By Batko Milacic for the Saker Blog
April 12 was a black day for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In Mariupol, more than 1,000 marines surrendered in a day – the remnants of an abandoned and defeated marine brigade. Even Zelensky’s entourage, who did not react particularly painfully to the loss of life during the special operation of the Russian troops, became well aware that the prisoners needed to be pulled out. However, the Ukrainian president has one trump card up his sleeve, but whether he will be able to play it.
Recall, having silenced a major surrender of the Ukrainian military in the Ukrainian information field, Zelensky on April 12 demonstrated to the whole world the disgraced oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, captured by the SBU, who had escaped from house arrest at the beginning of the military campaign in Ukraine. Medvedchuk, a major businessman, leader of Ukraine’s largest opposition party “For Life“, now banned by the Ukrainian authorities. Like other politicians who advocated dialogue with Moscow and opposed the war, he was charged with treason back in 2020. However, the point here is not only in the political views of a politician. Medvedchuk is considered a close friend of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, with which the Kremlin wanted to democratize Ukraine and free it from fascism. Just imagine someone arresting the leader of the second strongest party in Germany, France or some other European country? It is on this basis that we can see what kind of state Ukraine is and that Ukraine needs denazification.
According to the statements of the Ukrainian security forces, Medvedchuk, captured in army-style clothes, tried to get into Russia, allegedly while trying to cross the front line. However, Medvedchuk was probably arrested, held and tortured a long time ago, and only now has it been made public in order to divert the attention of the Ukrainian public from the defeat of the Ukrainian army in Mariupol and to show to the Ukrainian public that Ukraine has someone to exchange for Ukrainian military prisoners in Mariupol.
But Vladimir Zelensky, at the wrong time, remembered his acting past and obviously played too much.
The Ukrainian leader took this detention as a personal victory and, with his usual emotions, began to brag about the professionalism of the SBU and to declare that the detention of Medvedchuk would allow the release of Ukrainian soldiers. Thus, the leader of Ukraine said that since Medvedchuk was captured in military uniform, it means that he is a soldier and will be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners. We will keep silent about the fact that half of Ukrainians now wear military-style clothes, which does not make them combatants, but the question arises, why is Vladimir Zelensky going to change Medvedchuk as a simple soldier? So it’s 1 for 1? Of course, this is beneficial for Moscow and they will agree to such a deal there, unless, of course, the former comic actor goes back on his words, which has happened more than once.
However, Zelensky has another opportunity to pull out the prisoners captured in Mariupol. According to reliable sources from Moscow, the Kremlin offered Kiev an unprecedented exchange of prisoners of war. Zelensky and the company were offered to change 500 marines (there are almost 1,500 of them now in Russian captivity) for 10 people. But not Medvedchuk and his relatives, not Russian officers, no! Russia wants to get 10 repulsed Nazis who tortured and killed its soldiers.
Recall that at the end of March, social networks spread around videos of torture and murder of Russian soldiers, which were quickly recognized as genuine. The investigation conducted by the Russians also revealed the authors of the savage videos, they turned out to be the militants of the “Kraken” unit of the “Azov” battalion, Sergey “Chili“ Velichko, Ruslan Oleynik and Konstantin Nemichev. The extreme cruelty of the video forced even Oleksiy Arestovych, adviser to the President of Ukraine, to recognize that as a war crime. However, the perpetrators themselves were not brought to justice.
By the way, for “Chili“ himself and his killer buddies, this is the only way to save lives – in Russia there is no death penalty even for war crimes, but in the war zone they are the prey. After all, the extradition of war criminals for a fair trial would show Ukraine’s European and overseas partners Kyiv’s readiness to comply with international law in any conditions.
However, not all is so simple. The main units of the volunteer nationalist regiment “Azov” are blocked in Mariupol. Some of its militants, including the “Kraken” unit, are fighting near Kharkov. There are other nationalist formations in Ukraine that are poorly subordinate to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As we can see, Kyiv cannot control them even enough to avoid public torture and murders, videos of which are circulating on the Internet. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Ukrainian military police or the SBU will be able to arrest war criminals and hand them over for exchange. Neo-Nazis will simply give an armed repulsion to those who try to arrest their colleagues.
So, Zelensky will have to play up and bargain with Moscow, presenting Medvedchuk either as a military man or as the leader of the pro-Kremlin opposition in order to get more prisoners in exchange for his only trump card. But the Kremlin is unlikely to want to play by its rules.