The prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine that took place on the night of September 21-22 in the Chernihiv Region hit the headlines. It turned out that Donetsk had handed over 10 foreigners to Saudi Arabia, including mercenaries sentenced to death.
It was believed throughout the ages that it was a good thing to free prisoners in time of war. That is why the ships of the Ottoman Empire, passing by the mausoleum of Hayreddin Barbarossa on the Strait, fired a salvo in honor of the famous pirate, who had ransomed Turkish sailors from captivity for his own money. In the Middle Ages, the name of the monk Juan Gil, who helped Christian prisoners to become free and ransomed Miguel Cervantes, was highly honored among Christians. Why, then, did the last exchange according to the 215 to 56 formula cause such a storm?
215 by 55 +1 Formula
On the night of September 21-22, Russia and Ukraine held a prisoner exchange in the Chernihiv Region. Wek.ru has recently written that the negotiation process was underway, after Zelensky publicly stated that he would allow the export of ammonia from Odessa in exchange for the release of all Ukrainian prisoners.
Ukraine received 215 people, mostly members of the Azov Regiment* (recognized as a terrorist organization by the Russian Supreme Court on August 2), including much-hyped in media regimental commander Denis Prokopenko, his deputy Svyatoslav Palamar, and acting commander of the 36th Independent Marines Brigade Major Sergei Volynsky. Earlier, British Reuters wrote that Azov was using neo-Nazi symbols and recruiting neo-Nazis into its ranks.
55 servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces and armed units of the LPR and DPR were handed over to Russia.
In addition, the British Daily Mail reported that Russia, through the mediation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had freed 10 foreign mercenaries who had surrendered in Donbas. Yes, Britons Aiden Aislin and Sean Pinner, as well as Moroccan Saadoun Brahim, who had been previously sentenced to death by a DPR court, were among them. All of those listed, plus U.S., Swedish and Croatian nationals, have already been flown to Saudi Arabia.
The 55 released as a result of the exchange in the Chernihiv region is the official figure, which Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov announced at a briefing of the Russian Defense Ministry.
“As a result of the difficult exchange negotiation process, 55 servicemen of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics who were in fatal danger in captivity were returned tonight from Kiev-controlled territory in Ukraine,” the Russian Defense Ministry official said.
Military expert Boris Rozhin wrote in his Telegram channel that there were 2 senior officers (a lieutenant colonel and a major), 6 junior officers, 4 warrant officers, 40 privates and sergeants, 2 servicemen of the DPR People's Militia and 1 serviceman of the LPR People's Militia among the Russian servicemen who returned home.
Of the 55 people, 7 were hospitalized immediately after the exchange. Most importantly, one of the released Russian servicemen was seriously wounded. Therefore, thanks to the exchange his chances for life have increased significantly.
However, there some subtle aspects. To begin with, it is incorrect to speak of prisoner exchange in the proper sense of the word because official Kiev also exchanged people's deputy Viktor Medvedchuk, who was not taken prisoner on the battlefield. He is a typical political prisoner, one of the leaders of the Opposition Platform - For Life party. Meanwhile, the Constitution of Ukraine explicitly states that a citizen of Ukraine cannot be extradited to another country. Medvedchuk has been under investigation for several years on charges of treason. In other words, Kiev has extradited a Ukrainian citizen abroad, although the Constitution expressly forbids this.
The exchange aroused serious indignation, primarily among the patriotic public. The main reason is too big a gap between promises and real actions. Although, to be fair, it was the leaders of the DPR who promised that the surrendered Prokopenko, Palamar and other Azov Regiment members would be tried in Donetsk in an iron cage and severely punished for the abuse of civilians in Mariupol and other war crimes. For example, after the capture of Azovstal in May, DPR head Denis Pushylin promised that a tribunal for the Azov activists was “inevitable” and said that it would take place in Mariupol and possibly before the end of the summer. DPR Foreign Minister Natalia Nikonorova said that the Azov members would be tried by an international tribunal with the participation of both representatives of Donbas and Russia.
In the end, it seems logical that Pushilin took the main image blow in this story, stating that it was he who had coordinated the exchange of Azov members for Medvedchuk and Russian servicemen although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who acted as a mediator, publicly thanked Vladimir Zelensky and Vladimir Putin, not Pushilin.
