BAKHMUT, Ukraine – Ukraine 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 process a farce and a violation of the rules of war.
Meanwhile, as Kremlin forces continued a 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 needs to “take back” Russian land. historical. .
The court of Ukraine’s self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk found the three fighters guilty of seeking the violent overthrow of power, a crime 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 afforded prisoners of war. They are the first foreign fighters sentenced by Ukraine’s Russian-backed rebels.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko condemned the process as legally invalid, saying: “Such show trials put the interests of propaganda above law and morality.” He said that all foreign nationals fighting as part of Ukraine’s armed forces must be considered Ukrainian military and protected as such.
British Foreign Secretary Luz Truss pronounced the sentence a “false trial with absolutely no 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 the Moroccan Arabic-language online newspaper Madar 21 that his son is not a mercenary and has Ukrainian citizenship.
Aslin and Pinner’s families said the two men were longtime members of the Ukrainian military. Both 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 city of Volnovakha.
Another British fighter taken prisoner by pro-Russian forces, Andrew Hill, awaits trial.
The Russian military has argued that foreign mercenaries fighting on Ukraine’s side are not combatants and should expect long prison terms at best if captured.
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? Resuming and reinforcing. That’s what he did. And it seems that it was up to us to resume and reinforce as well.”
Putin also appeared to leave the door open for further Russian territorial expansion.
“It’s impossible – do you understand? — impossible to build a fence around a country like Russia. And we do not intend to build this fence,” said the Russian leader.
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 authorities did not give details about the weaponry. The phone conversation came after Macron angered Ukrainian officials by saying world powers should not “humiliate” Putin.
Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian army continued to push Russian forces back from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which lies north of the Donbas. Ukrainian television broadcasting was restored after a TV tower was bombed.
“Hitting television centres, destroying communication channels, leaving people isolated – this is the occupiers’ tactic that they cannot do without, as openness and honesty are also weapons against everything the Russian state does,” he said on Thursday. fair in his evening speech. .
On the battlefield:
— Fierce fighting has raged in the city of Sievierodonetsk in a battle that could help determine the fate of Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland in the east. Moscow-backed separatists already held swathes of the Donbas before the invasion, and Russian troops gained more.
— Residents of Kharkiv reported what appeared to be cruise missile attacks on the northeastern city. One hit a supermarket. Another hit a coke factory. No details were available.
— Russian troops are trying to resume their offensive to completely capture the Zaporizhzhia region in southeastern Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said. Kyiv continues to control the northern part of the region, including the city of Zaporizhzhia.
– Thirteen civilians were killed in the Ukrainian bombing of Stakhanov’s separatist-controlled town in Donbas, a pro-Russian separatist envoy said on social media. It was not possible to immediately verify the claim.
— Russia claimed that it used missiles to attack a base west of the capital in the Zhytomyr region, where, according to the agency, mercenaries were being trained. There was no response from the Ukrainian authorities.
Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine