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Outrage over foreign fighters 'shocking' sentences

June 10, 2022

World leaders have sharply condemned a decision by pro-Russian separatists to sentence three foreign fighters to death. Germany said the move shows Russia's "complete disregard" for international law.

Two British citizens Aiden Aslin, left, and Shaun Pinner, right, and Moroccan Saudun Brahim, center, sit behind bars in a courtroom in Donetsk
The UN has said the death sentences handed down to three foreign fighters 'amount to a war crime'Image: AP/picture alliance
  • Ukraine says troops still defending Sievierodonetsk
  • US, China to trade blows over Russia at Shangri-La Dialogue
  • German health minister travels to Ukraine
  • Death sentence handed down to three foreign fighters condemned

This live updates article has been closed. For the latest on Russia's invasion, please click here

Bucharest 9 group called on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine

The leaders of the Bucharest Nine (B9) group on Friday called on Russia to withdraw its forces from the territory of Ukraine and ensure accountability for war crimes and atrocities committed in Ukraine.

"We call on Russia to change its aggressive behavior, withdraw its forces from the internationally recognized territory of Ukraine, ensure accountability for war crimes and atrocities, and return to act in compliance with international law," the declaration of the group says.

They also expressed support for Ukraine’s integration into the European Union and determination to further step up their assistance for Ukraine.

"We emphasized our continued support to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. We also support the integration of Ukraine in the European Union. We are determined to continue and further step up our assistance for Ukraine, as a strong and democratic Ukraine is important for security and stability in Europe," B9 leaders stressed.

They also strongly condemned Russia’s "unprovoked and unjustified aggression" against Ukraine, with the complicity of Belarus and using the Black Sea as a launch pad, which is a brutal assault on the rules-based international order, which caused "one of the most serious security crisis in Europe in decades."

B9 includes NATO and EU members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. All these countries were either part of the USSR or the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

Russia quits UN tourism organization after suspension over Ukraine

Moscow on Friday officially announced its withdrawal from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, which suspended Russia in April over its military operation in Ukraine.

The Russian government said it had "accepted a proposal from the foreign ministry... concerning the withdrawal of Russia" from the Madrid-based body, said a decree signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The agency had suspended Russia on April 27, saying the Ukraine operation went against its "values."

OPCW is keeping a close eye on Ukraine conflict

The world's chemical weapons watchdog said Friday it is keeping a close eye on Ukraine since Russia's invasion to monitor "threats of use of toxic chemicals as weapons."

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) chief Fernando Arias met Ukraine's parliamentary chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk to discuss "the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention," the Hague-based organization said.

"Since the beginning of the current conflict, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has been closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine," the OPCW said in a statement after the meeting.

Friday's talks included "the threat of chemical weapons use and assistance and protection support from the OPCW Technical Secretariat as well as from States Parties to the convention," it said.

The Chemical Weapons Convention is the treaty signed by most countries around the world, including Ukraine and Russia, banning the use of chemical weapons.

Separatist fighters claim Sievierodonetsk chemical plant surrounded

Separatists claim to have the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region completely surrounded.

Rodion Miroshnik, a representative from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic said in a post on Telegram: "A small group of Ukrainian formations on the territory of the Azot chemical plant can no longer leave the factory. All escape routes are cut off for them."

Miroshnik also acknowledged that there may be civilians taking shelter at the site. More than 90% of the Luhansk region is now occupied by Russia.

The Azot facility is a large chemical processing plant specializing in the manufacture of fertilizer, but has halted production after Russia’s invasion.

Germany says death sentences show Russia's disregard for human rights

The German government has joined the international chorus of condemnation after a separatist court in the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic" (DNR) sentenced three foreign fighters to death.

In a post on Twitter, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said: "Reports on 'death sentences' against foreign nationals serving in Ukraine's Armed Forces are shocking."

The ministry pointed out that "as combatants they are prisoners of war and entitled to special protections under the Geneva Convention."

The ministry said that the move once again "showed Russia's complete disregard for international humanitarian law."

British nationals Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin, and Moroccan, Brahim Sadun were fighting alongside Ukrainian forces following Russia’s invasion and were detained in Mariupol in April.

Germany to provide medical assistance to Ukraine — health minister

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has pledged  more medical support to Ukraine especially to those who have been severely injured.

“Ukraine needs humanitarian aid just as urgently as it needs our military support,” Lauterbach said while visiting the western city of Lviv.

According to a health ministry statement, the German government would help Ukraine set up trauma centers for the injured and help supply prostheses and doctors.

