The president of Turkey announced late on Wednesday the exchange of more than two hundred prisoners of war from Russia and Ukraine, after mediating with his counterparts from both countries. The announcement was made in New York, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on the occasion of the UN General Assembly.
Among the prisoners exchanged were five high-ranking officers of the ultra-nationalist Azov Battalion, who remained entrenched for weeks inside the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, before surrendering to the pro-Russians. These militiamen will be evacuated to Turkey, where they will be held in custody with security guarantees given by President Erdogan himself, according to The Kyiv Independent's defense reporter.
The same Ukrainian media raises the number of released Ukrainian prisoners to 215, including a lieutenant colonel and dozens of officers. They would also have regained their freedom, against all odds, 108 irregulars from the Azov regiment. In return, the Russians reportedly obtained the release of 55 comrades and, very significantly, of the leader of the Opposition Platform in Ukraine, Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Russian deputy who was captured by Kyiv in April, a month after all the opposing parties Zelensky's government were outlawed. For the current Ukrainian war cabinet, Medvedchuk is nothing more than "Putin's right-hand man in Ukraine" and "a traitor."
Erdogan has valued the understanding of Vladimir Putin and Volodimir Zelenski and has considered the agreement as "an important step" towards the end of the war. Although Turkish diplomacy had been behind the agreement for several days, the outcome may have been precipitated by the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this Wednesday afternoon to the House of Turkey in New York.
The Turkish coup covers, due to its magnitude, another notorious release, announced immediately before, of ten pro-Ukrainian mercenaries or volunteers, whom Saudi Arabia would have managed to evacuate from Russia to Riyadh in the last few hours.
I don't know exactly in exchange for what. But it is known that among them is the British citizen sentenced just over a month ago to the death penalty by the People's Council of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Along with him would be other British and American prisoners, as well as a Croat, a Swede and a young Moroccan. In this case, all of them will be delivered to their countries of origin.
These de-escalation initiatives take place unexpectedly, a few hours after Vladimir Putin escalated his war effort with the announcement of a partial mobilization of reservists, which has sparked some protest rallies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Despite its exercise of equidistance, Turkey has described as "illegitimate" the referendums announced by Putin for the coming days, in the four regions of Ukraine under Russian occupation. "These faits accomplis will not be recognized by the international community," the Turkish Foreign Ministry warned.