Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman would not guarantee that two American military veterans captured in Ukraine won’t face the death penalty in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Monday.
“It depends on the investigation,” Dmitry Peskov told senior international correspondent Keir Simmons when asked whether Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh would “face the same fate” as two British citizens and a Moroccan who were sentenced to death by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine earlier this month.
The families of Drueke, 39, and Huynh, 27, reported them missing last week.
For more on the interview, tune in to Nightly News with Lester Holt tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT.
Simmons interviewed Peskov in Moscow, where the government is cracking down on journalists and limiting what reporters can say under threat of imprisonment.
Peskov said Drueke and Huynh were “involved in illegal activities” in Ukraine, firing on Russian troops.
“Those guys on the battlefield were firing at our military guys. They were endangering their lives,” he said.
“There will be a court and there will be a court decision,” Peskov said.
“They should be punished,” he added, calling Drueke and Huynh “soldiers of fortune.”
The Ukrainian government said in early March that some 20,000 people from 52 countries volunteered to fight with the International Legion of Ukraine after the government put out a call for foreigners to join its fight against Russia, although it is not known how many are in the country now.
Damien Magrou, a spokesman for the foreign legion, said he couldn’t “confirm or deny” whether Drueke and Huynh were with the force.
Peskov also did not say whether the men were being held in Russia or by pro-Russian forces fighting the Ukrainians in the east of the country. He added that they were likely not covered by Geneva Conventions that afford protections to prisoners of war because they were not part of Ukraine’s regular army.
Drueke’s mother said in an interview last week that her son was not in Ukraine to fight, but that he was there in more of an advisory capacity, while Huynh’s fiancé said they had talked about him going to fight before they got engaged in late March.
On Friday, videos of Huynh and Drueke were broadcast by RT, a Russian state-controlled international television network, which reported that the two were being held captive by separatists.
Peskov, who spoke with NBC News as Russia made gains in Ukraine’s east, said he had no information about Grady Kurpasi, the third former US serviceman who has also been reported missing in Ukraine by his family.
Peskov also denied that American WNBA star Brittney Griner, detained at a Russian airport in February after authorities there said she was carrying vape cartridges containing hashish oil, was being held as a “hostage.”
He repeated the Kremlin’s claim that aggressive Western sanctions are having little effect on the Russian economy as Moscow refocuses on replacing restricted imports with domestic production.
He also reiterated that NATO and the United States left Russia with “no choice” but to launch its operation in Ukraine after its security concerns about the military bloc’s perceived encroachment on its borders were not heard.
Laura Saravia and Natasha Lebedeva contributed.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism