kharkiv. On the other hand, Kurpasi has not been heard from since April 28 after an encounter with Russian forces near Kherson on April 26.
Drueke and Huyne were photographed on the back of a Russian military truck, with their hands tied to their backs. No bruises or visible wounds were observed. Later, they were used by Russia for propaganda as they were paraded on a Russian state-controlled television network, RT or Russia Today. It was revealed that they were held in Donbas while seemingly making anti-Ukraine statements, possibly against their will.
During an interview with NBC News, Russia confirmed Monday that the two men are in pro-Russian hands. When asked by Keir Simmons about the status of Druke, an Iraq War veteran, and Huynh, Peskov described them as “soldiers of fortune.”
“Well, so they are soldiers of fortune. They were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine. They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel, they were endangering their lives,” he said. “They should be held responsible for those… those crimes that they have committed, those crimes have to be investigated.”
When asked if the two Americans were prisoners of war, Peskov responded that he would not explain nor expound on the judicial side of their capture but that it was clear that they had committed crimes and will be tried by “due authorities.”
Peskov claims that the two Americans were fighting against Russia illegally as they were not part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, thus leaving them to be considered mercenaries by Russia.
“As you know, under the Geneva Conventions, fighting in a conflict is not something you can be tried for, so what are the crimes you’re talking about?” asked Simmons. Peskov replied that “They are not [part of the] a Ukrainian army, they are not a subject to [the] Geneva Convention.”
Russia has had a history of not treating members of the Ukrainian army as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Convention III covers the treatment of POWs, where they enjoy “combatant immunity” as they are lawful combatants from countries participating in armed conflict. Uniformed members of Ukraine’s military are following the orders of a recognized government with a clear chain of command that gives orders to those forces. The Geneva Conventions also cover the usage of a volunteer corps, where they are considered combatants for as long as the country has formally incorporated them into the Armed Forces before participating in the war, which Ukraine did with the International Legion.
Mercenaries, or paid fighters, are not necessarily prohibited by the Geneva Convention. However, the UN Mercenary Convention does ban countries from recruiting, financing, and training mercenaries and criminalizing mercenaries in their countries. Mercenaries do not have the right to be considered lawful combatants as they are not a formal part of the armed forces of a country. They can be denied POW status, which means they can be prosecuted by the country that captured them for merely participating in combat. This also leaves them to the whims of their captors, especially when human rights groups cannot monitor them.
British citizens Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, and Moroccan national Saadoun Brahim, all of whom fought on contract with Ukraine’s military, have been sentenced to death by the Kremlin’s puppet authorities in Donetsk in show trial that lasted mere days. They were not mercenaries. pic.twitter.com/QYGOEkHXHE
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) June 9, 2022
A primary example is the trial of British-Ukrainian fighters Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner, and Morrocan national Saaudun Brahim. When the three were sentenced to death by the Kremlin’s puppet courts in Donetsk, they were tried as mercenaries and not as lawful combatants though both were serving in uniform with the Armed Forces of Ukraine serving with the Ukrainian Marines that defended Mariupol. They are also married to Ukrainian nationals and had either legal citizenship or residency in Ukraine. Mercenaries are generally foreigners from outside countries. By any international standard of such things, both are lawful combatants under the Geneva Conventions. Saaudun Brahim is reported to be a Ukrainian citizen as well. However, we cannot confirm his Ukrainian citizenship or membership in the Ukrainian Armed Forces as of writing this piece (June 21, 2022).
That said, none of the men meet the legal standard of being mercenaries and terrorists as they have been charged. They also were not allowed to defend themselves or present information that could have (in theory) freed them if they were not held in a sham court.
This raises the question as to whether the international community will act to protect the integrity of the Geneva Accords or permit Russia to melt them as easily as ice cream for its own self-serving purposes in this conflict. Ukraine could respond by trying pro-Russian volunteers captured in its territory as mercenaries as well and sentence them to death or long prison terms in retaliation.
With Peskov’s statements on the US veterans now in the public sphere, many fear they will follow in the footsteps of the previous trials of Aslin and Pinner This is more complicated because pro-Russian forces are reportedly holding the US veterans in Donbas, which is run by a puppet government set up by Russia that is not recognized as a legitimate government in the UN or anywhere else of consequence or importance.
The US, UN, and the rest of the world should be quick to condemn these trials as illegitimate acts committed by ruling juntas created by Russia to do its bidding by proxy in the occupied portions of Ukraine Putin has conquered by force.