Russia and Ukraine carried out a major prisoner swap this week involving nearly 300 people that was brokered by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Ukraine said Wednesday that it freed 215 people from Russia, including commanders of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, who surrendered to Russian forces after the battle of Mariupol. Among the 215 people were 10 foreign nationals, including five British and two Americans.
In exchange, Ukraine released 55 Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians, including Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician who has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin but previously led Ukraine’s largest opposition party in parliament, Opposition Platform – For Life.
While serving in parliament, Medvedchuk was put under house arrest over allegations that he exploited natural resources in Crimea. He escaped house arrest after Russia’s invasion, but he was later captured. Around the same time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky banned Opposition Platform – For Life and 10 other opposition parties.
A source told Middle East Eye that Russian President Vladimir Putin appealed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to facilitate the release of Medvedchuk when the two leaders met in Sochi in August. Erdogan later visited Ukraine and reached an understanding with Zelensky that Medvedchuk could be released for around 200 prisoners of war.
Middle East Eye cited a Saudi official who said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman facilitated the release of the 10 foreign nationals, which included a British man and a Morrocan man who were sentenced to death by the Donetsk People’s Republic. Under the agreement, the 10 foreign nationals were flown to Saudi Arabia.