Russian envoy: UK has made little effort to free men sentenced to death in eastern Ukraine

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: A still image shows Britons Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Moroccan Brahim Saadoun in a courtroom cage at a location given as Donetsk

LONDON (Reuters) - Russia's ambassador to Britain said he was surprised London has not made more of an effort to secure the release of two British citizens sentenced to death for fighting in eastern Ukraine.

While fighting with the Ukrainian army, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner were captured by Russian-backed forces in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), a territory recognised only by Russia and Syria.

After a hasty court hearing - decried as a Stalin-era show trial in a pop-up courtroom - a separatist court sentenced the pair to death, saying they were mercenaries and were trying to violently seize power.

"We had a formal request here in London and in Moscow about these two guys - that they exist - and a phrase like 'we put all responsibility on Russia for them,'" Russian Ambassador Andrei Kelin said in an interview with Reuters.

"There was no demand for mediation, no demand for their release or anything like that. 'Let's talk about their fate and what can be done in this situation'. Nothing," he added.

Responding to the suggestion that Moscow could easily put pressure on DPR officials to release the two men, Kelin said: "And so what? Has anyone from London asked us to do this? No."

Britain's foreign ministry said it was doing "everything we can to support the men."

"We condemn the exploitation of prisoners of war for political purposes and have raised this with Russia," a foreign ministry spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "We are in constant contact with the government of Ukraine on their cases and are fully supportive of Ukraine in its efforts to get them released."

The Russian ambassador also vowed that Moscow would defeat Ukrainian forces in the whole of the eastern Donbas region and is unlikely to withdraw from a vast swathe of land across Ukraine's southern coast.

(Reporting by Jake Cordell, editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

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