Moscow is threatening an exchange of Ukrainian prisoners for a close friend of Putin

Russia will study the possibility of exchanging fighters from the captured Ukrainian Azov regiment for Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, a deputy and Russian negotiator, Leonid Sloutski, said on Saturday.

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“We will study the issue,” said Mr. Sloutski, a member of the Russian delegation during the recent negotiations with Kyiv, in response to a question about such an exchange, quoted by the Ria Novosti press agency.

Speaking from the separatist city of Donetsk in south-eastern Ukraine, he said the possibility of such an exchange was being raised in Moscow by “those who have the privileges”.

Viktor Medvedchuk, 67, is a prominent Ukrainian politician and businessman close to the Russian president, who was arrested in Ukraine in mid-April while on the run since the Kremlin offensive began in late February.

Mr Medvedchuk has been under house arrest since May 2021 after being charged with “treason” and “attempted looting of natural resources in Crimea,” the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

On Friday, the Russian army announced that the last Ukrainian defenders of the strategic city of Mariupol, which had been holed up for weeks in Azovstal’s huge steelworks, had surrendered.

Among them are members of the Azov regiment, an ultra-nationalist unit the Kremlin considers “neo-Nazi” and who want to liberate Kyiv in exchange for Russian prisoners.

On May 26, Russia’s Supreme Court must consider a request to designate the regiment as a “terrorist organization,” which could complicate the exchange of these prisoners.

Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said on Saturday that the Ukrainian soldiers who had defended the Azovstal factory and surrendered should be brought to justice.

“I believe that judgment is inevitable: justice must triumph,” Mr Pouchiline said, quoted by Ria Novosti, during the press conference, which also included Leonid Sloutski.

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