Two hundred surgeons and emergency physicians would be available for deployment, the ministry said.

Ukrainian doctors were also receiving training in Berlin to help treat burn wounds.

'He's a victim of this war,' says friend of Moroccan fighter sentenced to death

DW spoke with Muiz Avhonzoda, a friend of Moroccan national Brahim Saadoun, who was one of three foreign fighters sentenced by a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR). Avhonzoda has been urging for assistance for his friend in a social media campaign.

"He's a victim of the DPR playing games, a victim of Russia — a victim of this war," Avhonzoda told DW from Kyiv.

He also refuted claims by the pro-Russia court that his friend is a mercenary.

"He is not a mercenary — I have all the copies of those documents, all those contracts signing with the armed forces of Ukraine," Avhonzoda said. "He's a soldier of the Ukrainian army ... he signed that contract in November 2021."

Sadun has been sentenced to death along with two British citizens — Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin — who fought with Ukrainian forces. Avhonzoda hopes his "Save Brahim" campaign on social media will help "spread his story" and "get in touch with some powerful people who can help."

"We want to do what we can to help," he added.

UK says death sentence for Britons caught fighting in Ukraine against Geneva convention

The United Kingdom's foreign minister Liz Truss said the death sentences handed to Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner was "an egregious breach of the Geneva convention."

The two men were captured fighting with the Ukrainian army and tried as mercenaries by a court in the pro-Russian breakaway Donetsk People's Republic in Ukraine. 

Truss spoke with her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba to discuss efforts to secure the release of prisoners of war held by Russian proxies.

Russia's Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram that Britain's reaction to such cases was "often hysterical."
She described the two men as "mercenaries."

Ukrainian Governor of the Luhansk Region, Serhii Haidai told the BBC the two were regular soldiers.

"All the people who come to fight on the Ukrainian side sign documents with the armed forces of Ukraine; hence they acquire official status," he said.

It would mean that the two are protected by the Geneva Convention and cannot be sentenced to death, even if they are not Ukrainian citizens, he continued.

Ukraine grain exports on the rise

Ukrainian grain exports are rising and nearing 2 million metric tonnes per month now, European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski said.

"According to information from Ukraine, the export of grains is gradually rising and nearing two million tonnes per month," Wojciechowski said.

Since the start of the war, Kyiv has repeatedly accused Russia of targeted infrastructure and agriculture attacks to provoke a global food crisis and pressure the West.

Moscow denied hitting civilian targets, instead blaming Western sanctions on Russia and sea mines set by Ukraine for the drop in food exports and rising global prices.

Zelenskyy urges EU to process Ukraine's membership application faster

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on the European Union once again to step up the tempo on processing his country's bid to join the bloc.

"The European system might lose if words would not be backed by actions," he said in a video address to the Alliance of Democracies summit held in Copenhagen.

With a survey showing that 71% of Europeans consider Ukrainians to be "part of the European family," Zelenskyy asked why the bloc left his country in a "grey zone" between the EU and Russia.

Former NATO secretary-general says West failed to notice warning signs

Former Danish Prime and also the former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the West failed to notice the warning signs before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Speaking at a democracy summit of his organization Alliance of Democracies in Copenhagen, Rasmussen said, "we should not have been surprised. Putin's chosen path was never concealed. It was clear in his speeches where he denied Ukraine's right to exist."

Rasmussen said that the murder of dissidents and political opponents and the political propaganda were also evidence of Putin's path, and "most of all, it was clear from the invasion of Crimea" in 2014.

He called on the West to stop all Russian oil and gas imports immediately to cut Putin's funding for the war.

"Ukraine must win the war," he said. It is "the frontline of the fight for democracy."

Scholz to discuss EU membership and war in Ukraine during Balkans trip

Chancellor Olaf Scholz is on a two-day trip to the Balkans, Greece and Bulgaria.

He'll make stops in Kosovo, Serbia, and Northern Macedonia to focus on those countries' accession process to join the European Union.

The German leader wrote on Twitter he'll also discuss "our joint response to Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine" with all the countries' leaders.

In Kosovo, he'll see German troops that are part of the NATO-led international peacekeeping force.

Ukraine says discussions about Russia should focus on 'de-imperialization'

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has responded to Vladimir Putin's comparing himself to Peter the Great on the 350th anniversary of his birth. He said the comment showed, "there was no 'conflict,' only the country's bloody seizure under contrived pretexts of people's genocide."

Podolyak responded to a speech by the present-day Russian leader comparing Russia's current conflict in Ukraine with Peter's 21-year war with Sweden.

