For the first time since the start of the war in Ukraine, death sentences have been handed by Russian-backed troops to foreign fighters.
The British government is quite distressed over reports from the Russian press that two British fighters, and a Moroccan man, have been sentenced to death for their role in the conflict.
The soldiers were captured while fighting with the Ukrainian Army in Mariupol. After what has been described as a “Soviet-era show trial,” all three were sentenced to death for “terrorism.” The trio was tried by a Russian-backed tribunal in the self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), which Moscow recognized as independent following their February 24th invasion of Ukraine. The court in which they were tried is not internationally recognized.
Russia has claimed it has no direct influence on the proceedings. “I’d rather not hinder the operation of the judiciary and law enforcement authorities of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” said the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, referring to the DPR’s proxy government.
Aiden Aslin (28) and Shaun Pinner (48) of Britain and Brahim Saadoune of Morocco were charged with working as foreign mercenaries in the (DPR). The men have 30 days to appeal their sentence. According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, their punishment could be reduced to 25 years to life in prison if they receive a pardon. However, if they are executed, they will die by firing squad.
The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haida, had said that the death sentences are “not applicable” as the men had signed official documentation when they joined the Ukrainian Army and were therefore not acting as foreign mercenaries, as claimed. Aslin and Pinner had settled in Ukraine many years ago and were members of their military in the days before the Russian invasion. This fact should offer them protection by the Geneva Convention as prisoners of war. It should not matter if they were native-born Ukrainians or not.
Haida added, “From what I know, the lawyers already appealed against this verdict, and I believe what is happening is just political pressure coming from Russia.”
The British Government Weighs In
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has weighed in on the matter clearly. She says, “They are prisoners of war. This is a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy. My thoughts are with the families. We continue to do everything we can to support them.” She says she had called the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, on Friday to “discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies.”
The Russians seem to be using these three men as pawns. An adviser to the Ukrainian interior minister said today that Russia had the men sentenced to death in order to gain leverage in its negotiations with Ukraine and its western allies. In televised remarks, Vadym Denysenko stated, “The trial of the foreigners raises the stakes in the Russian Federation’s negotiation process. They are using them as hostages to put pressure on the world over the negotiation process.”
Denysenko commented that Ukraine would coordinate its position on the sentences with Great Britain, the US, and the EU. Ukraine has sentenced several Russian soldiers to long prison terms for war crimes, and Russia will most likely attempt to trade their prisoners to get their troops back.