Britons captured by Russia ‘face being put on show trial and years-long prison sentence unless Boris Johnson brokers exchange for Kremlin crony known as Putin’s prince of darkness’
- British fighters Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner have appeared on Russian state TV
- Russia’s state TV channels made clear the pair were seen as ‘mercenaries’
- Moscow-backed media warned the paid could be jailed in Russia for years
- Pair have begged Boris Johnson to arrange a prisoner swap so they can be freed in return for release of Viktor Medvedchuk, Putin’s top political ally in Ukraine
Two British fighters being held by Russian forces after being captured in Ukraine could face show trials and years-long prison sentences unless Prime Minister Boris Johnson brokers an exchange for a Kremlin crony.
Russian state TV made the explicit threat after Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, were paraded on Moscow-controlled television following their capture.
It was implied they could be jailed in Russia for years before being allowed home.
Pinner and Aslin, who had been serving in the Ukrainian marines, were captured by Putin’s troops in the city of Mariupol last week and dragged on state TV to ask Johnson to intervene with President Volodymyr Zelensky to ensure a prisoner swap for Kremlin ally Viktor Medvedchuk.
Medvedchuk – known both as the ‘prince of darkness’ and Putin’s ‘grey cardinal’ – is one of Ukraine’s richest men and the Russian strongman’s closest political ally in the country, having helped exert Kremlin pressure in influential circles in Kyiv.
The tycoon – worth an estimated £480million – was re-arrested in Kyiv last week while allegedly trying to flee the country, having escaped from house arrest during the early days of the war.
In the latest appeal by the two UK captives, who say they are being treated well, Aslin was interviewed by Graham Phillips, a British journalist who formerly worked for Russian ‘propaganda channel’ RT and Defence Ministry television outlet Zvezda.
But in news bulletins, Russia’s state channels made clear the pair were seen as ‘mercenaries’ and not as serving members of Ukraine’s naval infantry.
Shaun Pinner (left) and Aiden Aslin (right), who had been serving in the Ukrainian marines, were captured by Putin’s troops in the city of Mariupol last week. The pair could now face years in a Russian prison
Pinner and Aslin were dragged on state TV to ask Boris Johnson to intervene with President Volodymyr Zelensky to ensure a prisoner swap for Kremlin ally Viktor Medvedchuk (pictured)
‘Aiden and Shaun are well aware of how uncertain their future is. Mercenaries may face trial. It is unknown when they will return to their homeland,’ warned state broadcaster Rossiya 1.
Nikolai Starikov, a Russian writer and political activist, called for the British men to be brought to Moscow and put on trial. It would be inevitably seen as a show trial.
‘As for the British prisoners of war, they should be put on trial,’ he demanded on Rossiya 1.
‘They should be tried in open court, maybe in Mariupol, maybe in Donetsk.
‘Maybe in Kyiv, but to me Moscow is the right place for it now.
‘So they should be tried openly, they should be tried in Moscow.
‘Get the verdict, and only after that we start some dialogue about what their future fate will be.’
Channel 1 – the country’s largest TV station – told viewers: ‘The two British mercenaries, who surrendered in Mariupol along with hundreds of Ukrainian troops, called on their Prime Minister Boris Johnson to influence Volodymyr Zelensky to exchange them for opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk.’
The news bulletins emphasised the precarious position of the pair in captivity in Russia, even though it was claimed they were being well cared for and had ‘even’ been allowed to call home.
‘Not a single army in the world takes mercenaries prisoner in battle. They are not covered by the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War, so they can be said to be lucky,’ reported Channel 1.
In news bulletins, Russia’s state channels made clear Pinner (centre right) and Aslin (centre left) were seen as ‘mercenaries’ and not as serving members of Ukraine’s naval infantry
Rossiya 1 said: ‘Legally, they are not subject to the Geneva Convention rules on the treatment of prisoners of war, since they are mercenaries who signed a contract to fight for money.
‘But both Britons admit they are being treated correctly and humanely.’
The men are being used to echo Russian playbook about the Nazis in Ukraine.
Both ‘were shocked by the attitude of the Ukrainian military and the Nazis from the Azov [unit] to the civilian population’, said Channel 1.
‘Aiden Aslin is well aware that Kyiv has been violating peace agreements for eight years and killing Donbas civilians with impunity.’
Relatives of the men have called for them not to be classed as ‘mercenaries’.
Pinner is a former Royal Anglian soldier and has made clear he considers Ukraine his second country, where he married.
A statement issued by Pinner’s family said: ‘Shaun was a well-respected soldier within the British Army serving in the Royal Anglian Regiment for many years. He served in many tours including Northern Ireland and with the United Nations in Bosnia.
‘In 2018 Shaun decided to relocate to Ukraine to use his previous experience and training within the Ukraine military.
‘Shaun enjoyed the Ukrainian way of life and considered Ukraine as his adopted country over the last four years. During this time, he met his Ukrainian wife, who is very focused on the humanitarian needs of the country.
‘He progressed into the Ukrainian Marines as a proud member of his unit.’
The statement issued via the Foreign Office went on: ‘We would like to make it clear he is not a volunteer nor a mercenary, but officially serving with the Ukrainian Army in accordance with Ukrainian legislation.
‘Our family is currently working with the Foreign Office along with the family of Aiden Aslin, who is also being held by the Russian Army to ensure their rights as prisoners of war are upheld according to the Geneva Convention.’
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