The Kremlin has for the first time commented on the capture of two US fighters in Ukraine and called for their punishment. The two former US soldiers, Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, were mercenaries and “involved in illegal activities on the territory of Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an English-language interview with US television channel NBC News, which was broadcast on Sept Monday excerpts were released.

In Ukraine, Drueke and Huynh “participated in the shelling and bombing of our military personnel,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman. In doing so, they would have “threatened” the lives of Russians. “They should be held accountable for the crimes they committed,” the Kremlin spokesman demanded. Their offenses would have to be “investigated”.

When asked what exactly Drueke and Huynh were guilty of, Peskow said it was not yet clear. At the same time he assured that they did not fall under the Geneva Conventions. The two US fighters did not belong to the Ukrainian army, “so they do not fall under the Geneva Conventions,” said Peskov.

Last week, the Russian state broadcaster RT showed videos of the two missing US citizens published in online networks. It remained unclear by whom and under what circumstances they were held. Peskow said in the NBC interview that Drueke and Huynh were being held by the “authorities”.

When asked if they were facing the death penalty, he replied to NBC: “It depends on the investigation.” The pro-Russian separatists in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine recently sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan prisoner in Ukraine to death.

US President Joe Biden said on Friday that he did not know where Drueke and Huynh were. At the same time, he appealed to US citizens not to travel to Ukraine. On Saturday, a US State Department spokesman confirmed that authorities had photos and videos of the two US citizens who “were reportedly captured by the Russian army in Ukraine.” The US government is monitoring the situation closely.

In the NBC interview, Peskow also commented on the case of US professional basketball player Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia. He firmly rejected allegations that Russia was holding them captive as a bargaining chip. “We cannot call them hostages,” said the Kremlin spokesman. “Why should we call her a hostage? She broke Russian law and now she’s being prosecuted.”