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AG Merrick Garland makes surprise visit to Ukraine

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (Screenshot)
June 21, 2022

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Tuesday to send the message that the U.S. will pursue war crimes prosecutions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

“The United States stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russia’s continued aggression and assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Garland said in a statement upon arriving in Ukraine. “America – and the world – has seen the many horrific images and read the heart-wrenching accounts of brutality and death that have resulted from Russia’s unjust invasion of Ukraine.”

Garland met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, near a border crossing along the border between Poland and Ukraine, the New York Times reported.

Venediktova tweeted a video of their meeting along with a message thanking Garland for his visit.

“US Att. Gen. Merrick Garland has arrived in Ukraine. His message is clear: everyone involved in #RussianWarCrimes in this unprovoked war will be held accountable,” Venediktova tweeted. “There is no place to hide. I am grateful to Mr. Att. Gen. and the US for their support in our struggle for justice.”

During his visit, Garland announced the formation of the Department of Justice’s War Crimes Accountability Team. Garland said the new DOJ team will support the prosecution of Russians accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine. The team will also help in the investigation and prosecution “of potential war crimes over which the U.S. possesses jurisdiction, such as the killing and wounding of U.S. journalists covering the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

Garland also announced he had selected Eli Rosenbaum to serve as counselor for this new DOJ war crimes prosecution team. Rosenbaum is a 36-year veteran of the DOJ and previously headed the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), which helped to identify, denaturalize, and deport Nazi war criminals. 

“There is no hiding place for war criminals. The U.S. Justice Department will pursue every avenue of accountability for those who commit war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine,” Garland said. “Working alongside our domestic and international partners, the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to hold accountable every person complicit in the commission of war crimes, torture, and other grave violations during the unprovoked conflict in Ukraine.”

In addition to forming the new War Crimes Accountability Team, Garland also announced the DOJ would provide more resources and staffing for the department’s KleptoCapture Task Force. The task force began in March and has worked to seize assets and exert pressure on wealthy Russians suspected of helping the Russian government evade sanctions imposed against the country as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.