‘No one informed us’: Kremlin anger after Turkey sends Ukrainian Azov commanders home

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Moscow: The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey spoke by telephone, a day after Ankara angered Moscow by sending five Ukrainian commanders home with President Volodymyr Zelensky in what Russia called a violation of a prisoner exchange agreement.

The captured Azov commanders, lionised as heroes in Ukraine and vilified in Russia, were released in a prisoner swap in September, under terms that required them to stay in Turkey until the war ends.

Five commanders of the defence of the Azovstal steel plant, a gruelling months-long siege early in the war, were returning from Turkey on the plane with Zelensky and two other ministers returning from Turkey.Credit: AP

Russia captured the city last year after laying it to waste, killing thousands of civilians in a three-month siege. The Azov unit led the city’s defence, holding out in the steelworks for weeks until they were ordered by Kyiv to surrender.

Zelensky brought them home on Saturday after a visit to Turkey.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that Turkey had violated agreements in permitting their release, and had failed to notify Russia in advance.

Peskov told Russia’s RIA news agency: “No one informed us about this. According to the agreements, these ringleaders were to remain on the territory of Turkey until the end of the conflict.”

A pro-war commentator and a former adviser to the Kremlin Sergei Markov said that Putin needed a strong response to the release of the prisoners.

“The consequences of this gross violation of these agreements and the release of Azov fascists needs to be very, very significant,” he said, according to the Telegraph of London.

Ankara has not commented publicly about the decision to send them home.

Turkey’s presidency and foreign ministry did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

No one told us: Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.Credit: AP

The Russian and Turkish foreign ministries on Sunday said Sergei Lavrov and Hakan Fidan discussed the situation in Ukraine, as well as a Black Sea grain export agreement that lifted a Russian de facto blockade of Ukrainian ports last year.

Moscow has threatened to quit the grain export deal when it comes up for renewal on July 17, saying demands to facilitate sales of its own grain and fertiliser have not been met.

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he was pressing Russia to extend the deal, brokered last year by Ankara and the United Nations, by at least three months.

The Russian ministry said the two sides had focused on recent developments around Ukraine, including Ankara’s returning detained commanders of Ukraine’s Azov unit, which defended a steelworks in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol last year.

Russian-installed authorities in the Crimean peninsula on Sunday reported shooting down a cruise missile near the city of Kerch and briefly suspending traffic on the Kerch bridge that links the annexed territory to Russia.

Missile shoot-down

The Moscow-appointed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said the interception of the missile by Russian air defences didn’t result in any damage or casualties. He didn’t offer any details, including the type of the missile and its origin.

In the nearby Russian region of Rostov, authorities on Sunday also reported shooting down a missile. Governor Vasily Golubev said the missile was Ukrainian, and its debris damaged the roofs of several buildings. No casualties have been reported.

Such attacks far beyond the front line on Russian regions on the border with Ukraine or the annexed Crimean peninsula have become common during the war in Ukraine that has just surpassed its 500-day mark.

Officials in Russian regions and Moscow-appointed authorities in Crimea, which was illegally annexed in 2014, have regularly reported explosions, drone strikes, and even cross-border raids by Ukrainian saboteurs. Kyiv has never openly taken responsibility for these attacks.

Last October, a massive explosion severely damaged the Kerch bridge — a key transport and supply route for Russian troops in Crimea — leaving it out of commission for weeks. In what appeared to be the first direct admission of Kyiv’s involvement, Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar in a Telegram post on Saturday listed the attack among the country’s main achievements in the war so far.

Reuters, AP

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