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Two Britons captured by Russia while fighting for Ukraine have been forced to beg Boris Johnson to exchange them for a pro-Moscow politician as Vladimir Putin attempts to make them pawns in his bloody war.
The pair were dragged on to Russian state TV today where they were forced to watch a video of Oksana Marchenko – the wife of Kremlin ally Viktor Medvedchuk who is being held by Ukraine – begging for his freedom.
Medvedchuk – known both as the ‘prince of darkness’ and Putin’s ‘grey cardinal’ – is one of Ukraine’s richest men and the Russian strongman’s closest political ally in the country, having helped exert Kremlin pressure in influential circles in Kyiv.
He was re-arrested in Kyiv last week while allegedly trying to flee the country, having escaped from house arrest during the early days of the war.
Pinner and Aslin spoke after being prompted by an unidentified man who showed them the footage of Medvedchuk’s wife, and were almost certainly speaking under duress. The footage was shown on Russia’s main channel, Rossiya 1.
Shaun Pinner (left) and Aiden Aslin (right), Britons serving in the Ukrainian marines who have now been captured by Russia, appeared on state TV today
An unidentified man showed Pinner a video of Viktor Medvedchuk’s wife begging for his release, before Pinner appealed to Boris Johnson to facilitate the swap
The same man also showed the video to Aslin, who also requested a prisoner swap for Medvedchuk – who is Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine
‘I understand the situation,’ Pinner, who looked tired and nervous, said after being shown the video.
‘I’d like to appeal to the government to send me back home, I’d like to see my wife again,’ he said.
Pinner made a direct appeal to Johnson on his own behalf and on Aslin’s behalf.
‘We look to exchange myself and Aiden Aslin for Mr Medvedchuk. Obviously I would really appreciate your help in this matter,’ he said, saying he spoke a little Russian and had been treated well.
The unidentified man was then shown speaking to Aslin, who was sat on a chair wearing a T-shirt bearing the emblem of Ukraine’s far-right Azov battalion, in a different location.
‘I think that Boris needs to listen to what Oksana (Medvedchuk’s wife) has said,’ said Aslin, who also looked nervous.
‘If Boris Johnson really does care about British citizens like he says he does then he will help.’
Separately, Ukraine’s SBU intelligence service released a video of Medvedchuk who asked to be swapped too.
Ukraine released a video of Viktor Medvedchuk – a pro-Russian politician under arrest in Kyiv – begging for his freedom around the same time the video of Aslin and Pinner emerged
Medvedchuk (left) is known as the ‘prince of darkness’ and Putin’s ‘grey cardinal’ because of his close ties to the Kremlin and years of advocating on Russia’s behalf in Ukraine
Medvedchuk addressed Putin and Zelensky, asking to be exchanged for the defenders of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol and any civilians allowed to leave.
Three days after Russia moved its forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, Ukraine said Medvedchuk had escaped from house arrest.
He had been placed under house arrest in May 2021 and charged with high treason and later with aiding terrorism.
The pro-Russian figure, who says Putin is godfather to his daughter, has denied wrongdoing.
Zelensky had proposed to exchange Medvedchuk, 67, for Ukrainians currently being held in Russia.
Asked about a potential exchange last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stressed that Medvedchuk was “not a Russian citizen” and said he did not know if he wanted Moscow to interfere in his case.
On Monday, Peskov promised to “communicate” any response to the idea from Putin.
Pinner is a British Army veteran who served with the Royal Anglians before marrying a Ukrainian woman. He subsequently enlisted in the Ukrainian marines.
Aslin is a former care worker who went to Syria in 2015 to fight for Kurdish forces, who were leading a western-backed coalition in the war against ISIS.
After two tours of Syria, Aslin – who has Ukrainian citizenship – became a member of the country’s military and ended up serving in the marines.
Both he and Pinner were guarding trenches in Ukraine’s east when war with Russia broke out in late February, and ended up joining the defence of the nearby city of Mariupol when it was surrounded and besieged by Putin’s men.
