Russia 'cannot allow death sentence against Britons to be carried out'

Russia must ensure British soldiers sentenced to death in Ukraine are NOT executed, European Court of Human Rights rules – but Kremlin says their fate will be decided by Ukraine rebels

  • Brits Aiden Aslin, 28 and Shaun Pinner, 48, lived in Ukraine and joined the army
  • The pair were sentenced to death by pro-Russian authorities in eastern Ukraine
  • Lord Ahmad said trial had ‘no legitimacy’ and pair should be freed ‘without delay’
  • Mr Aslin and Mr Pinner are originally from Nottinghamshire and Bedfordshire

Russia must ensure that two British soldiers sentenced to death in Ukraine are not executed, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled. 

Aiden Aslin and Sean Pinner, two Britons who were fighting in Ukraine’s ranks before being captured in Mariupol in April, are now facing execution by firing squad after being sentenced as ‘foreign mercenaries’ by a court in occupied Donbas.

Judges sitting in Strasbourg issued an edict to Moscow on Thursday, saying Putin must ‘ensure that the death penalty [is] not carried out’ and work to make sure the men are being kept in humane conditions and given medical care.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Russia no longer complies with the court’s rulings and the pair’s fate will be decided by Ukraine rebel groups.

British war prisoners Aiden Aslin (left) and Shaun Pinner (centre) were sentenced to death penalty by Donetsk court on June 9

Mr Aslin (left) and Mr Pinner (right) were both living in Ukraine before the invasion and the UK Government has insisted that, as legitimate members of the Ukrainian armed forces, they should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention

Russia announced its intention to withdraw from the Council of Europe – a diplomatic body linked to the court – back in March, and was subsequently expelled.

But the court can still issue rulings against Russia because there is a ‘grace period’ in the council treaty, meaning the court retains jurisdiction until September 16.

Last week, Russian MPs voted on two largely symbolic pieces of legislation that means any court decisions are not binding within Russia. 

The new ruling is intended to pile political pressure on Russia to protect the two men, but there is little the court can do if the Kremlin chooses to ignore it.

It comes after UK junior foreign minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon told Putin to release the two men and return them home ‘without delay’.

The pair’s ‘so-called trial’ had ‘no legitimacy’, Lord Ahmad of told the House of Lords, where he was pressed over the plight of the two men.

Aiden Aslin, 28, originally from Newark, Nottinghamshire, and Shaun Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire, moved to Ukraine in 2018 after marrying native women and signed up to serve in the marines.

Aslin, a former care worker who fought against ISIS in Syria, and Pinner, a British Army veteran, were serving on the frontline in Donbas when Putin ordered his troops to invade on February 24.

They surrendered two months later in the city of Mariupol after their units ran out of ammunition and were surrounded. 

As they were fighting in the regular Ukrainian army, both men are considered prisoners of war under international law – meaning they are exempt from prosecution for violence perpetrated in combat.

However, leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic – a sham state backed by Russia in Ukraine’s east – argue they are foreign mercenaries and has prosecuted them as war criminals. 

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.

Shaun Pinner 

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.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the so-called republic, controls the fate of the two men for the time being – and has already dismissed the idea of pardoning them.

However, Russia is believed to be preparing a number of sham referendums for occupied regions of Ukraine to bring them under direct control of Moscow which could leave their fate resting in the hands of the Kremlin.

There is also little doubt that Pushilin is at the beck and call of Putin, and the Russia leader may want the two men kept alive given their potential value in any post-war negotiations – particularly over sanctions.

Aslin, from Nottinghamshire, and Pinner, from Bedfordshire, were on 9 June convicted to death alongside Moroccan Sadun Brahim, 21, after all three surrendered alongside Ukrainian forces to pro-Putin fighters in Mariupol.

Another British detainee Andrew Hill, 35, a father of four from Plymouth, has also been warned to expect the death penalty when his verdict is handed down.

British foreign secretary Liz Truss called the sentences ‘a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy’, but the Government has thus far refused to intervene directly to prevent the sentence.

Truss has argued that a British governmental intervention could be seen to legitimise pro-Russian claims that Aslin and Pinner are ‘mercenaries’, despite them being paid members of the Ukrainian army with Ukrainian wives.

Aslin’s grandmother Pamela Hall said he was ‘extremely upset’ when he called his mother after being handed the death penalty.

‘There are no words… it’s got to be everyone’s worst nightmare to have your family threatened in this way,’ she said at the time.

‘I have to believe what Aiden has said to us, that if the DPR don’t get some response then they will execute him. Obviously, I hope that isn’t true.’

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