The United States has called it “appalling” that Russia is discussing the possibility of imposing the death penalty on two Americans captured by Russia in Ukraine and has confirmed that a second American national has been killed in action there.
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“It is appalling that a Russian government official is proposing the death penalty for two American citizens who have been in Ukraine,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday in response to the Kremlin spokesman’s comments Dmitry Peskov during an interview with the US broadcaster NBC.
Mr Peskov said the two Americans captured in eastern Ukraine in early June, Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, were “endangering” Russian soldiers and should “be held accountable for these crimes”.
He claimed they were “mercenaries” engaged “in illegal activities” and therefore not protected by the Geneva Conventions. Whether they face the death penalty, the Russian spokesman said: “It depends on the investigation.”
Mr Kirby called the remarks “alarming”, regardless of the Russian spokesman’s intent: “Let it be what they really mean – let that be a possible outcome, let them impose the death penalty on two Americans who fought in Ukraine – or that they think a great power is showing responsibility by talking about it”.
Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh were filmed in videos released by Russian state television last week, but the circumstances under which they are being held are unclear.
Washington believes that under the Geneva Conventions, Russia should treat them humanely, like all prisoners of war.
“We made this clear to the Russian government,” a senior US official told reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
The American diplomats argue that the Russian authorities did not give them any direct information about these two captured militants.
“As far as I know, we don’t know anything officially. So one of our queries is: who are you detaining when you are detaining someone and where are they? And if you arrest someone, you have an obligation to treat them with respect for Geneva,” said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The State Department has confirmed the death of Stephen Zabielski, 52, and said he was providing consular assistance to his family.
“We reiterate that American citizens should not travel to Ukraine because of the ongoing armed conflict and the risk of being targeted by Russian government security officials in Ukraine because of their American citizenship,” a spokesman for American diplomacy said.
He urged Americans in the belligerent country “to leave immediately, if it is safe to do so, by overland transport, commercial or private.”
Stephen Zabielski is the second American to be killed fighting Ukrainian troops since Russia invaded the country in late February.
A 22-year-old former Marine, Willy Joseph Cancel, was killed in the same circumstances in late April.
In an obituary published in a newspaper in upstate New York, where Stephen Zabielski lived, we learn that this former construction worker, who leaves behind a wife and five stepchildren, died on 15 “Ukraine”.