Exchange or captivity? What will happen to the Azovstal garrison

The termination of resistance blocked in the catacombs of Azovstal and their exit is perceived ambiguously. Ukraine calls what is happening a rescue operation, Russia calls it a surrender.

By the time the military left, there were 2,500 of them in the basements of the plant and two hundred dead, according to Russian media. Yesterday the State Duma announced the intention prohibit the exchange “Azovites” against captured Russians, calling them Nazi criminals.

Earlier, the official representative of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, Igor Konashenkov, said that on the evening of May 16, surrender militants blocked at the factory. Among them, according to him, 51 were seriously wounded.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky announced the removal of part of the military from the Azovstal plant. He expressed the hope of Kyiv for the return of the military to the territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.

Former Representative of Ukraine in the TCG Garmash called the situation with the military at Azovstal” “surrender, not victory.” And the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine called “internal propaganda” statements from the State Duma of the Russian Federation on a ban on the exchange of military “Azov” for Russians.

Deputy Defense Minister Anna Malyar noted that the statement made in the State Duma of Russia was designed to “internal propaganda”:

“This is a political statement designed for internal propaganda and internal political processes in the Russian Federation. From our side, we can say that the negotiation process continues, and the rescue operation itself also continues.”

That is, writes the publication “Strana”, Ukraine makes it clear that the negotiations on the exchange “go on their own, despite the absence of any confirmation of this from the Russian side.”

As writes air force, President Zelensky said that it will take delicacy and time to return the defenders of Azovstal home. Ukraine hopes to exchange them. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced that the Mariupol garrison fulfilled assigned combat mission, thanks to the defenders of the city, the Ukrainian army gained invaluable time in the first days of the war. The High Military Command of Ukraine ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal in Mariupol to save the lives of the personnel.

In the meantime, RIA Novosti reported that the Supreme Court of Russia will consider the case on the recognition of the Ukrainian battalion “Azov” terrorist organizationas reported on the website of the Department of Justice:

“The administrative case on the recognition of the Ukrainian paramilitary nationalist association “Azov” as a terrorist organization and the ban on its activities on the territory of the Russian Federation has been scheduled for trial on May 26, 2022 in the building of the Supreme Court.”

Lawyer Dmitry Agranovsky comments: “If the Armed Forces recognize Azov as terrorist, its fighters could face up to 20 years.”

American analysts Institute for the Study of War (ISW) note that the Mariupol defenders stranded at the Azovstal steel plant likely surrendered after the Ukrainian authorities agreed with the Kremlin on evacuation measures. Russian forces began evacuating wounded Ukrainian troops to Russian-occupied communities in the Donetsk region on May 16, after the Russian Defense Ministry proposed an agreement earlier that day. Ukrainian officials have said they will seek the return of the Mariupol defenders to Ukraine through a prisoner exchange and continue to take appropriate measures to rescue all Ukrainian servicemen from Azovstal.

The Kremlin could agree to a conditional surrender of Azovstal’s defenders in order to hasten Russia’s ability to declare Mariupol fully under its control. The Department of Military Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR) reported that the Department of Information and Mass Communications of the Russian Defense Ministry is hastily preparing a press tour of foreign journalists in the occupied territories of Ukraine from May 18 to May 21. The Kremlin could also go along with such a deal to ensure victory, to deflect criticism on social media over failed Russian crossing across the Seversky Donets River and a generally slow pace of invasion.

The surrender agreement caused some outrage and confusion on pro-Russian social media, rather than the celebration of the total surrender of Mariupol that the Kremlin likely expected, which may have undermined Russian information operations, writes ISW. Some Russian Telegram channels ridiculed the Russian Defense Ministry for negotiating with Ukrainian “terrorists” and “Nazis”. Some bloggers criticized the DPR for organizing the evacuation procedure and accused the negotiating bodies of creating the conditions for Ukrainian martyrdom. Several Russian bloggers also called for the detention or killing of surrendered Ukrainian servicemen. Russian users are likely unhappy with the surrender agreement, as they expected Russian troops to wipe out the Ukrainian defenders at Azovstal.

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