A massive prisoner swap for Ukraine and Russia?

A massive prisoner swap for Ukraine and Russia?
Russian Presidential Press Service and Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

By yesterday, it looked like the battle for Mariupol was over in all but name when Zelensky sent word to his own troops to get out if they were able. The steel mill where the fighters, along with thousands of civilians had been holed up has been mostly shelled into rubble. Finally, the wounded were removed on stretchers and a significant number of the remaining troops turned themselves over to the Russian forces. Reportedly, many of them were loaded onto buses to a prison camp in Russian-held territory. But there are still thousands of Russian prisoners of war being held by the Ukrainians. So now there are negotiations underway for a prisoner exchange, but not all of Russia’s leaders are in favor of the plan. (Associated Press)

Ukrainian fighters extracted from the last bastion of resistance in Mariupol were taken to a former penal colony in enemy-controlled territory, and a top military official hoped they could be exchanged for Russian prisoners of war. But a Moscow lawmaker said they should be brought to “justice.”

The Russian parliament planned to take up a resolution Wednesday to prevent the exchange of Azov Regiment fighters, who held out for months inside the Azovstal steelworks plant while Mariupol was under siege, according to Russian news agencies.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, said negotiations for the fighters’ release were ongoing, as were plans to rescue fighters who are still inside the sprawling steel mill.

There’s no guarantee that this will happen. Vyacheslav Volodin is the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament. He issued a statement claiming that there are war criminals among the Ukrainian defenders and that they must be “brought to justice.” A Russian prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to designate Ukraine’s Azov Regiment as a “terrorist organization.”

The Russian government appears to be totally unfamiliar with the concept of irony and suffers from a critical lack of self-awareness. The Ukrainian prisoners have been holed up inside a steel plant for months while they were relentlessly shelled by the Russian military. The only war crimes anyone saw involved Russian missiles blowing up schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings. And just as a reminder, the Ukrainians were in their own country, unlike the Russians. Now someone wants to accuse them of these charges?

We have to wonder how all of this is being sold on Russian state media right now. There are literal battle lines in place across eastern Ukraine. Cities have been shelled into ruins. And now there are discussions of a possible prisoner swap. These are all the trappings of an actual war. Is Vladamir Putin still trying to pass this off as a “special operation” or some other nonsense? The Russian death toll is well into the thousands at this point. Surely the families of those troops are aware by now that their loved ones won’t be coming back home.

Meanwhile, the leader of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” said that the steel plant will be completely demolished and Mariupol will be “rebuilt as a tourist attraction.” He also mentioned the possibility of some sort of technology park. Apparently, he thinks that the war is all but over and Russia has already won. Perhaps he’s been watching too much state television. The Russians may have finally sacked Mariupol, but it’s virtually the only turf they have managed to take and hold. (At least for now.) He probably shouldn’t be making too many long-range plans at this point.

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Ed Morrissey 10:01 AM on June 02, 2023