Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has assured she will do “whatever is necessary” to secure the release of two Britons sentenced to death for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine.
She told the families of Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner the Government is “working flat out” to secure their release after their “sham” trial by a pro-Moscow proxy.
But Ms Truss was also forced to defend her previous support for Britons going to fight alongside the Ukrainian army, contrary to Foreign Office advice.
The Cabinet minister has held talks with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba, amid suggestions a prisoner swap could be negotiated.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I will do whatever is necessary to secure their release.
“I’ve assured the families I will do what is most effective to secure their release and I’m not going to go into our strategy live on air.”
She did not rule out negotiating directly with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic that handed the sentences to the two men who were fighting for the Ukrainian army.
But she said the “best route” to their release is dealing with Kyiv, adding: “I can’t go into my discussions with the Ukrainians but I can assure the families we’re working flat out on this.”
The Russians were holding Mr Aslin, 28, originally from Newark in Nottinghamshire, and Mr Pinner, 48, from Bedfordshire while claiming they are foreign “mercenaries”.
But Britain and their families argue they were legitimate members of the Ukrainian army who accordingly should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.
The two men have lived in Ukraine since before the invasion.
Ms Truss faced questioning for indicating in February, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, that she backed British nationals going to fight with Kyiv’s defending forces.
She had told BBC’s Sunday Morning programme it “is something people can make their own decisions about”.
“Absolutely, if people want to support that struggle I would support them in doing that,” she added.
But other ministers did not back the idea, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said there were “better ways” for Britons to help.
The official Foreign Office advice for Britons was also warning against all travel to Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Ms Truss defended her previous remarks, saying: “We’ve always been clear that our travel advice is not to go to Ukraine and I was clear about that at the time.”
Reminded of her prior remarks, she insisted: “What I said though, is I also said the travel advice is not to go to Ukraine.”