Russian nationalists furious as Kremlin swaps more than 200 Azov prisoners for one of Vladimir Putin’s friends



Russian nationalists have accused their government of “treason” after the Kremlin released more than 200 Ukrainian prisoners of war in exchange for one of Vladimir Putin’s friends.

olodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, said last night that he agreed to hand over Viktor Medvedchuk if Russia freed 200 Ukrainians who fought in Mariupol and the Azovstal steel works.

Among the most high profile critics is Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya and formerly one of the Kremlin’s biggest supporters.

In a post on his Telegram channel, he condemned Putin for agreeing to an exchange on Ukrainian terms, saying: “Our fighters crushed fascists in Mariupol, drove them into Azovstal, smoked them out of basements, died, were wounded and contused. H anding over even this one Azov terrorist should have been unacceptable .”

The news was greeted with fury among right-wing Russian war bloggers. Rybar, one of the most influential of the anonymous war bloggers, wrote: “Very fortunate on the day mobilisation is announced to see at liberty those who will again shoot at Russian soldiers.”

Military Observer, a Telegram war channel, called it an “extremely strange and short-sighted decision” that would undermine Kremlin justifications for mobilisation.

Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, a f ormer Russian officer, called the deal “treason”.

One reason for the anger is that many of those released were from the Azov regiment, which Russian propaganda paints as neo-Nazi and uses as a justification for the invasion.

Viktor Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian businessman and politician who acted as a broker between Kyiv and Moscow. He is close to Putin, who is the godfather of his youngest daughter. He was arrested for treason last year. He escaped house arrest but was found posing as a Ukrainian soldier.

Meanwhile, Germany is preparing to take in Russian dissidents refusing to fight in Ukraine after Putin’s mobilisation sparked a mass exodus of military-age men.

The German government said it would continue to offer political asylum to those who opposed the war, as the cost of air fares from Russia soared and border crossings with Finland and Georgia became jammed.

Germany said it would be ready to take in more people after Putin signalled 300,000 reservists could be called up.

Nancy Faeser, Berlin’s interior minister, said: “Deserters threatened with serious repression can, as a rule, obtain international protection in Germany.

“Anyone who courageously opposes Putin’s regime and thereby falls into great danger, can file for asylum on grounds of political persecution.”

She said applicants would be subject to stringent security checks.

(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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