Two British nationals serving in the Ukrainian marines and recently captured by Russian forces are proposing an unusual prisoner swap to earn their release. Videos of the two men in Russian captivity show them suggesting that they be exchanged for Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk, who is currently imprisoned by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government and accused of treason. Zelensky has said that he hopes to use Medvedchuk as a bargaining chip to free Ukrainian prisoners of war.
Captured Brits filmed asking for exchange
Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin are British citizens who have been living in Ukraine and serving in the marines for several years before the Russian invasion.
They are not mercenaries, but Russia is not expected to make much of the legal distinction, as it has implied that any foreign nationals fighting against its soldiers in Ukraine may be considered as mercenaries and treated accordingly.
Pinner and Aslin were forced to surrender with their comrades in Mariupol, having told friends and family that food and ammunition had run out. Aslin even speculated that the Russians would use him for propaganda.
The two are almost certainly speaking under duress in the videos; this technically violates the rights of POWs but it is one illegality that both Russia and Ukraine (and Western media) have routinely ignored.
Mr. Medvedchuk was also speaking under duress in a video released by Kiev in which he also suggests that he be exchanged for the prisoners from Mariupol.
Unlike the Brits, Medvedchuk asked to be swapped for the Ukrainian defenders of Mariupol, rather than the foreign nationals specifically.
Russia says it won’t trade soldiers for pro-Kremlin politician
Medvedchuk was the leader of one of the main opposition parties in Ukraine before he was arrested on treason charges last year. He is known to be an acquaintance of Vladimir Putin and has been regarded as a potential pro-Russian replacement for Zelensky.
He escaped from house arrest when the invasion started but was recaptured in April. Zelensky has since been attempting to use his former opponent as a bargaining chip to secure the release of captured Ukrainian soldiers.
The Kremlin has thus far refused to consider an exchange involving Medvedchuk, who is a Ukrainian citizen. Moscow claims that a deal involving Medvedchuk would allow Kiev to arrest other pro-Russian Ukrainians the same purpose.
It may also look like a somewhat questionable deal to the Russian people, who might ask why Ukrainian soldiers were being traded back for one politician, rather than an equivalent number of their own captured soldiers.
Russians must have filmed and released the videos of the British marines, so there is at least some in a swap for Medvedchuk. Handing over two foreign nationals would be a more palatable deal and would save Russia the trouble of figuring out what to do with them .
Zelensky, however, hopes to get much more out of Medvedchuk than two captured foreigners; Kiev would prefer to use him to rescue militarily significant groups of Ukrainians captured or surrounded by the Russians, a trade that would materially help the war effort.