Moscow is considering exchanging Viktor Medvedchuk, Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine, for members of the Azov Battalion captured in Mariupol, Vladimir Putin’s closest ally in Ukraine.
The fate of the Ukrainian fighters who surrendered in Mariupol is uncertain
Photo: DW / Deutsche Welle
“We will investigate the issue,” said Leonid Slutsky, a highranking member of the Russian delegation at the talks with Kyiv this Saturday (May 21).
At a press conference in the breakaway city of Donetsk, southeastern Ukraine, Slutsky said the possibility of the exchange would be handled in Moscow by “those who have the prerogatives.”
Medvedchuk, 67, escaped house arrest following the Russian invasion of Ukraine but was arrested again in midApril on charges of treason and embezzlement. Crimes include attempted theft of natural resources in Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
On Friday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Choigu announced the complete surrender of the Ukrainian resistance at the Azovstal Steel Plant in Mariupol after the last 531 fighters there surrendered.
The Azovstal factory was the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, a port city besieged by Russian troops since the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, among the latest soldiers to surrender were the commanders of the Azov Battalion, a nationalist regiment that was integrated into the Ukrainian army and that the Kremlin classifies as “neoNazi”.
There are no clear details about the fate of the Ukrainian militants who were in the steel plant. Earlier, some of Azovstal’s soldiers had been transferred to Russian territory, others to areas controlled by the proRussian militias commanding Donetsk province.
A total of 2,439 Ukrainian soldiers have laid down their arms since May 16, Russia said on Friday, many of them members of the Azov battalion.
Exchange can get complicated
Next Thursday, Russia’s Supreme Court is scheduled to consider a request to classify the Azov battalion as a “terrorist organization,” which could make prisoner exchanges more difficult.
Donetsk separatist leader Denis Puchilin said on Saturday that the Ukrainian militants who were defending the Azovstal factory and surrendered should be prosecuted.
“I believe that litigation is inevitable: justice must prevail,” Pushilin said, according to the Ria Novosti news agency.
The Azov Battalion emerged in 2014 as a farright militia created to combat separatist groups in eastern Ukraine. However, members of the regiment deny that they have Nazi or fascist tendencies. Ukraine says the battalion has been remodeled and incorporated into the country’s National Guard.
le (AFP, DPA, Lusa)