The Russian parliament will consider banning the exchange of Russian prisoners of war with fighters of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, the speaker of the State Duma said today, after the handover of Ukrainian defenders of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to Russia.
The Azov Battalion, once a nationalist militia incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, has become a symbol of resistance against Russian troops in the city, which has experienced some of the fiercest fighting in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
However, Moscow considers the order to be the main perpetrator of the alleged Russian-backed radical anti-Russian nationalism in Ukraine or even Nazism, from which it says it must protect the Russian-speaking people of Ukraine.
Duma Speaker Vitsislav Volodin said its members were “Nazi criminals” who should not be included in prisoner exchanges.
“They are war criminals and we must do everything we can to bring them to justice,” he said.
The Duma website states that it has asked the parliamentary defense and security committees to prepare instructions for this purpose.
The order denies being fascist, racist or neo-Nazi, and Ukraine says it has reformed and moved away from its radical nationalist roots.
Kyiv also denies that Russian-speaking people are being persecuted in Ukraine and says its claim that it has a fascist agenda of human rights abuses, which is repeated daily in the Russian media, is an unfounded pretext for Russian aggression.
Moscow said earlier today that more than 250 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant, the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, and that 51 would be treated for serious injuries.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peshkov said President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed that everyone would be treated “in accordance with international standards”.
Russia and Ukraine have already exchanged several prisoners.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said “an exchange process will take place” for the return of the troops.
But Leonid Slutsky, who is involved in Moscow’s negotiations with Ukraine and heads the Duma’s international affairs committee, called the ousted Azov fighters “animals in human form” and said they should receive the death penalty.
“They do not deserve to live after the heinous crimes against humanity they have committed and continue to commit against our prisoners,” he told the Duma.