Ukraine Prisoner Exchange Sparks Backlash in Russia

Some of Russia’s pro-war Ukrainian sympathizers have been outspoken about what they see as the Kremlin’s shortcomings there.
Senior Ukrainian commanders were released as part of a prisoner swap between Russia and Ukraine, which Kyiv hailed as a triumph but drew condemnation from nationalists in Russia who questioned the move.

Turkey mediated the prisoner swap, which marked a rare diplomatic achievement in the conflict, which has changed course since Ukrainian forces forced Russia to retreat from a sizable portion of the country’s east. In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin this week gave the go-ahead for reservists to mobilize and vowed to use every tool at his disposal to win, making nuclear weapons an implied possibility.

Several senior officers who oversaw Ukraine’s defense of the port city of Mariupol and who later rose to prominence as icons of resistance to Russia’s invasion were among the 215 inmates Moscow freed.

More than 1,000 fighters submitted to Kyiv’s demands in May after holding out for weeks in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s massive steelworks. By designating the Azov regiment, to which many of them belong, as a terrorist organization, Russia had pledged to prosecute them.

In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, “This is definitely a success for our state, for our entire society,” adding that the swap had been planned for some time.

In exchange, Ukraine freed Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Vladimir Putin, and 55 other Russians. The leader of a pro-Moscow group that was outlawed in Ukraine, Mr. Medvedchuk, was accused of treason. According to Mr. Zelensky, Moscow initially proposed releasing 50 Ukrainian detainees in exchange for Mr. Medvedchuk but finally consented to four times that number. We traded 200 soldiers for one Russian supporter, which, in his opinion, was a good outcome.

It is unknown how many prisoners each side has overall. Hundreds of Russians were captured during Ukraine’s latest push in the northeastern Kharkiv region, according to Mr. Zelensky in an interview with Reuters last week, but Moscow had more detainees than Kyiv.

108 of the 188 fighters who defended Mariupol among the Ukrainians freed as part of the swap are from the Azov regiment, according to Mr. Zelensky. According to Mr. Zelensky, the negotiations pertaining to the release of the Azov leaders had been the most difficult.

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After the discussion, Russian officials mainly kept to themselves. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “The Kremlin does not comment on information about the exchange of prisoners with Ukraine, particularly if they included Medvedchuk or Azov fighters.”

However, some Russian proponents of the conflict in Ukraine who have been vociferous about what they see as the Kremlin’s shortcomings on the battlefield criticized the trade.

The release of the Azov leaders was criticized as betrayal and an insult to people who are currently being mobilized by Igor Girkin, a former intelligence officer who commanded pro-Russian militants in a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

“The disclosure…is worse than a crime…and worse than an error. It is astounding stupidity,” he said. At least a couple of days before to the presidential decree declaring mobilization, it was evidently impossible to accomplish this.

Along with them, other pro-war bloggers have occasionally questioned how Moscow handled the dialogue.

“When Russian heroes are greeted in this manner, it is quite unusual. No flowers, no flags, and an empty airfield. Not to mention any greeters,” noted journalist Andrey Medvedev, who is frequently cited by Kremlin backers.

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In August, the Azov regiment was labeled a terrorist organization by Russia’s highest court. The group was initially formed as a volunteer militia in 2014 to aid Ukraine’s weak armed forces in their fight against terrorists who had seized control of several cities in the country’s east.

The unit’s significant number of Ukrainian nationalists and its commander, Andriy Biletsky, who had led organizations that promoted neo-Nazi ideologies were highlighted by Russian media channels. Later that year, the regiment was incorporated into the National Guard, and Mr. Biletsky left in 2016.

The music hall in Mariupol had been designated as the venue for a trial of Ukrainian prisoners of war, including soldiers of the Azov regiment. Mr. Zelensky had forewarned that if the trial went through, all negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow would be terminated.

Five commanders will stay in Turkey till the war is done as per the terms of the prisoner swap. They include Serhiy Volynsky, commander of the 36th Marine Brigade, Lt. Col. Denys Prokopenko, and Svyatoslav Palamar, commander of the Azov regiment.

Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor for the United States, hailed Turkey on Thursday for making the prisoner swap possible. This follows Ankara’s achievement in negotiating a deal to restore Ukraine’s crucial grain exports.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has adopted a neutral posture in the crisis in an effort to mend relations between Russia and the West and to strengthen his position globally.

“Our efforts to establish peace between Russia and Ukraine continue,” Mr. Erdogan was quoted as saying by Turkey’s state-run news agency on Thursday. “I thank Putin and Zelensky for enabling the prisoner exchange.”

Ukraine is pushing for a broader prisoner swap, according to Rustem Umerov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who Mr. Zelensky claims was intimately involved in the trade.

“We have high aspirations for future communication. The return of every citizen from captivity is a top priority for Ukrainian authorities, he said. We will continue our counterattack and advance until we liberate all of our regions. This exchange has nothing to do with peace negotiations.

RELATED: Kyiv says 11 women among 41 prisoners freed in new swap

Ten foreigners, including citizens of the United States, the United Kingdom, Morocco, Sweden, and Croatia, were freed after being detained while fighting for Ukraine thanks to agreements mediated by the Saudi Arabian government. According to the Saudi government, the convicts were flown to Saudi Arabia before being sent back to their respective nations.

In one of the two eastern Ukraine regions under Russian influence, a court had sentenced some of the foreigners to death. Days before beginning its invasion of Ukraine in February, Russia recognized the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as sovereign states.

This week, officials in those and other territory captured by Russian forces said that three-day elections to join Russia would begin on Friday.

The planned polls aim to strengthen Moscow’s control over lands it has conquered as its military suffers setbacks on the front lines. Any move by Ukraine to retake areas that were annexed could lead Russia to accuse Ukraine of attacking its own territory.

Ivan Fedorov, the exiled mayor of Melitopol, claims that males are being prevented from leaving southern Ukraine’s controlled region by authorities backed by Russia. He pushed them to evacuate as soon as they could through Crimea, warning that Russia was getting ready to mobilize them.


By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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