UK must not be blackmailed into prisoner exchange with Russia, says Emily Thornberry

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Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry (PA Archive)
Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry (PA Archive)

The UK must not be blackmailed into a prisoner exchange with Russia, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has said.

Her comments come as two British men captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine were paraded on state TV and forced to plea for help from Boris Johnson.

Shaun Pinner, 48, and Aiden Aslin, 28, asked to be exchanged for pro-Kremlin politician Viktor Medvedchuk, known as the Prince of Darkness, who is being held in Ukraine.

“We should be negotiating with the Russians to try to get them back,” Ms Thornberry told Sky News.

“But I don’t think that we can give in to blackmail, I’m afraid.

“If we start doing that it just encourages more snatching of hostages around the world.

“We need to make it clear that we don’t negotiate and give in to blackmail when it comes to hostages, and we’ve always said that we need to stick to that.”

The Rossiya 24 state TV channel showed Mr Pinner asking to be swapped for Medvedchuk.

Saying that he and Mr Aslin were being "treated well" and "fed and watered", Mr Pinner added: "Hi, Mr Boris Johnson. I understand that Mr Medvedchuk has been detained and we look to exchange myself and Aiden Aslin for Mr Medvedchuk.

"Obviously, I’d really appreciate your help in this matter."

Mr Pinner, formerly of the Royal Anglian Regiment, is thought to have been fighting in Mariupol for at least five weeks with the Ukrainian marines.

Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, later said a prisoner exchange was possible.

He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme it “happens behind the scenes”.

“Like I said, this is where the back channels come into place,” he said. “It’s where the agencies do our work. We still have, despite Russia deciding to persona non grata many … Government officials, there are still communications that take place. We still have an embassy operating.

“That’s where these discussions should take place, not in the open media.”

In a statement released by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), Mr Pinner’s family explained how he became involved in the defence of Ukraine, which he considers “his adopted country”.

The statement read: “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 continued: “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.”

Under the convention, prisoners of war must be treated humanely and protected from humiliating or degrading treatment.

His relatives described Mr Pinner as “funny, much-loved, well-intentioned” and said they hoped for a quick resolution to allow the captured men to return to their families.

“Our hearts go out to all those caught up in this horrific conflict,” the statement concluded.

The FCDO condemned the exploitation of prisoners of war for political purposes and called on the Kremlin to treat all prisoners of war humanely.

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