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Kremlin says captured Americans are ‘soldiers of fortune,’ not subject to Geneva Conventions

The European Union's special representative for human rights Eamon Gilmore said June 19 that war crime committed in Ukraine will be thoroughly investigated. (Video: Reuters)

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The Kremlin’s top spokesman on Monday confirmed that two Americans who had disappeared after joining the war effort in Ukraine were taken into Russian custody, and he said they would not be afforded protections granted by the Geneva Conventions to prisoners of war.

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It was Moscow’s first comment on the captured U.S. citizens, the military veterans Alexander J. Drueke and Andy Tai Huynh. The spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told NBC News that the two men were “involved in firing and shelling” Russian troops, and he accused them of being “soldiers of fortune,” or mercenaries.

In response to Peskov’s comments, the State Department said in a statement: “We call on the Russian government — as well as its proxies — to live up to their international obligations in their treatment of any individual, including those captured fighting in Ukraine.” Earlier this month, a Russia-backed tribunal in the separatist Donetsk region ignited international outrage when it handed down death sentences to fighters from Britain and Morocco. Peskov told NBC that the Americans’ fate “depends on the investigation.”

Here’s what else to know

  • A U.S. citizen has been killed in combat in Ukraine, making him at least the second American to die as a result of the war.
  • Talks in Brussels on Monday failed to resolve Turkey’s objection to Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, but negotiations will continue in the coming days, officials said.
  • Moscow summoned Lithuania’s chargé d’affaires over the Baltic country’s decision to prevent the transit of sanctioned goods through its territory to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
  • E.U. foreign ministers are meeting in Luxembourg to discuss how to free up millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine due to a Russian blockade of Black Sea ports.
  • The Netherlands on Monday became the latest European nation to say it would need to burn more coal to compensate for dwindling gas deliveries from Russia.
  • China’s imports of Russian crude oil hit a record in May, as Chinese buyers took advantage of discounted prices after Beijing pledged to continue normal economic ties with Moscow.
5:54 p.m.
Headshot of Brittany Shammas
General assignment reporter
More than 1,500 Ukrainian civilians are being held in Russian prisons, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Monday.Speaking during a news conference, she said a total of 1.2 million citizens have been deported against their will. About 214,000 are children, including about 2,000 orphans.
5:03 p.m.
Headshot of Reis Thebault
National and breaking news reporter
The Netherlands on Monday became the latest European nation to say it would need to burn more coal to compensate for dwindling gas deliveries from Russia, another signal that leaders on the continent are preparing for Moscow to wield fuel flow as a political weapon.Dutch officials declared an “early warning,” the first stage of a gas crisis, which immediately lifts production restrictions on coal-fired power plants. The aim is to conserve as much gas as possible ahead of winter, they said, while stressing that the country is not experiencing a shortage. “It is clear that Russia uses energy as a means of power,” Rob Jetten, Dutch climate and energy minister, said in a statement.The Netherlands’ move follows announcements from Germany and Austria, which said Sunday that they would bring back shuttered or converted coal-fired power plants as they seek to reduce dependence on Russia gas.