Both Ankara and Kiev have been accused of violating a 2022 prisoner exchange agreement with Moscow by allowing former commanders of the neo-Nazi Azov regiment to return to Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. Peskov stated that the return of these individuals is a “direct violation” of the agreement that was made between Moscow and Kiev, with the involvement of Turkey. The violation occurred when five Azov commanders, who had been previously interned, flew from Turkey to Ukraine on President Vladimir Zelensky’s plane.
Zelensky celebrated the return of the commanders as a “return of heroes” and posted a video on Facebook showing the men boarding his aircraft. This event took place during Zelensky’s visit to Turkey, where he was invited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, Peskov emphasized that both Ukraine and Turkey breached the provisions of the agreement by not informing Moscow of their decision to hand over the five Ukrainians.
Peskov further suggested that Turkey was compelled to take this step prior to the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius in order to demonstrate solidarity with the military bloc. He stated that Moscow was aware of this, but reiterated that a breach of the agreement is not favorable for anyone involved. As of now, Ankara has not provided any comments regarding the situation.
The prisoner exchange agreement, which was reached in September 2022, stipulated that five commanders, including top Azov leaders, would remain in Turkey until the end of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. President Zelensky had previously stated explicitly that Kiev had agreed to this condition. President Erdogan then offered protection to the five Ukrainians, all of whom had been captured by Russian forces and Donbass militias following the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol.
It is important to note that the return of the Azov commanders has sparked controversy due to their affiliation with the neo-Nazi Azov regiment. In this regard, a prestigious US university recently made headlines for hosting the Ukrainian neo-Nazis’ latest rebranding effort. The involvement of individuals with such extremist backgrounds has raised concerns and questions about the intentions and ideologies of certain groups within the conflict.
The violation of the prisoner exchange agreement between Moscow, Kiev, and Ankara highlights the fragility of diplomatic agreements in a tense and complicated conflict. It also raises questions about the commitment of all parties involved to honor their agreements. Moving forward, it remains to be seen how this breach of the agreement will impact the ongoing conflict and relations between the three countries.