UK 'can't give in to blackmail' as Russia captures Britons fighting for Ukraine
The UK must not “give in to blackmail” over hostages after Russia captured two British citizens who were fighting for Ukraine, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry has said.
Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin are being held by Moscow, with the Kremlin reportedly offering to exchange them with pro-Russia politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been 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.”
In footage reportedly broadcast on the Rossiya 24 state channel on Monday, Mr Pinner addresses the prime minister and appears to ask for himself and Mr Aslin to be swapped for Mr Medvedchuk.
“Hi Mr Boris Johnson,” says the 48-year-old former Royal Anglian soldier, who appears tired in the video.
“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 and pushing this agenda.” He also says he has been “treated well” and “fed, watered.”
In a separate clip, Mr Aslin, 28, is seen saying: “If Boris Johnson really does care like he says he does about British citizens then he would help pressure (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky to do the right thing and return Viktor to his family and return us to our families.”
It is unclear if the men were speaking under duress.
Mr Medvedchuk also reportedly asked to be exchanged in a video released by Ukraine’s intelligence service.
Earlier footage appeared to show Mr Pinner saying he was captured in Mariupol while fighting with the Ukrainian marines.
He said he had been fighting in the besieged city for five to six weeks but was now in the breakaway region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
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 they said 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.
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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.
The department has been in contact with the families of Mr Pinner and Mr Aslin to support them.
The UK’s ability to obtain information and provide consular services on the ground, however, is severely limited because of the conflict.
In another video, Mr Pinner, who is originally from Bedfordshire, appeared to be questioned by a Russian journalist about how he was captured.
He left a factory hideout in Mariupol at 4am on Tuesday, he said in the heavily-edited clip, adding there was “not much time to think”. The Russian reporter then appeared to tell Mr Pinner his Ukrainian commanders wanted him to be killed.
Mr Pinner spoke of his fear of capture in January, telling the Mail on Sunday: “I fear for my life. The Russians will treat us differently if we are captured because we are British. This is always on my mind, that I will be captured.”
Mr Aslin, originally from Nottinghamshire, had been defending Mariupol with his unit during heavy fighting in recent weeks before having to surrender after 48 days due to a lack of food and ammunition.