(Kyiv) Russia will study the possibility of exchanging fighters from Ukraine’s captured Azov regiment for Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Vladimir Putin, a deputy Russian negotiator Leonid Sloutski said on Saturday.
Posted at 8:04 am
Updated at 2:36 p.m
“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 news 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 make it more difficult to exchange 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.
Russia continues to shell Donbass
Russia continued its shelling of eastern Ukraine on Saturday, claiming to have destroyed a stockpile of western-supplied weapons with cruise missiles, as US President Joe Biden signed legislation in Kyiv that would provide a massive $40 billion in new aid.
In Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned in an interview that the current phase of the war, in which the Russians are focusing their efforts on the East, “will be bloody”, but in the end it will have to be solved “through diplomacy”.
“Talks between Ukraine and Russia will inevitably take place,” he told Ukrainian broadcaster ICTV, while talks scheduled in Turkey a few weeks ago remained dead letter.
He said he was ready again, if necessary, for a “presidential-level” meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who has so far failed to do so.
“These are our territories, and step by step we will liberate our territories,” he added a few hours later during a press conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, to whom he repeated that Ukraine particularly “needs armored vehicles” at this time. “.
Russia has so far claimed to have hit a large stockpile of weapons shipped to Ukraine from the West with cruise missiles in the north-west of the country.
“Long-range, high-precision Kalibr missiles launched from the sea destroyed a large shipment of weapons and military equipment delivered by the United States and European countries near the Malin railway station in the Zhytomyr region,” the Russian Defense Ministry said. It was not possible to verify this information from an independent source.
For his part, US President Joe Biden, during an official visit to Seoul, signed into law legislation passed by Congress on Thursday that earmarks a whopping $40 billion in support for Ukraine, particularly for its war effort.
In a tweet in Ukrainian and English, Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the release of the aid, “now more necessary than ever”.
For its part, Moscow has issued a new list of 963 American figures banned from entering Russia. These “counter-sanctions” aim to “restrict American power trying to impose a neo-colonial “world order” on the rest of the planet.” […] to change its position and recognize new geopolitical realities,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Among the names of a handful of officials, including President Joe Biden, his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin or Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the new list adds government officials, parliamentarians, but also members of civil society. All the way to Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, who is accused of recording a video in 2017 claiming Russia was staging a “conspiracy” against the US.
After failing to take control of Kyiv and its region in late February and March, Russian forces are now focusing their efforts on an offensive into eastern Ukraine, where fighting is intense.
On Friday, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry stressed that the situation in the region showed “signs of aggravation” with “intense fire” by Russian forces “along the entire front line.”
Seven civilians were killed and ten injured in the Donetsk region on Saturday, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram on Saturday.
Ukrainian police said on their Facebook account that they had evacuated about 60 people, including children, from a bombed-out church in Bogorodychné, a village in the region. According to the same source, there were no casualties.
Further north, the governor of the Kharkiv region (northeast) Oleg Sinegoubov said that places around this city had been the target of numerous artillery fires in the past 24 hours, killing one and injuring 20.
Near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city near the Russian border, Saturday was time for burials at the military site of the Bezliudikova cemetery, a village liberated amid fierce fighting a month ago.
“They were found with five other bodies that we could not identify. It is believed that they were executed. They were shot in the back of the head,” said a local soldier, on condition of anonymity, of the first two buried soldiers. It was not immediately possible to find out more or to verify this suspicion.
In Rivne (northwest), a Russian missile targeted the “military infrastructure” in the city, regional governor Vitaliy Koval told Telegram. This town near the Polish border has seen very few attacks since the conflict began.
According to the Russians, almost 2,500 men from the Ukrainian armed forces were taken prisoner this week in the martyrdom city of Mariupol (southeast), which was largely destroyed by the conflict.
These resistance fighters, who remained holed up under the bombs in the Azov Valley steel complex for weeks after the Russians captured the city, “will be brought home,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised in his interview with ICTV, referring to talks in courses with France, Turkey and Switzerland on this subject, without further information.
This last nest of resistance in the strategic port on the Sea of Azov “passed under the complete control of the Russian armed forces” after the surrender of the last Ukrainian soldiers, the spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday evening. .
Kyiv rejects the term surrender, referring to an operation aimed at “rescuing our heroes” and exchanging them for Russian prisoners.
“No alternative” to the EU
On the diplomatic front, the Ukrainian President returned to his country’s European future on Saturday, once again rejecting his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron’s proposal for a “European Political Community”.
“We don’t need alternatives to Ukraine’s candidacy for the European Union (EU), we don’t need such compromises,” he said during his press conference with the Portuguese prime minister.
“Because believe us, it will not be a compromise with Ukraine in Europe, it will be another compromise between Europe and Russia,” he continued.
Mr Macron had unveiled the “European Political Community” project on May 9 amid a debate over the start of Ukraine’s accession process to the EU, saying it would be “decades” before Ukraine joined the EU.
For its part, Finland, a member of the European Union, saw its supply of Russian gas on Saturday from giant Gazprom, which argues that Helsinki has rejected its new terms of having to pay for it in rubles.
The Finnish company Gasum has given assurances that it can purchase gas from other suppliers and continue its activities “normally”.
The Nordic country, already deprived of Russian electricity imports since mid-May, has angered Moscow, as has Sweden, by opting to apply for NATO membership. Finland is among Poland and Bulgaria among the countries that Gazprom bought gas from because they refused to pay in rubles, as requested in April.