A pair of U.S. military veterans apparently operating as mercenaries on behalf of the Ukrainian government were captured in Ukraine by Russian forces earlier this month and will face trial.
Alexander Drueke, who served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, and Andy Huynh, a former Marine who worked in logistics while stationed in Japan, were reported missing on June 9. According to his mother, Drueke suffered from PTSD and was struggling to hold down a job prior to joining Ukraine’s war effort. Both Drueke and Huynh appear to have been heavily swayed by pro-Ukrainian, anti-Russian propaganda that continues to be churned out by virtually every major Western media outlet.
According to Russian officials, the “soldiers of fortune” who were engaged in “illegal activities” in Ukraine – which included firing on Russian troops – were shown alive and well in video footage last week in a detention center in Donetsk, the regional capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which is seeking independence from the central government based in Kiev and is recognized as an independent republic by Moscow.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin and a top Russian official close to President Putin, told NBC News that the Geneva Conventions, a series of international agreements that establish standards for the treatment of hostile military combatants in times of war, would likely not apply to the two captured Americans. The Geneva Conventions do not apply to mercenaries or other partisan fighters not officially enlisted in a national military.
“They’re soldiers of fortune, and they were involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine,” Peskov told Keir Simmons of NBC News, who interviewed the Russian official in Moscow earlier this week. “They were involved in firing and shelling our military personnel – they were endangering their lives.”
Peskov didn’t mince words: “They should be held responsible for those crimes that they have committed.”
Simmons pushed back on Peskov’s claims, implying that the captured former U.S. military men could have been part of the Ukrainian military and therefore subject to the Geneva Conventions and considered prisoners of war.
“They are not members of the Ukrainian army,” Peskov explained. “They are not subject to the Geneva Conventions.” He further noted that the former U.S. military members’ background and legal status will continue to be investigated by Russian and DPR authorities.
The bottom line according to Peskov and the Russian government is that “the Geneva Conventions cannot be applied to soldiers of fortune.”
As much as the U.S. and its puppets in the EU and NATO hypocritically lecture Putin about a “rules-based international order,” the Russians appear to be one of the few countries insisting on abiding by those rules, laws, and international legal and diplomatic standards. Ukrainian and Western rejection of international agreements, such as the Minsk Accords, and respectable standards of diplomacy is precisely what led to the current conflict.
Earlier this month, a court in the DPR found three foreign fighters guilty of “taking action toward a violent overthrow of power,” CBS News reported, which is punishable by death. Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, two British citizens, and Saadun Ibrahim, a Moroccan, were determined to be acting as mercenaries on behalf of the Ukrainian government. The trio were captured near Mariupol, a city on the coast of the Sea of Azov that saw intense fighting earlier in the war but has since been captured by Russian and DPR forces. For months, rumors swirled about foreign mercenaries operating in Mariupol, fighting alongside the Ukrainian military as well as pro-Ukrainian militias.
According to RT, these three foreign fighters were tried on multiple criminal charges, and pleaded guilty to “undergoing training for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities” and also attempting to overthrow the government in Donetsk. However, they denied being mercenaries on behalf of the Zelensky regime. Although they can appeal the court decision, the foreign fighters could face the death penalty for their crimes – a potential punishment that has not sat well with British or U.S. officials.
“We are gravely concerned by reports of a sham ‘trial’ and its judgements against lawful combatants serving in Ukraine’s Armed Forces,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said following the release of the court decision relating to the captured British and Moroccan foreign fighters, entirely ignoring the facts of the case. “We call on Russia and its proxies to respect international humanitarian law, including the rights and protections afforded prisoners of war.”
We are gravely concerned by reports of a sham “trial” and its judgements against lawful combatants serving in Ukraine’s Armed Forces. We call on Russia and its proxies to respect international humanitarian law, including the rights and protections afforded prisoners of war.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) June 9, 2022
When Peskov was asked if the captured American fighters would also face the death penalty, he simply responded that it all depends on the outcome of the investigation.
Russia “cannot guarantee anything,” Peskov explained. “It depends on the investigation.”
U.S. officials expressed outrage at Peskov’s recent comments and the ongoing investigation of Drueke and Huynh. Rather than question why former U.S. military members were involved in combat against the Russians in Ukraine in the first place, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called Peskov’s comments “appalling” and the Russian government’s perspective on the situation “alarming.”
Meanwhile, Russian officials continue to insist they will follow the law and internationally agreed upon legal standards. During a recent interview with the BBC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated he is “only interested in international law, according to which mercenaries are not combatants,” in reference to the captured foreign fighters.
Perhaps it’s time for the West to learn once again how a “rules-based international order” is supposed to work.
Following their capture, both Drueke and Huynh spoke with RT and explained that they surrendered to Russian forces after essentially being abandoned by their Ukrainian commanders. They described extreme corruption within the Ukrainian military, lack of basic supplies, weaponry, and training, and overall chaos and dysfunction. Both explained that they have been treated fairly by their Russian captors, and have been provided with adequate food, water, and shelter.
They told RT that they were operating under the command of the SBU, the Ukrainian secret police, and were ordered to provide cover for Ukrainian forces engaged in a retreat near Kharkov. Huynh admitted to firing a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) round at a Russian tank during the chaotic skirmish, before running away and hiding in a fighting hole as Russian troops passed them. The RPG round apparently missed its target.
After entering a nearby village, the pair was “approached by a Russian patrol and immediately surrendered to them,” Drueke explained to RT.
They both stated they originally joined Ukraine’s “International Legion,” but quickly discovered that the senior officers and commanders “were very corrupt and troops were very ill-prepared and supplied.” They ended up searching for a new military unit to join, and discovered the Task Force Baguette, which RT described as a “foreign mercenary unit consisting mainly of American and French veterans.”
Drueke warned his fellow veterans to think twice about coming to Ukraine to participate in a war that virtually no Westerner has any detailed or objective knowledge of. He noted that he originally sympathized with the Ukrainian cause, largely due to the biased media coverage that dominates the West, but quickly discovered upon arriving in Ukraine that “there are two sides to this story and I was not getting one of them,” referring of course to the Russian side.
“Think really long and hard about why you’re doing it and what can happen, and if this is really your fight,” he stated.
The Russian Defense Ministry estimates just under 7,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Ukraine to fight on behalf of the Zelensky regime against the Russians.