Boris Johnson is “appalled” by the “sham” death sentences handed out to two Brits fighting in Ukraine, Downing Street today as the Foreign Secretary branded them “an egregious breach of Geneva Convention”.
The Prime Minister has ordered ministers to do “everything in their power” to secure the release of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, who were paraded by pro-Russian officials in eastern Ukraine in a show trial.
Yet he has not instructed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to summon the Russian Ambassador, despite the move being demanded by one of the two men’s local MP.
UK officials believe that would escalate the situation and give credence to Russia ’s claims that the men were mercenaries. In fact they were legitimate members of the Ukrainian Army, so are prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Convention.
No10 also declined to say if Boris Johnson had spoken to the families of the two men, saying: “I’m not aware of that.”
It comes after Ms Truss held a phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba this morning “reiterating her concern and discussing next steps”.
She tweeted: “Spoke with Ukrainian FM Dmytro Kuleba to discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies. The judgment against them is an egregious breach of the Geneva convention.”
Mr Aslin, 28, and Mr Pinner, 48, were convicted of taking action towards violent seizure of power at a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.
A third man, Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, was convicted alongside them.
Robert Jenrick, Tory MP for Newark where Mr Aslin is from, slammed the “disgusting Soviet-era show trial”.
He said a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia – not involving the UK – is the most likely solution.
He told the Mirror: “If it is resolved it’s going to be via a prisoner exchange. Both sides have at least a couple of thousands of the other side’s personnel.”
But he also urged Liz Truss to summon the Russian Ambassador – something No10 today repeatedly declined to say would happen.
Human rights charity Amnesty also urged the UK to contact counterparts in Moscow. Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager, said: “This is a grotesque decision.
“This so-called trial always had the appearance of a show trial designed to exert pressure on the UK, and these sentences look like they’re intended to fire a warning shot to the UK over its support for Ukraine in this brutal war.
“The Geneva Conventions clearly state that prisoners of war must not be tried or sentenced simply for participating in hostilities, and still less should they ever receive death sentences.
“Russia and its proxies in the Donetsk People’s Republic will be adding to a massive catalogue of war crimes if they attempt to carry out these sentences.
“The UK and the UN and other bodies should inform Moscow that these sentences are completely unacceptable and must be quashed immediately.”
A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister was appalled at the sentencing of these men. He has been following the case closely and has asked ministers to do everything in their power to try and reunite them with their families as soon as we can.
“We completely condemn the sham sentencing of these men to death. There’s no justification at all for this breach of the protection they’re entitled to.”
But the spokesman declined to say the case would be raised directly with Russia, saying: “We are clear we are supporting Ukraine in its efforts to get these men released
“They were Ukrainian armed forces members and are therefore prisoners of war.”
One person close to the families’ struggle likened the Foreign Office’s stance to the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – whose family were initially told not to give more publicity to her imprisonment in Iran.
Mr Aslin, originally from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner were both members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city which was the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Aslin is thought to have a Ukrainian partner and other members of his family are still in Newark where they are prominent members of the local community.
A Foreign Office Spokesperson said: “We are working with the government of Ukraine on the detention of British Nationals.
“We condemn the exploitation of Prisoners of War for political purposes. They are entitled to combatant immunity and should not be prosecuted for participation in hostilities.”