Donbass responds to Zelensky’s Russia ultimatum
President Vladimir Zelensky’s warning that the trials of Ukrainian prisoners of war in Mariupol would effectively torpedo future negotiations with Russia will not deter the planned court proceedings, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) head Denis Pushilin said on Monday.
The DPR authorities previously said they would arrange tribunals for suspected war crimes committed by Ukrainian troops, including members of the Azov Battalion, whose ranks include fighters with openly nationalist and neo-Nazi views.
“The data on 80 counts of crimes committed by the Azov has been collected, 23 people have been arrested and are in custody,” Pushilin told Russia 24 TV. “So such statements by Zelensky will have no effect [on the trials].”
In a video address on Monday, Zelensky said that negotiations will not be possible if Ukrainian fighters are subjected to “a show trial.” His statement came after Ukrainian military intelligence officials said that large cages were being installed inside the Mariupol Philharmonic building in preparation for the trials.
Nearly 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers surrendered to Russian and Donbass forces during the siege of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in May, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.
Peace talks between Kiev and Moscow have been stalled since spring.
Russia sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, citing Kiev’s failure to implement the Minsk agreements, designed to give the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk special status within the Ukrainian state. The protocols, brokered by Germany and France, were first signed in 2014. Former Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko has since admitted that Kiev’s main goal was to use the ceasefire to buy time and “create powerful armed forces.”
In February 2022, the Kremlin recognized the Donbass republics as independent states and demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join any Western military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked.