Russia accused Türkiye of violating a previous agreement between the two countries, after it allowed the return of the leaders of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion to their country.

Last September, Russia released a number of leaders of the Azov battalion, which it considers terrorists, as part of a prisoner exchange deal brokered by Ankara, whose terms oblige these leaders to remain in Türkiye until the end of the war.

On Saturday, the Kremlin protested the return of a number of leaders of the Azov Battalion, which Moscow classifies as terrorist, from Türkiye to Ukraine, accompanied by its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in violation of an agreement that required them to stay where they are until the end of the conflict.

The Ukrainian presidency confirmed that it had returned a number of these people after negotiations with the Turkish side, and received them at Istanbul Zelensky Airport, who was on a visit to Türkiye, during which he met his counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov considered that the return of the Azov battalion commanders from Türkiye to Ukraine is nothing but a new direct violation of the terms of concluded agreements.

Peskov believed that Ankara and Kiev bear responsibility for this violation, because the agreement under which Russia released these people last year stipulated that they would remain in Türkiye until the end of the war.

Peskov linked the return of the Azov prisoners to the failure of the counterattack launched by Kiev in early June to recover Russian-controlled territories in eastern and southern Ukraine, and Ankara’s desire to show its solidarity with Kiev ahead of the NATO summit in Lithuania next week.

Peskov stated, “Preparations are underway for the NATO summit, and of course great pressure has been exerted on Türkiye”.

The Azov Battalion, a unit created by volunteers in 2014 before being integrated into the Ukrainian army, became famous for defending the coastal city of Mariupol in the southeast of the country, which was taken by Russian forces after a months-long siege.

After weeks of fierce fighting and bombing, the last defenders of Mariupol, garrisoned at the Azovstal plant, surrendered in May 2022.

The Kremlin and Russian state media accuse the Azov Brigade of being a neo-Nazi group linked to ultra-nationalist circles that committed war crimes, and the Russian judiciary classified it as a terrorist organization in August 2022.

In late September, Ukraine announced the release of 55 Russian prisoners of war in exchange for 215 held by Moscow, including the leaders of the defense of Azovstal.

Zelensky explained at the time that among those released were five commanders who are “superheroes”, some of them from the Azov Battalion, who transferred to Türkiye, where they will remain in complete safety and in comfortable conditions until the end of the war, according to an agreement concluded with Erdoğan.

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