Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned to Ukraine on Saturday, bringing home with him five former Azov battalion commanders who had fought in the Battle of Mariupol. The Kremlin has accused Turkey of violating the prisoner exchange deal signed last year.
“We are returning home from Türkiye and bringing our heroes home,” Zelenskyy he wrote on social media. “Ukrainian soldiers Denys Prokopenko, Svyatoslav Palamar, Serhiy Volynsky, Oleh Khomenko and Denys Shleha. They will finally be with their relatives.”
The Ukrainian president embraced the military at Istanbul airport and took them home with him.
Upon news of the release, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had not been informed and Turkey had promised to keep the former prisoners on its territory.
The move « goes against the terms of existing agreements, » Peskov said. « The conditions of repatriation have been violated by both the Turkish and Kiev sides, » he said.
“Nobody informed us about this. According to the terms of the agreement, these people were supposed to remain in Türkiye territory until the end of the conflict, » Peskov said.
Peskov said NATO had pressured Turkey to break the deal to show solidarity with the alliance ahead of this week’s NATO summit in Vilnius.
Pro-Kremlin Russian analysts said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decisions to first back Ukraine’s NATO bid and then let military commanders return to Ukraine were « an insult to Russia ».
« This clearly shows that Russia is in a situation where violating agreements with Russia has become the norm, » wrote Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser. on Telegram. “Because Russia is not responding. Out of humility or humanism. She needs to answer. Answer in such a way that it instills fear, » Markov said.