- Doug Faulkner and Liz Doucet
- BBC News
7 hours ago
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was “decisive” in securing the release of 10 foreign prisoners captured in Ukraine.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said that the agreement ended with a large prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine.
He said the belief that the crown prince was trying to mend the kingdom’s international relations is “extremely ridiculous.”
Western intelligence had linked the crown prince to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
But Prince Faisal denied the involvement of the de facto ruler of the kingdom in talks to try to restore his reputation, saying that what he had done was for “humanitarian” reasons.
British nationals Aiden Aslin, John Harding, Dylan Healy, Andrew Hill and Sean Benner, who were among the 10 foreigners released by Russia – along with American, Moroccan, Croatian and Swede nationals – returned to the UK on Thursday.
Prince Faisal said this was the impetus for one of the most important prisoner exchanges of the war to date, which saw the exchange of 215 Ukrainian fighters for 55 Russian soldiers and pro-Kremlin Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk.
Prince Faisal spoke to the BBC’s chief international correspondent, Lys Doucet, about the negotiations and Saudi Arabia’s motivations for participating.
The UK government has not confirmed the process that led to the release of the detainees.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, millions have been displaced and thousands killed, while the conflict has also caused soaring energy prices and food shortages.
Prince Faisal described the release of the detainees as an “important achievement” and said he was happy that the ten men had now returned to their families.
While Riyadh negotiated the release of international prisoners, Turkey was understood to have brokered the exchange of Ukrainian and Russian prisoners.
Prince Faisal said Ukraine was keen to include foreign prisoners in any deal.
He said that the conflict has escalated to now affect “every one of us,” noting that Riyadh strongly believes that the conflict will only be resolved through dialogue.
Prince Faisal said that while negotiations have not succeeded in ending the war in the past, Saudi Arabia will continue to look for opportunities to find common ground.
“I can’t predict when that will happen, but we certainly hope it will be sooner rather than later,” he said.
Aslin, Harding, and Hill were captured while fighting with Ukrainian forces, while Healy was a volunteer as an aid worker in Ukraine.
In July, a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic sentenced Aslin, aged 28, and Benner, aged 48, to death, while Harding, in his 50s, was among others awaiting trial.
A sixth British man, Paul Urey, who was 45 and arrested with Healy, died in custody.
The men returned to their families on Thursday, much to the relief.
In an interview with The Sun, Harding said the five men were welcomed on board by Russian businessman and former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich – who was told he played a role in securing their release.
He told the newspaper that the prisoners were treated appallingly by their captors, and said he was beaten by guards, while he told the Daily Mail that they were beaten with cattle sticks.