youKraine and the West have denounced a pro-Moscow court that sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan to death for fighting for Ukraine, calling the proceedings a deception and a violation of the rules of war.
Meanwhile, as Kremlin forces continued a bitter war of attrition in the east, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday appeared to compare his actions to those of Peter the Great in the 18th century and said the country must ” take back” historic Russian lands. .
Read more: The war in Ukraine becomes Putin’s Vietnam
A court in Ukraine’s self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic found the three fighters guilty of seeking to overthrow power by violence, an offense punishable by death in the unrecognized eastern republic. The men were also convicted of mercenary activities and terrorism.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported that the defendants, identified as Aiden Aslin, Shaun Pinner and Brahim Saadoun, will face a firing squad. They have one month to appeal.
The separatist side argued that the three were “mercenaries” not entitled to the usual protections given to prisoners of war. They are the first foreign fighters condemned by the Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko condemned the proceedings as legally invalid, saying, “Such show trials place propaganda interests above law and morality.” He said that all foreign citizens fighting as part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces should be considered Ukrainian servicemen and protected as such.
British Foreign Secretary Luz Truss called the sentencing “a fictitious judgment without any legitimacy”. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies said that under the Geneva Conventions prisoners of war are entitled to immunity as combatants.
Saadoun’s father, Taher Saadoun, told Moroccan Arabic online newspaper Madar 21 that his son is not a mercenary and holds Ukrainian citizenship.
The families of Aslin and Pinner said both men were longtime members of the Ukrainian military. Both are believed to have been living in Ukraine since 2018.
The three men fought alongside Ukrainian troops before Pinner and Aslin surrendered to pro-Russian forces in the southern port of Mariupol in mid-April and Saadoun was captured in mid-March in the eastern town of Volnovakha .
Another British fighter taken prisoner by pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, is awaiting trial.
The Russian military has argued that foreign mercenaries fighting alongside Ukraine are not combatants and should expect long prison terms, at best, if captured.
Read more: Meet the foreign volunteers who risk their lives to defend Ukraine and Europe
Putin drew parallels between Peter the Great’s founding of St. Petersburg and the ambitions of modern Russia.
When the Tsar founded the new capital, “no European country recognized it as Russia. Everyone recognized it as Sweden,” Putin said. He added: “What was (Peter) doing? Pick up and reinforce. That’s what he did. And it seems like it behooves us to pick up and strengthen as well.
Putin also appeared to leave the door open for further Russian territorial expansion.
“It’s impossible – you understand? – impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we have no intention of building this fence,” the Russian leader said.
In other developments, French President Emmanuel Macron told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that France was ready to send more “heavy weapons” to Ukraine, according to Macron’s office. French officials did not give details of the armament. The phone conversation came after Macron angered Ukrainian officials by saying world powers should not “humiliate” Putin.
Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian military continued to push back Russian forces from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, located north of Donbass. Ukrainian TV transmission was restored after a TV tower was bombed.
“Hitting television centers, destroying communication channels, isolating people, these are the tactics of the occupiers they cannot do without, because transparency and honesty are also weapons against everything the state does. Russian,” he said Thursday night in his evening speech. .
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