The death sentence of the two British soldiers captured in Mariupol, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, has exacerbated tensions between London and Moscow. Conservative MP Robert Jenrick has called the summary trial “a flagrant violation of international law” and accused Vladimir Putin of “using soldiers as hostages.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has expressed his “great concern” about the events. The Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, has condemned “the trial without any legitimacy”, has guaranteed support for the families and held a talk this Friday with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, to try to include the two British soldiers in a prisoner of war exchange.

Truss has described the death sentence for Aislin and Pinner as “a blatant breach of the Geneva Convention”. The head of the Foreign Office has assured that the soldiers are being held “by representatives of Russia” and has reiterated “the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine in the face of Putin’s brutal invasion.”

“The Russian Federation is using foreign soldiers as hostages to put pressure on the West in the negotiating process,” warned Vadym Denysenko, advisor to the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior, who has anticipated a response to the Russian challenge coordinated by kyiv with the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has declined to comment on the cases of the two British soldiers. Lavrov has argued that the responsibility does not lie with Moscow, but with the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Ukrainian region occupied by the Russian army where they have been sentenced to death.

On Russian state television, meanwhile, Putin’s senior propagandist, Vladimir Solovyov, has engaged in a debate over whether British soldiers should be shot or hanged. Solovyov has predicted that Boris Johnson’s popularity would sink further when British soldiers are put to death.

Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner have been sentenced to death in the middle of this week, together with the Moroccan citizen Saadun Brahim, as “mercenaries” involved in acts of “terrorism”. The British authorities maintain that both Aslin and Pinner had been in Ukraine for years before the Russian invasion, have dual citizenship and joined the Ukrainian Army (36th Marine Brigade) with full force, in contrast to the international “volunteers” who have arrived in the country in the last four months.

Aslin, 28, from Newark, has worked in the care sector in the UK and joined Kurdish defense units during the Syrian war in 2015, settling in 2018 in the town of Mykolaiv with to his Ukrainian girlfriend. Pinner, 48, a British Army veteran, has also fought with the Syrian Democratic Forces before marrying in Ukraine, which he considers his “adopted country.”

Conservative MPs Robert Jenrick and Richard Fuller have meanwhile become go-betweens for soldiers’ families. The two asked the ‘premier’ Boris Johnson to call the Russian ambassador in London, Andrey Kelin, for diplomatic pressure.

“We are facing an outrageous situation,” Jenrick said, “These are not mercenaries. They are British citizens who, due to personal circumstances, were living in Ukraine before Vladimir Putin’s invasion. They enlisted to serve in the Ukrainian army, they were captured and must be treated as prisoners of war, which means that they must be treated properly and returned to Ukraine at the earliest opportunity.”

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