WASHINGTON — The United States attorney general, Merrick Garland, made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Tuesday and announced the appointment of a veteran prosecutor known for investigating former Nazis to lead American efforts in tracking Russian war criminals.
Mr. Garland’s visit to Ukraine, a previously unannounced side trip from his scheduled visits to Warsaw and Paris this week, was intended to bolster U.S. and international efforts aimed at helping Ukraine identify, apprehend and prosecute Russians involved in war crimes and other atrocities.
He met for an hour with Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova, near a border crossing with Poland to discuss the technical, forensic and legal support that the United States might be able to provide prosecutors in Ukraine, department officials said.
“The United States is sending an unmistakable message — there is no place to hide,” Mr. Garland, said after the meeting. He added, “We will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.”
Mr. Garland said he was tapping Eli Rosenbaum, the former director of Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, to create a new “War Crimes Accountability Team,” tasked with coordinating efforts with Ukraine and international law enforcement groups in bringing Russian perpetrators of atrocities to justice.
Mr. Rosenbaum, 67, is best known for his work for the World Jewish Congress investigating the hidden World War II history of former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, whose army unit was implicated in war crimes against Jews and Yugoslavian partisans. He was also instrumental in the prosecution and deportation of Nazis living in the United States and Jews who committed atrocities against their own people in concentration camps.
Mr. Rosenbaum’s team will include Justice Department staffers and outside experts; In addition to offering assistance to Ukrainian officials it will investigate “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,” according to the department’s announcement of his hiring.
The department is also assigning additional personnel to expand its work with Ukraine and other partners to counter Russian illicit finance and sanctions evasion — detailing an expert Justice Department prosecutor to advise on fighting kleptocracy, corruption, and money laundering, officials said.
Earlier this year, Mr. Garland and the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said they were working with investigators and prosecutors in Ukraine, a signal that the Biden administration intended to follow through on its public condemnation of atrocities committed by Russian forces that have been documented during the war.
“The world sees what is happening in Ukraine — the Justice Department sees what is happening in Ukraine,” Mr. Garland, who helped prosecute the plotters of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, said in April.