There is one more reason not to talk about a full-fledged exchange. The fact is that the formal exchange took place on the territory of Chernihiv Region, but the 5 Azov Regiment commanders led by Prokopenko were not handed over to Ukraine. They will remain in Turkey until the end of hostilities. That is, in the case of the Azov commanders, it is correct to say that the DPR and Russia extradited them to Turkey and not to Ukraine.
Then it turns out that we are talking about the exchange scheme, which was heard in the media in the spring. Opposition politician Viktor Medvedchuk recorded a video message from a cell of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) with a proposal to exchange him by the Ukrainian side for the Azov Regiment commanders who surrendered in Mariupol, and his wife Oksana Marchenko asked Erdogan to mediate in this case.
As is obvious, months later, Moscow, Kiev, and Ankara implemented exactly this exchange scheme. On September 22, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan officially confirmed this in a conversation with journalists, saying that the exchange took place “as a result of the diplomatic work I did with Mr. Putin and Mr. Zelensky.”
At the same time, Erdogan underlined that the exchange took place “through Turkey's mediation” and “is an important step toward ending the war.” In fact, Erdogan did not just hurry up with the “stopping-the-war” statements but, judging by Putin's decree on partial mobilization and continued fighting in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions and Donbas, indulged in wishful thinking.
Pros and Cons
Ukrainian bloggers and experts comment on the Azov Regiment members exchange as a great success and keep silent about the inconsistencies. That is why you will not see criticism in the media for the fact that Zelensky demanded the release of all Ukrainian prisoners, but instead of 8,000-10,000 he returned home only 215 people.
For Prokopenko and other Azov commanders a trip to Turkey is a convenient option. Of course, in democratic Ukraine, the dissenters were simply silenced. However, someone might say publicly what many are discussing at home, for example, that propaganda heroizes the Azov Regiment, while in fact they are just braggarts who pretended to be “invincible,” but ended up sitting at Azovstal for a little over a month and surrendered with full ammunition and food supplies for months to come.
Opponents criticize the exchange for the unequal “215 to 56” formula. Supporters from Ukraine and Russia urge us to rejoice that the captive soldiers have returned home.
At the same time, sending 10 mercenaries to Saudi Arabia is part of a backroom deal between Moscow and Riyadh, the details of which we will learn in time.
“Some time ago I wrote that there was not enough political will to enforce the sentences of the DPR court against the foreign mercenaries. To be honest, at the time I knew that the fate of these people was the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations. But even Nostradamus could not have predicted that the mercenaries would be handed over on the very day that President Putin announced the partial mobilization. They are able to surprise,” said the Belarusian expert Alexander Shpakovsky.
Critics are outraged because Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk was exchanged for Azov servicemen and ordinary Ukrainian soldiers instead of Russian soldiers. Although Pushilin argued that the Ukrainian politician himself was involved in the exchange of prisoners and achieved the release of more than 1,000 people from both sides of the conflict. The Kremlin looks more like a winner in this situation, showing that no matter what, “no one left behind,” and it doesn't matter what country's passport is in your pocket.
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, publicly criticized the exchange, saying that “criminals who are recognized as terrorists cannot be exchanged for servicemen.” In this connection, Kadyrov stated that as a result of the exchange, his fighters would conclude “not to take Nazis as prisoners.”
“Always, when combat or tactical decisions were made, we, the active participants in the special operation, were consulted. But in this situation...” Kadyrov wrote in his Telegram channel. “The transfer of even this one Azov terrorist should have been unacceptable. So, this is no surprise that the fighters who liberated Mariupol and are now on the front lines are making conclusion not to take Nazis prisoner.”
Publicist Igor Levitas drew parallels with the story of Corporal Gilad Shalit, whom official Tel Aviv exchanged for 1027 Palestinian prisoners, over 400 of whom were convicted by an Israeli court.
“How happy both the Ukrainian and Western press are, “They gave 200 of our heroes for Medvedchuk!” Well, not for 200, but the numbers are not the point. Shalit, who has been mentioned, did not kill a single Arab, and they gave more than 1,000 terrorists for him. Medvedchuk didn't fight with a gun in his hand either and didn't kill a single person. But, as I understand it, he defended the interests of Russia despite years of pressure from the authorities, persecution, imprisonment, torture, persecution of his family. He is a soldier too, just not with a gun in his hands. It is great that Russia is fighting for the life of every soldier, not taking into account the number of fighters who will go free,” Levitas wrote in his Telegram channel.
* The Aidar and Azov nationalist regiments are recognized as extremist organizations and are banned in Russia