Two Americans have been captured by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh are both from Alabama. Drueke is an Army veteran, and Huynh is a Marine Corps veteran.
The two men were fighting with a unit of the Ukrainian military northeast of Kharkiv last week, according to The Telegraph.
Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Peskov referred to the captured Americans as “soldiers of fortune” in an interview, suggesting that, as mercenaries, they wouldn’t qualify for the protections of the Geneva Conventions afforded lawful combatants.
Peskov claimed that the two Americans are not enlisted members of the Ukrainian military. Most of the foreign fighters fighting in Ukraine are.
Moreover, international human rights protocols define mercenaries, in part, as “motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party.”
The Kremlin press secretary would have to present some evidence that these “soldiers of fortune” had, in fact, been promised some “fortune” in return for their services. That’s not impossible, but it certainly seems like a stretch.
The fact is, these men have sworn a Ukrainian military oath, they qualify as servicemen, rather than mercenaries. Russia is obligated to treat uniformed personnel with Geneva Convention protections, as a signatory to the agreement.
There’s little indication that President Joe Biden’s government has moved to effectively secure the release of Drueke and Huynh, though National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told journalists that the Pentagon would “do everything we can” to get the American veterans free from custody, according to Reuters.
Members of the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic puppet state in Eastern Ukraine have denied lawful combatants the protections of the Geneva Conventions before.
One dual British and Ukrainian citizen has been sentenced to death as a “mercenary,” despite his service in the Ukrainian military since 2018.
Aslin was sentenced to death in a Donetsk show trial earlier this week, according to the BBC.
It’s believed the Russian military has coordinated the sham death sentences in an attempt to give the Donetsk People’s Republic international legitimacy.
Russian authorities have directed Western governments seeking the release of their citizens to the DPR’s puppet government.
Drueke and Huynh have already been used for staged Russian propaganda videos in a similar fashion to Aslin, according to The Washington Post.
They aren’t the first Americans to take up arms in support of Ukraine. One Marine Corps veteran was killed in late April after traveling to the country.
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