Russia to continue POW exchanges with Ukraine – Putin
Moscow will continue to exchange POWs with Ukraine despite the shooting down of a Russian aircraft carrying Ukrainian soldiers for a prisoner swap last week, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
All 65 Ukrainian servicemen on board a Russian Il-76 military transport plane were killed in the crash last Wednesday, as well as the plane’s crew and three Russian military personnel.
“We will not stop the exchanges. We need to get our guys back,” Putin said at a campaign meeting for his reelection bid in the upcoming presidential vote in Russia.
His comments came shortly after the Russian Defense Ministry reported that Moscow and Kiev had successfully swapped 195 captives from each side. The Russian servicemen will be transported to Moscow for treatment and rehabilitation, the military said in a statement. The ministry also thanked the United Arab Emirates for its mediation and humanitarian efforts in helping to bring the Russian soldiers home.
Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky said in a Telegram post that 207 people have returned to his country, including military personnel and civilians. He thanked the Ukrainian authorities for facilitating the swap but provided no further details.
Putin also said there are ten times more Ukrainian POWs than the number of Russian servicemen being held by Kiev.
“We have thousands [of Ukrainian POWs] and they have dozens or possibly hundreds [of Russian captives],” he told the meeting.
“We will take our guys back anyway if the Ukrainian side is ready,” the Russian leader said, adding that Kiev has signaled it is prepared to hold further exchanges.
The Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft carrying Ukrainian POWs went down in Russia’s Belgorod Region on January 24. Moscow has accused Ukrainian forces of shooting down the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile. It has also claimed that Kiev’s military intelligence agency, the GUR, knew that Ukrainian POWs were aboard the plane.
On Wednesday, Putin said Kiev’s troops had used a US-supplied Patriot surface-to-air missile system to down the Russian military transport aircraft.
“The plane was shot down – this has already been established for sure – by an American Patriot system. An examination has already established this,” the Russian leader stated.
Putin also called for an international investigation into the incident.
“I state this officially: We ask for international experts to be deployed [here] to conduct an analysis, assess the existing material evidence of the fact that the plane was downed by the Patriot system,” he said. Putin accused Western media of attempting to conceal the incident and “purge” details of the case from the public domain.