Londoners are appalled that the authorities of the internationally unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced two British mercenaries to death. These were captured in Mariupol. Moscow has previously stated that foreign mercenaries are not treated as regular armed forces.
Moscow had already declared in March that foreign mercenaries fighting Russian troops in Ukraine would not be given “prisoner of war” status. They are considered irregular combatants and will not be treated as regular armed forces in accordance with the Geneva Convention. “I would like to make an official statement that none of the mercenaries that the West is sending to Ukraine to fight for the nationalist regime in Kyiv can be considered combatants under international humanitarian law or have prisoner-of-war status.”, said Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov at the time. A mercenary according to the Geneva Convention has neither the right to the status of a combatant nor that of a prisoner of war (ZP I, Art. 47 Para. 1).
Now the authorities of the internationally unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) have sentenced two British and one Moroccan national to death. Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, along with Moroccan Saaudun Brahim, received verdicts in the trial, which was held by British media referred to as a “show trial”. The British nationals had served in Ukraine’s military but were captured in April in fighting in the now Russian-held Mariupol. They were charged with “terrorism” and “mercenaryism” in a Donetsk court this week. On Wednesday, Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti aired footage of the men pleading “guilty,” which critics say was coerced.
After their arrest in April, both men appeared on Russian state television and asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate their release. DPR authorities claimed they had committed “egregious” crimes against the population. Pinner and Aiden spoke at the performance at the prompt of an unidentified man in the footage, asking Johnson to take them home in exchange for pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is being held by the Ukrainian side after Zelensky ordered the opposition leader’s arrest .
A first statement from London, hours after the verdict, said the UK was “deeply concerned” by the death sentences imposed on British militants in Ukraine. The UK intends to lodge a protest, also given that the DPR court is not internationally recognized. In a government statement it was said:
“We are of course deeply concerned about this. We have repeatedly emphasized that prisoners of war must not be used for political purposes. You know that under the Geneva Convention prisoners of war are entitled to immunity as combatants and not to be prosecuted for their participation in hostilities. So we will continue to work with the Ukrainian authorities to secure the release of all British nationals who have served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and are being held as prisoners of war.”
It is likely that these sentences are primarily intended to act as a deterrent to thousands of other foreign mercenaries and volunteers in Ukraine. Likewise, Moscow and Donetsk are likely to try to increase the pressure on London (and thus also on Kyiv) to enable a correspondingly high-quality prisoner exchange.