Hike sentence

Briton’s death sentence will ‘invigorate’ Russia’s fellow fighters, friend says

The friend of a British soldier captured by Russian forces while fighting for Ukraine says his death sentence will “invigorate” those still resisting Russian advances.

Aiden Aslin, 28, was found guilty of taking steps towards a violent power grab in a court in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic. Another Briton, Shaun Pinner, 48, and Moroccan national Saaudun Brahim, were also convicted alongside Mr Aslin after the three were accused of being “mercenaries” fighting with Ukrainian troops. Russian state media RIA Novosti reported that the three men faced a firing squad.

Brennan Phillips, a former US soldier who met Mr Aslin in Syria and worked alongside him in Ukraine, said the judgment was a “provocation”. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Mr Phillips said: ‘I think it will invigorate people more than anything. Whatever effect they thought they had in this provocation, I don’t think it’s going to be well received. And they did it as a provocation.

Mr Phillips, from Tennessee, added that “many people expected ‘Russia to choose’ the most provocative stance it can take” – namely the death penalty.

“I don’t believe Sean or Aiden will face the death penalty or anything like that,” he said. “I believe their captivity under the Russians will be extended a bit, but I wholeheartedly believe and am very confident that they will be released safely to their families.”

The British government insisted that the sentences had no legitimacy and that the two men should be treated as prisoners of war. Russian news agency Interfax said the men could appeal their convictions.

Howard Morrison QC, the UK’s independent adviser on war crimes in Ukraine, told the broadcaster the sentence was likely used for “negotiation purposes”. He said: ‘I would hesitate to call it a legal process, frankly.

“Judges must be fully independent and must act within due process and the requirements of international law and national law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Geneva Conventions. few signs of any of what is happening.

When asked if the sentence was a bargaining ploy, Mr Morrison replied: ‘Well, it may well be. I mean, the problem is, we’re not sure. It is very unlikely to be simple. There will almost certainly be some subtext somewhere and it’s likely to be for negotiation purposes.

“In a way, I hope so, because these men are under the death penalty, and the last thing you want is for that to be implemented. But if it’s for negotiation, it’s hard to see exactly what the subtext is – because the British government doesn’t hold any prisoners, it’s the Ukrainians who hold the prisoners.

Mr Morrison said the government’s complaint that the men are prisoners of war who should be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions is “fair”. “There shouldn’t have been a show trial and there certainly shouldn’t have been a death penalty,” he said.

Mr Aslin, from Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner were both members of regular Ukrainian military units fighting in Mariupol, the southern port city that has been the scene of some of the most violent conflicts since the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin.

Mr Phillips said Mr Aslin had an established life in Ukraine after arriving in 2017 and did not go there to fight as a “thrill seeker”. He said: “He has a Ukrainian fiancée. They have or had a house outside of Mariupol and he was part of the 36th Marine Brigade. So, yes, he had a well-established life in Ukraine, Ukrainian citizenship.

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