The Kremlin has said pro-Russian separatists would be willing to listen to an appeal from Britain over two captured fighters who have been sentenced to death.
Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, were sentenced to death by firing squad last week by a rogue court in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, which accused them of being mercenaries, despite being regular soldiers in the Ukrainian army.
Moroccan Brahim Saadoun has also been sentenced with the Britons.
Liz Truss, a favourite target of Russian state media, said today that the best route to secure the release of Aslin and Pinner was ‘through the Ukrainians’, but that she would do ‘whatever it takes’.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call today that London had not contacted Moscow about the issue.
He said: ‘Of course, everything will depend on the appeal from London, and I am sure that the Russian side will be ready to consider it.’
Britain has so far declined publicly to raise the issue with authorities in the DPR.
The Kremlin has said pro-Russian separatists would be willing to listen to an appeal from Britain over Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner (pictured left to right alongside Moroccan Brahim Saadoun)
The pair were sentenced to death by firing squad last week by a rogue court in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’
The territory, much of which remains under Ukrainian control, is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, except by Russia – which considers it an independent state.
Dealing directly with DPR leaders might be seen as de facto recognition.
London has called the death sentences a ‘sham ruling’ and said the proceedings were akin to a Soviet-era show trial.
Truss said last week the sentences had ‘absolutely no legitimacy’ while vowing ‘to do everything we can to support’ the imprisoned pair.
Authorities in the DPR said the men had a month to launch an appeal.
Their lawyers said they would do so and Kyiv has pledged to try to secure their release through a prisoner exchange with Russia.
Vladimir Solovyov, a man often known as Putin’s mouthpiece, took aim at Truss on his show Sunday night – joking that Aiden and Pinner will be shot whether she recognises the sentence or not, and her words will not bring them back to life.
Vladimir Solovyov, known as ‘Putin’s mouthpiece’, used his Sunday night news show to mock two Britons handed death sentences for fighting in Ukraine
Liz Truss , a favourite target of Russian state media, spoke out last week to condemn the sentences which she said had ‘absolutely no legitimacy’
Nataliya Nikonorova, the ‘foreign minister’ of the DPR, spoke to Solovyov on the show – saying she was ‘surprised’ that Truss had refused to recognise the judgement.
Solovyov responded, to laughs from the other guests: ‘So if something terrible happens and they are executed, they will not recognise their deaths?
‘Will this bring these people back to life?’
Nikonorova added: ‘They have not taken a single step to somehow try to participate in the fate of these citizens. No-one is helping them.’
Solovyov also mocked Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, accusing her of eating croissants named after Boris Johnson instead of negotiating a way out for the men.
It comes after Ms Simmons posted a photo on social media showing her eating one of the pastries at the weekend.
‘She probably has more important issues to deal with,’ said Nikonorova.
‘Melinda is having fun,’ taunted Solovyov.
‘Her subjects are about to be executed, and she found a wonderful croissant called ‘Boris Johnsonuk’ and is eating it merrily.
‘So she doesn’t care about the fate of those people who are her subjects.’
Separately, Olga Skabeyeva – known as Putin’s ‘Iron Doll’ – accused the British Foreign Office of being unsure how to help Aslin and Pinner.
‘Liz Truss, the head of the Foreign Office, called the sentence illegal and promised to pull the Englishmen out – and to do it via Kyiv.
‘Good luck, Liz,’ she quipped.
Aslin and Pinner – a former British solider – are actually both members of the regular Ukrainian army, having moved to the country in 2018 and married Ukrainian women.
Both served multiple active tours of duty as part of Ukraine’s marine corps along the old frontline between Ukraine and Russian-occupied regions in the Donbas.
They were then caught up in the war when Putin ordered his soldiers to seize the rest of Ukraine on February 24.
The pair had fallen back from the old frontline to the city of Mariupol, where they survived a months-long siege before surrendering in April.
The UK has opted not to directly negotiate with Russia for the release of the men because the two are Ukrainian troops.
Aslin (pictured) and Pinner – a former British solider – are actually both members of the regular Ukrainian army, having moved to the country in 2018
Downing Street fears that making direct approaches to Moscow will add legitimacy to the false claims that the pair are mercenaries.
Negotiating with the DPR has also been ruled out, over fears it will grant legitimacy to a ‘government’ that is not recoginsed internationally.
British diplomats have raised the case with their Moscow counterparts to voice concerns, but are allowing Kyiv to take the lead on trying to get the men released.
Russia wants Britain to engage directly with the DPR, a move that would mean recognising what the West sees as an illegal pro-Putin regime established on Ukrainian territory.
The trio are lodging legal appeals and these will be heard before any pleas to Pushilin for pardons.
Truss said that the best route to secure the release of Aslin and Pinner (pictured) was ‘through the Ukrainians’, but that she would do ‘whatever it takes’
But his statement appears to usurp the whole process, making a mockery of justice for the Britons and the Moroccan.
The trial they faced was riddled with questionable legal tactics, including the non-appearance of five witnesses on whose word they were convicted.
Aslin’s family said he and Pinner ‘are not, and never were, mercenaries’.
They were living in Ukraine when war broke out and ‘as members of Ukrainian armed forces, should be treated with respect just like any other prisoners of war’, the family said in a statement.
Almost alone, Putin recognises the DPR as independent.
Under international law it is part of Ukraine, which does not carry out the death penalty, just as Russia does not.
A suspicion is that Putin wants the men to be bartered for pro-Kremlin prisoners held in Ukraine, like politician and tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, a friend of the Kremlin leader.A third British detainee Andrew Hill, 35, a father of four from Plymouth, has also been told to expect the death penalty when his verdict is handed down.
Born: 1974, Bedfordshire
Worked as: A British Army veteran, having served for years in the Royal Anglian regiment.
Combat experience: Fought ‘many’ tours including in northern Ireland, according to his family, who said he also served with United Nations missions in Bosnia.
Journey to Ukraine: Pinner moved to Ukraine in 2018 which he made his ‘adopted home’ and decided to put his military training to use fighting Russian-backed rebels in the country’s eastern Donbas.
He became engaged to a Ukrainian woman and worked his way into the marines, where he had been serving for the last two years.
Pinner’s three-year contract with the marines was due to end at the end of this year, his family said, when he wanted to become a humanitarian worker in the country.
Pinner was helping to defend the frontlines in Donbas when Putin’s invasion began on February 24.
His unit of marines ended up hooking up with the Azov Battalion – members of the national guard with links to neo-Nazis – who were defending the city of Mariupol from the Russians.
He was captured in Mariupol in April and paraded on state TV.
Born: 1994, Newark-on-Trent
Worked as: Care worker
Combat experience: Travelled to Syria in 2015 to fight for the Kurds in a western-backed alliance against ISIS.
He made headlines on his return to the UK in 2016 when he was arrested, charged with terrorism offences, and then kept on bail until all charges were dropped following protests.
Aslin then returned to Syria in 2017 to help in the fight to re-take the city of Raqqa, which had been the de-facto capital of ISIS’s terror-state.
Journey to Ukraine: After being arrested in the UK a second time trying to return from Syria via Greece, Aslin moved to Ukraine after falling for a woman from the city of Mykolaiv.
Having heard about Ukraine’s fight against Russia in Donbas from Ukrainian volunteers in Syria, he was persuaded to join the military and in 2018 signed up as a marine.
Aslin completed three tours of the frontline and was dug into trenches in the Donbas in late February when Putin’s troops stormed across the border in a second invasion.
He ended up falling back to the nearby city of Mariupol where he fought for weeks under siege, before being captured in April after his unit ran out of ammunition.