Swapping Azov fighters for Ukraine opposition leader Medvedchuk out of the question, Kremlin says
Prisoner exchanges are the purview of the military, so any possible requests to swap Ukrainian captives from the Azovstal plant in Mariupol for Russian POWs would go through the defense ministry, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
And when asked by journalists about jailed Ukrainian politician and opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, he reiterated that Russia had no intention of doing a swap, despite the politician's request to do so.
"Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian citizen who has nothing to do with Russia and is not military," Peskov told the media. Ukrainian soldiers and members of the Neo-Nazi Azov National Guard unit "are a different category" he added.
Medvedchuk led the biggest opposition faction in the Ukrainian parliament before the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky launched a crackdown on opposition forces in the country. The man is currently in the custody of the SBU, Ukraine's domestic security agency.
On Monday, the SBU released footage of Medvedchuk apparently incriminating former President Petro Poroshenko and his government in the partial privatization of a fuel pipeline that goes from Russia and Belarus to Ukraine and westward to the EU. Zelensky ordered the nationalization of the Ukrainian stretch in February.
The politician also accused the former president of asking him to organize illegal supplies of coal from the breakaway eastern regions of Donbass. The politician's attorney said the video was "a public relations stunt" by the SBU.
Medvedchuk has a reputation of having extensive ties to Russia. Critics claim he was part of a fifth column helping Moscow, while he said he was the victim of political persecution by Zelensky.
After reporting the capture of Medvedchuk, the SBU released a video, in which he asked to be exchanged for "the defenders and residents of Mariupol."
He was referring to Ukrainian troops that were at the time blockaded in Azovstal, a heavily fortified steelworks in the port city, which was otherwise controlled by Russian troops. Ukrainian forces surrendered last week, with Moscow reportedly capturing almost 2,500 people, including members of the controversial nationalist Azov battalion.
Ukrainian officials described the surrender as an "evacuation" and claimed the fighters would be exchanged for Russian POWs detained by Ukraine. They implied Kiev had agreed an exchange deal with Moscow before Zelensky ordered the troops to lay down arms.
Russia did not confirm the Ukrainian claim, while some Russian officials said the Azov fighters should be prosecuted for alleged war crimes.
Russia launched an offensive against Ukraine in late February, following Kiev's failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, first signed in 2014, and Moscow's eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.
The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.