Shaun Pinner, 48, was serving as a Marine in Ukraine, defending the key strategic port of Mariupol
Pinner served with the Royal Anglians and enlisted in the Marines in Ukraine after marrying his wife Larysa (pictured right), who is from the country
He reportedly told his Russians captors that ‘he doesn’t want war and wants to go home’
Aslin, who tweeted under the name ‘Cossackgundi’, was captured first – with family members using his Twitter account to say he had been forced to surrender after running out of ammunition.
He was subsequently pictured in detention by Russian troops, having apparently been beaten across his face.
Pinner was then reported captured at the weekend, and was paraded in front of TV cameras for the first time on Saturday.
‘I am Shaun Pinner. I am a citizen of the United Kingdom. I was captured in Mariupol,’ he told the camera.
‘I am part of 36th brigade, 1st Battalion Ukrainian Marine. I was fighting in Mariupol for five to six weeks and now I am in the Donetsk People’s Republic.’
Since both men were enlisted in the regular Ukrainian military before surrendering, they are protected by the Geneva Convention which states they should not be mistreated or abused.
However, Russian state media has described both men as foreign mercenaries – meaning soldiers who are not part of an official military – which has sparked fears the pair have been or will be tortured.
Angela Wood, Aiden’s mother, has already spoken of her fear that her son will be abused – telling Sky News: He’s not a mercenary, he’s not a volunteer, he did not go out there in the last month and think “I’m going to fight, I’m going to get glory.”
‘He has been out there four years and he is a legitimate Ukrainian marine.’
Shannon Tinegate, Mr Aslin’s sister, told the channel that she spoke with him in Mariupol shortly before he surrendered and he did not have any of the facial injuries he was seen with on TV.
Aiden Aslin is pictured in military gear. Born in Newark in 1994, he worked as a care worker before deciding to join the YPG, the US-backed militia which had spearheaded the fight against ISIS in Syria, to fight jihadists in 2015
Aiden Aslin smiles for the camera. He was persuaded of Ukraine’s cause against Russia and moved to the country in 2018
Aiden Aslin is pictured circled left in this image taken from social media in Ukraine
Medvedchuk is a hugely controversial figure because of his close ties to Moscow.
He claims to be so close to Putin that the Russian leader is godfather to his youngest daughter, Darya.
A businessman who amassed his fortune through investments in the media, natural resources and energy, Medvedchuk rose through the political ranks at a time when Ukraine was known for backroom deals and corruption.
As a close ally of Putin, Medvedchuk entered parliament in the late 1990s and for three years in the early 2000s was head of the presidential administration.
Known as a power-broker between Kyiv and Moscow, he was courted variously by pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders who wanted closer ties and pro-Western governments who hoped to make use of his access to the Kremlin.
Medvedchuk was a bitter critic of the Euromaidan protests which erupted in late 2013 and ended with the toppling of political ally Viktor Yanukovych – a pro-Russian politician who fled the country after his brutal repression of the protests failed.
After Putin invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, and backed breakaway governments in the Donbas region in 2014, Medvedchuk was appointed negotiator on behalf of the breakaway regions in talks with the government.
He was also sanctioned by the US for his alleged role in the annexation of Crimea.
He had been under house arrest since 2021 on treason charges over accusations that he tried to steal natural resources from Russia-annexed Crimea and hand Ukrainian military secrets to Moscow.
Speaking on Wednesday, Zelensky offered Medvedchuk in a prisoner swap deal.
‘I propose to the Russian Federation to exchange this guy of yours for our boys and our girls who are now in Russian captivity,’ the president said in a video address posted on Telegram in the early hours of the morning.
‘And may Medvedchuk be an example for you. Even the former oligarch did not escape. What can we say about much simpler criminals from the Russian hinterland? We will get everyone.’
On Tuesday night, Zelensky posted a picture online of a dishevelled-looking Medvedchuk with his hands in cuffs and dressed in a Ukrainian army uniform.
‘A special operation was carried out by the Security Service of Ukraine. Well done!’ Zelensky wrote on Telegram, announcing Medvedchuk’s capture.
Security agency chief Ivan Bakanov said agents had carried out a ‘lightning-fast and dangerous multi-level special operation to detain’ the Russia-friendly lawmaker and leader of the ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ party.
Source: Daily Mail