The UK says it will do whatever it takes to secure the release of two British prisoners sentenced to death in Ukraine, but has given no indication it will negotiate with the Kremlin-backed "Donetsk People's Republic".
A court in the breakaway state in eastern Ukraine has sentenced Britons Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner to death, along with Moroccan Brahim Saadoun, claiming the three men are guilty of "mercenary activities".
The families of the men deny the claims, insisting that the trio were contracted by the Ukrainian armed forces.
Authorities in the Donetsk People's Republic have given the accused men a month to launch an appeal, but even if their appeal is successful, they still face a life sentence.
London has called the death sentences a "sham ruling", and said the proceedings are akin to a Soviet-era show trial.
Separatist leaders willing to listen, Kremlin says
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government would do "whatever it takes" to secure the release of British prisoners, but emphasised that it would do so through its Ukrainian allies, who had pledged to try to secure their release through a prisoner exchange with Russia.
Following their capture in April, the two Britons were shown on Russian TV asking to be freed in exchange for a Ukrainian ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who had been detained by Ukrainian authorities.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters London had not contacted Moscow about the issue, but the Kremlin said it was "sure" Russian-backed separatist leaders in the Donbas region would be willing to listen to an appeal from Britain over the fate of the men.
Britain has so far declined publicly to raise the issue with authorities in the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) — a move which could be seen as de facto recognition.
The DPR is one of two breakaway Russian-backed entities in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine which Russia says it is fighting to "liberate" from Ukrainian forces.
Three days before launching its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russia recognised them as independent states in a move condemned by Ukraine and the West as illegal.
The territory, much of which remains under Ukrainian control, is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.