War in Ukraine: three questions on the return of the commanders of the Azov regiment, prisoners in Turkey

The return of “hero”. Volodymyr Zelensky returned from his visit to Turkey on Saturday, July 8, with the commander of Azov, Denys Prokopenko, his deputy Sviatoslav Palamar, the commander of the 36th marine brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces, Serhi Volynsky, as well as Denys Chlega and Oleg Khomenko. These five men were part of the Azov regiment, formed on the basis of the ultranationalist battalion of the same name. They had been captured by Russian forces after the fall of Mariupol in May 2022.

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Franceinfo returns to this repatriation which does not please Moscow, when the five men were expected to remain in Turkey until the end of the conflict.

1Who are these men?

Denys Prokopenko, Sviatoslav Palamar, Serhi Volynsky, Denys Chlega and Oleg Khomenko were part of the Ukrainian resistance in the undergrounds of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, described as “heroic” by Volodymyr Zelensky. Besieged by the Russians in this factory for more than 40 days, they had surrendered in mid-May 2022. “In the last 24 hours, 771 fighters of the nationalist Azov regiment have surrendered”Moscow had claimed in particular on May 19.

They were part of the important exchange of military prisoners between Russia and Ukraine which had taken place on September 21, 2022. kyiv had recovered 215 prisoners, including the 188 “hero” who had defended the steel plant and among them, 108 members of the Azov regiment.

These five military commanders were then transferred to Turkey, where they were to remain “in absolute safety and in comfortable conditions” up “At the end of the war”, had assured the Ukrainian president under the terms of an agreement concluded with the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The five men will therefore not have had to wait for the end of this war.

2Under what conditions were they released?

This repatriation of the five soldiers comes after Volodymyr Zelensky’s first trip to Turkey since the start of the conflict and a few days before the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, which is being held on July 11 and 12. Recep Tayyip Erdogan also took advantage of his visit to recall that Ukraine “deserved” according to him to join the Atlantic Alliance.

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However, we do not know the details that led to this return, Volodymyr Zelensky having provided no explanation on the conditions of this release. We just know that this repatriation comes after of the “negotiations with the Turkish side”. Turkish side,he country’s Communications Directorate did not immediately respond to a request for comment, reports the Guardian.

Once back in Ukraine, Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Azov regiment, commented only on news from the front: “The most important thing for today is that the Ukrainian army has seized the strategic initiative in the front line and is advancing every day”, he swept away. His deputy Sviatoslav Palamar added that his team would continue to do (her) work”. “We are soldiers. We took an oath”he insisted, according to comments reported by CNN.

3How did Russia react?

The Kremlin castigated this repatriation on Saturday. These five men are particularly targeted in Russia for their links with Ukrainian ultranationalist circles. “The return of Azov commanders from Turkey to Ukraine is nothing but a direct violation of the terms of existing agreements”, criticized Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The terms of the agreement which in effect provided for these men to remain in Turkey until the end of the conflict.

According to Dmitri Peskov, this return is linked to “the failure of the counter-offensive” Ukrainian campaign carried out since the beginning of June, as well as Ankara’s desire to show its “solidarity” before the NATO summit in Vilnius. “Preparations for the NATO summit are underway and, of course, there has been a lot of pressure on Turkey”did he declare.

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