Podolyak wrote on Twitter that Putin's utterances made it clear that the world should not talk about "saving [Russian] face" but about "immediate de-imperialization."

Macron pledges to provide more heavy weapons to Kyiv

French President Emmanuel Macron has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that his country will deliver more heavy weaponry to Ukraine.

The Elysee Palace said Macron stressed in a phone call with Zelenskyy that France is on Kyiv's side in its battle against invading Russian troops.

The two leaders also discussed Kyiv's military, financial and humanitarian needs.

France has already supplied Ukraine with Caesar Howitzers and trained Ukrainian soldiers to use them. 

New French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said in May during a visit to Kyiv that a "concrete response" to Ukraine's demand for heavier weapons was coming.

German health minister to offer medical care to injured Ukrainians

German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach says Germany could provide medical care to injured Ukrainian fighters.

Speaking to public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk radio, he said he would make the offer during a planned visit to Ukraine on Friday.

Lauterbach said Germany could treat people with severe burns as well as those who had lost limbs or suffered other injuries.

The health minister has not provided details of his itinerary. His trip at the invitation of the government in Kyiv follows visits made by other senior German politicians, including Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. 

Putin compares himself to Peter the Great

President Vladimir Putin spoke of the need for Russia to "take back (territory) and defend itself" in a speech to mark the 350th anniversary of Tsar Peter the Great's birth.

Putin compared himself to the conquering monarch and drew parallels between Peter's founding of St. Petersburg and his own government's annexation of territory.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin paid tribute to Peter the Great on the anniversary of his birthImage: Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/AP/picture alliance

Peter the Great gave his name to St. Petersburg — Putin's hometown — that he ordered built on land he conquered from Sweden.

"When he founded the new capital, no European country recognized it as Russia. Everybody recognized it as Sweden,'' Putin said. "And Slavic people had always lived there along with Finno-Ugric people, and the territory was under the control of the Russian state.''

"What was he doing? Taking back and reinforcing. That's what he did. And it looks like it fell on us to take back and reinforce as well,'' he said.

A senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy rejected Putin's comments as an attempt to legalize the theft of land. 

"The West must draw a clear red line so the Kremlin understands the price of each next bloody step ... we will brutally liberate our territories," Mykhailo Podolyak said in an online post.

Ukraine condemns 'show trial' of prisoners

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman says the death sentences handed down by a pro-Russian separatist court to British and Moroccan nationals fighting in Ukraine should be considered null and void. 

"The so-called 'trial' of the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the occupied Ukrainian territories is of no significance,'' Oleh Nikolenko told the Interfax Ukraine agency.

"Such show trials put the interests of propaganda above the law and morality; they undermine the mechanisms for the return of prisoners of war. The Ukrainian government will continue to make every effort to release all the defenders of Ukraine,'' he added. 

The prisoners — Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin and Brahim Saadoun — were detained in April in Mariupol. RIA Novosti reported that the prisoners are to be shot, but did not state when.

Nikolenko stressed that all foreign citizens fighting with Ukraine's armed forces should be considered Ukrainian military personnel and protected as prisoners of war. 

Ukraine still resisting Russian takeover in Sievierodonetsk

The Ukrainian armed forces said its troops are still holding onto the key Donbas city of Sievierodonetsk amid heavy Russian attacks.

"The occupiers, with the help of motorized rifle units and artillery, conducted assault operations in the city of Sievierodonetsk. They were not successful; the fighting continues," the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in a update.

The Ukrainian military said it fought back Russian forces from the village of Toshkivkha, located near Sievierodonetsk.

What happened in Russia's war on Ukraine on Thursday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said millions could starve amid a Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. He said the world faces a "food crisis," as Ukraine is unable to export essential goods such as wheat.

On the ground, the Ukrainian military said it won back some ground in the southern Kherson region which had previously been occupied by Russian troops. 

Serhiy Haidai, the regional governor of Luhansk, said four people were killed during Russian shelling in Sievierodonetsk.

A self-proclaimed court in the "Donetsk People's Republic" sentenced two British citizens and a Moroccan national to death, according to Russian state-run media. The three men were fighting alongside Ukrainian troops and were arrested in Mariupol in April.

The UK's foreign minister criticized the death sentences as a "sham judgement."

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg discussed defense on the alliance's eastern flank with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

German Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told DW that Berlin is currently unable to prosecute Russian President Vladimir Putin over the war, as he is an active head of state. 

The UN said almost 5 million Ukrainian refugees are currently registered in Europe. 

You can revisit our updates from Thursday, June 9, here.

lo,wd/nm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)