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Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner

Volume 823: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Russia and the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) on behalf of British nationals Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, following their death sentence by a court in the DPR.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government condemn the sentencing of two British nationals, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, held by Russian proxies in eastern Ukraine. Both are soldiers in the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore prisoners of war entitled to protection under international humanitarian law. The so-called trial in the non-government controlled area of Ukraine has no legitimacy, and the United Kingdom is fully supportive of the Government of Ukraine in their efforts to get them released.

My Lords, what discussions are taking place with our European and American partners to say to Russia that, if these executions go ahead, there will be serious repercussions? What guidance has been given to the estimated 3,000 UK nationals who are now fighting, many of whom have not joined the official army and therefore do not come under the Geneva convention, who are putting themselves at huge risk should they be caught?

My Lords, on the right reverend Prelate’s second point, the advice from the British Government has been very clear: do not travel to Ukraine. As for our work with allies and partners, first and foremost we are working very constructively with Ukraine. The detainees are part and parcel of the engagement the Ukrainians are having with the Russians directly and we are very supportive of those efforts—a point well made by my right honourable friend in her call with the Ukrainian Prime Minister this morning.

My Lords, I understand that the Government will not recognise these courts, because we do not recognise these territories, but I also understand that the defence team of the British nationals has deferred lodging a defence because they believe that UK ministerial intervention will be successful. Their deadline for this is 8 July. I understand that the Government are in a sensitive position; they have already made representations to Moscow, but has consideration been given to a humanitarian envoy who can give direct support to these individuals to ensure that they have the equivalent of personal consular support, even though that is not possible because of our lack of recognition of these regions?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. Of course, he is right to articulate that we have been making representations, including directly with the Russian authorities. We do not recognise the de facto authorities in occupied parts of Ukraine, and I think that is the right approach. I assure him of our good offices in every element of ensuring the rights of all the detainees who are currently being detained by Russia and strengthening the hand of Ukraine in their representation.

My Lords, in the case of Aiden Aslin, on 18 April, Graham Phillips, a former British civil servant and pro-Russian propagandist, published a video interview with him—a prisoner of war, in handcuffs, physically injured and manifestly under duress—and extracted from him an admission, in those conditions, that he was not a Ukrainian soldier but had a different relationship with the war. Experts who have studied this video and its circumstances say there is sufficient evidence there to support the view that this was a breach of the Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war, and that Phillips, a British citizen, is at risk of prosecution for war crimes. As he is a British citizen, ought we not to be further investigating this to see whether he has indeed violated international law, and issuing a warrant for his arrest?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, prisoners of war cannot be prosecuted for taking part in direct hostilities. The whole process is about their early release, and they must be released and repatriated without delay at the end of hostilities, if not before. Certainly, that is the case we have been making. I can share with the noble Lord that, of course, these situations are extremely sensitive, but we need to remind Russia that it has an obligation to ensure it upholds the principles of IHL.

My Lords, can the Minister say what contact, if any, the Government have had with the Red Cross, whose role is very clearly defined in terms of the Geneva conventions and prisoners of war? It was very active in rescuing a lot of people from Mariupol and therefore has no problem about contact with these illegal authorities.

My Lords, we are engaging directly with all agencies on the ground. The noble Lord mentions the Red Cross; of course, it has played an important role in reaching many communities within Ukraine, including those in the occupied areas, and we will continue to engage with it. But even an organisation such as the Red Cross is facing real challenges in this respect.

My Lords, the Minister did not answer my noble friend’s question about Graham Phillips and whether the Government are undertaking any investigation to establish whether or not he has violated international law. He was asked a direct question. I would be grateful if he would answer it, please.

I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate that I am not going to comment on the specifics, particularly in the sensitive situation which currently applies to the detainees. I can assure her that we are looking at all elements of their detention. It is important that those representations for their early release are made through Ukraine. That is the position of our Government, but I cannot go further than that.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the values displayed by the Russian Government in connection with this Question, and also with yesterday’s bombing at the shopping centre, display an indication that this is a conflict that we cannot allow Ukraine to lose?

I agree with the noble Lord. That is why we have been absolutely at one—and I appreciate the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition in this regard—in staying strong in our position on helping Ukraine with humanitarian support, diplomatic efforts and economic reconstruction, as well as military support for the fight. This is a war Russia started. Russia should stop the war and stop it now.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary has promised to do whatever it takes to secure the release of these individuals. In addition to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations that have intervened in similar circumstances, there is of course the office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who has been quite effective in direct communications with Russia, particularly on humanitarian corridors. Can the Minister tell us whether the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister has been in contact with the Secretary-General to raise these cases?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Secretary-General himself has had to face many challenges in his direct engagement with Russia. Indeed, although he made a visit to Moscow, that was possible only after various representations were made. Russia was blocking his visit, and I am sure that many within the international multilateral framework are frustrated by the lack of engagement Russia has shown on a wide range of issues. What I can share with the noble Lord is that we are engaging with all partners, including the United Nations, at the very highest level across a range of issues, including those of detainees.