White House reacts to possible death penalty for two US citizens detained by Russia in Ukraine

22 June, 12:59 PM
John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council (Photo:defense.gov)

John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council (Photo:defense.gov)

The White House says it is "appalling" that Russia won't rule out applying the death penalty to two U.S. citizens detained after volunteering to fight in Ukraine, U.S. cable news channel CNN said on June 21.

"It's appalling that a public official in Russia would even suggest the death penalty for two American citizens that were in Ukraine," said John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the U.S. National Security Council.

"And we're going to continue to try and learn what we can about this."

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According to Kirby, "either way, it's equally alarming, whether they actually mean what they're saying here and this could be an outcome, that they could levy a death penalty against two Americans in Ukraine."

"Or that they just feel it's a responsible thing for a major power to do, to talk about doing this as a way of signaling the president of the United States and the American people. Either one of them is equally alarming."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on June 20 the Geneva Convention – the charter which sets out how soldiers and civilians are treated in wartime, including banning execution of prisoners of war – does not apply to the two detained U.S. citizens.

This is untrue, as the two U.S. citizens were serving with the regular Ukrainian armed forces at the time of their capture.

Peskov said the death penalty could not be ruled out, but that it was a "decision for a court" and "not the Kremlin."

The two U.S. citizens are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, 39, and Andy Tai Ngoc Huyn, 27. They were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces north of Kharkiv, but went missing on June 9. According to preliminary information, they were taken prisoner by the Russian invaders.

Earlier on June 9, the so-called "Supreme Court" of the Russian puppet authority in Donetsk sentenced three non-Ukrainian nationals to death for being "mercenaries," despite the court carrying no jurisdiction, authority, and the fact that the three are not mercenaries. These are the Moroccan citizen Saadoun and two U.K. citizens, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner. All three had joined the Ukrainian military prior to the full-scale Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

Ukraine's General Staff has stated that all foreign citizens and stateless individuals who are participating in combat on the sovereign territory of Ukraine within the Armed Forces will qualify for signing a legal contract for military service, if they want to. As with all other Armed Forces service members, these individuals will have the status of combatants. This means, in case of their capture by the enemy, they should be treated as prisoners of war.

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