Kremlin says it does not know location of captured U.S. ‘mercenaries’

  • According to state media, two men detained in the separatist region of Donetsk
  • The Kremlin says it doesn’t know where the men are
  • Spokesperson: they are mercenaries, not protected by the Conventions
  • This content was produced in Russia, where law restricts coverage of Russian military operations in Ukraine

MOSCOW, June 21 (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday it did not know the whereabouts of two Americans captured fighting in eastern Ukraine, but said they were mercenaries and that they could be sentenced to death in the Russian-backed separatist territories.

Americans Alexander Drueke, 39, and Andy Huynh, 27, went missing this month while fighting near Kharkiv. Russian state media later released video interviews of the couple, claiming they had been captured by Russian-backed forces. Read more

Citing an unidentified source, the Interfax news agency reported that the men were in the self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine.

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Britons Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin and Moroccan citizen Brahim Saadoun were sentenced to death by a DPR court this month after they were captured fighting with the Ukrainian army. Read more

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a call with reporters that Moscow could not rule out that the two captured men, both from Alabama, would also be sentenced to death if tried in a separatist territory.

Although Russia does not apply the death penalty, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence is recognized only by Moscow, have included it in their statutes.

“We are talking about mercenaries who have threatened the lives of our service personnel. And not only ours, but also the service personnel of the DPR and the LPR.”

The Kremlin says that as “mercenaries” the men are not protected by the Geneva Conventions, which define how prisoners of war should be treated. Read more

Washington pushed back. “We obviously disagree vigorously and have made our position clear to the Russian government,” a senior State Department official told reporters when asked about Peskov’s comments.

When asked if Americans could be tried in the DPR and sentenced to death, Peskov replied: “We cannot exclude anything because these are court decisions. We never comment on them and have no right to comment on them. ‘intervene in court decisions’.

Reuters could not immediately verify Interfax’s whereabouts report. A DPR spokesperson declined immediate comment.

Relatives of the captured Americans say they are not mercenaries and traveled to Ukraine as volunteers in April to help repel Russian forces.

Alexander Drueke’s mother Lois said: “Alex didn’t go in a military capacity. He went as a civilian with a military background.”

Huynh and Drueke last spoke to relatives on June 8 to say they were going on a mission and would be out of contact for a day or two. It was feared that they would be captured after they failed to return to base.

Family members said they later discovered the men were in the Kharkiv region, which borders the Donetsk region to the north.

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Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington, Reuters reporting; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean

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